Once in 500 Years: Kishore Kumar


The music of Kishore Kumar.


Where does one start with such a subject? His was the voice of the 1970’s. The last of the playback giants whose lineage began with K.L. Saigal and was carried forward by Mohammad Rafi, Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar, Mukesh and Talat Mehmood. After him have come lovely voices aplenty but none has been able to rival Kishore Kumar’s in its diversity or popular appeal.  Certainly none of those who followed has been able to capture the spirit of an entire generation as he did.


Though he had been a familiar face in the Bombay film scene since the 1950s, both as an actor and singer, Kishore came into his own in the late 1960s.  In 1969 Kishore signed up as the singing voice of Rajesh Khanna, India’s male superstar, for the film Aradhana  (Worship).  What happened next can only be described as a chemical reaction that electrified the public and transformed the film industry. The blending of Rajesh Khanna’s handsome, guileless face with Kishore Kumar’s handsome, virile voice subliminally confirmed to millions of fans that these two were in fact, one and the same person.


The character’s played by Khanna were generally optimistic, good hearted and fun loving guys.  They dressed well, whether in suit and tie, bush shirts or kurta pyjama. They treated women courteously.  For the first post-Independence generation handsome Rajesh with the shy smile seemed to embody the youthful, hopeful, morally-on-track and bright future of the nation itself.


And when he opened his mouth to sing fans heard him carry a tune with melodiousness and ease.  It fell seamlessly into place with the values his character represented.  There was no way to tell for sure that this wasn’t Rajesh singing, so inexplicably and naturally did the two fit together.  But it was Kishore Kumar the Bengali boy from Khandwa, in central India, who was stealing hearts with his whistling, chortles and amazing yodels.


Kishore’s brother Ashok Kumar was one of Hindi cinema’s original big stars throughout the 40s, 50s and into the 60s.  Kishore always wanted to sing rather than act, but when he followed big brother to Bombay, it seemed the industry wanted him to follow in Ashok’s footsteps.  Despite his misgivings he reluctantly accepted a number of roles.  As Fortune would have it, he was quite good.  Directors found he had a natural flare for comedy, which endeared him to audiences, especially when he added songs to the scene.  One of Hindi cinema’s classic comedies, Pardosan (Neighbor Lady), marks the zenith of Kishore Kumar as both hilarious character and affecting playback singer.


kishore_kumar_largeProbably out of a 100 other aspiring stars 99 would have been over the moon with such a turn of events–seek one career, yet end up with success in two!  But not Kishore Kumar. To him, acting was not only a distraction, it was the very definition of madness.  Even though he had one of the most beautiful and popular actresses, Madhubala, as his second wife, even though his brother was one a highly respected leading men, even though he was never short of offers, Kishore resented being in front of the camera.  Near the end of his life he gave an interview in which he shuddered at the insanity of running between studios and film projects.


To the objective observer his preference for singing over acting was the real lunacy. By the standards of the day, he had a handsome and strong face. Industry connections and comedic timing only underlined the obvious: stick with acting.  To succeed as a playback singer, on the other hand, seemed almost impossible.  He was up against the honey of reigning king of playback, Mohammad Rafi and the elaborate silk of ghazal maestro Talat Mehmood. And don’t forget Mukesh as well, the favourite of Raj Kapoor, just about the mightiest force in Indian film. All three were classically trained, a condition deemed absolute, if one was to handle the wide variety of styles and genres—classical, ghazal, folk and increasingly, rock n roll—that the musical directors required of their singers. That Kishore was self-taught seemed a sure sign of his inevitable failure.


Rafi and Kishore

Rafi and Kishore

But madness was the quicksilver that coursed through Kishore’s soul, unpredictably and, changing form frequently. Though his voice came very nearly to be the voice of the entire nation many wondered if Kishore Da was not, in fact, truly mad. There was his erratic behaviour: not showing up for sessions; demanding payment up front. His touchiness. His penchant for the solitary life in an industry full of puffed up egos and media hounds rubbed some powerful people the wrong way. Yet, when he passed away in 1988, there were few who disagreed with the assessment that his was a ‘once in five hundred years’ voice.  During his domination of the scene from the late 60s to early 80s, some estimated that Kishore Kumar recorded 60% of all film songs! Rafi, Mukesh and Talat Mehmood had been completely vanquished.


Every hero must have his luck. And Kishore had his share. That his ‘era’ coincided with that of one of the true geniuses of musical composition, R.D. Burman, who relished writing for Kishore was hugely significant. So too was his association with Rajesh Khanna, the first superstar of Bollywood. After Khanna was toppled from the top by the Super superstar, Amitabh Bachchan, Kishore Kumar undoubtedly benefited from being his singing voice as well.  It’s hard to imagine Kishore distinct from from his collaborators.

Rajesh Khanna, Kishore, Amitabh Bachchan

Rajesh Khanna, Kishore, Amitabh Bachchan


But equally, would Burman’s intricate constructions have been as successful with a voice less capable of projecting his vision? In a cinema where hit songs were essential to a film’s success, (for the flops, the songs were the only thing that endured) how brightly would have/could have Khanna and the Big B have shone if Kishore had not given voice to their musical moments? All three required a sonic space as huge and as robust as their artistic vision.  Kishore Kumar was the only one who could accommodate it.


Let me try to describe his voice. It is a strong tenor but with the resonance of a baritone. It is wide. There is a lot of territory between his high yodelling notes on a number like Zindagi Ek Safar and the deeper sombre tones of a ‘tragedy song’ such as Koi Hota Jis Ko.


The width and scope of his voice reminds one of the wide boulevards of Bombay (Mumbai) where heroes ride their mo-bikes, one hand waving free, as well as the great flat Indian expanse of fields, ancient roads and small towns, such as Khandwa, where Kishore himself was born.


BDAY-1Unlike Rafi, Mukesh, Hemant and Talat Mehmood who had more delicate (and agile, yes) voices, Kishore’s was full of mardana (manliness).  At a fundamental level the timbre of his voice was a perfect match for the macho embodied by Amitabh. Listen to Jahan Mil Javen Chaar Yaar for an example.

Kishore’s voice came at you, straight down the middle of the register, like a Tata lorry barrelling down the Grand Trunk Road.  Listen to Rafi speak. His voice is soft, which renders his singing absolutely gorgeous. And because it was, you were happy to suspend belief—that this was actually the hero singing. But with Kishore, suspension is not required. Hero and singer are one. A truly heroic voice!  And if irrefutable proof were needed, Kishore was the only playback giant who sported a moustache! None of this unshaven nonsense for him! Facial hair was a sure sign of virility in 1970s India. The common man (aam admi) understood this and appreciated it!


This is not to say there is no subtlety in Kishore’s voice. There is. Listen to that mega hit from Yaarana, Chun Kar Mere Man Ko, to hear a Kishore that is every bit as retiring and nuanced as Mohammad Rafi. It is hard to believe this is Kishore, who is more often associated with the blare of an air horn then the gentle riff of a bansuri (bamboo flute). Other examples are abundant: Dukhi Man Mere; Aanewala Pal; Meri Mehboob Qayamat Hogi and; Lahron ki Tarah, to name just a few.


Though he repeatedly and consistently rubbished his acting career he could never banish the mischievous child from his soul. More than anyone else he was able to make you laugh when he had to bring humour to the piece.  C.A.T Cat Maane Billi, is Kishore (and Asha Bhosle) in goofy mood. The two singers spell out English words and define them in Hindi over and over in a silly pointless exercise. In what must have a tedious day at the office, Kishore’s final frustrated yell of ‘CAT’ breaks the song open turning it from a complete forgettable ditty into a classic.


It was this confident voice that ushered India into the modern era. Kishore (yes, Amitabh and Rajesh, too) helped make the transition from new born country to strapping ambitious nation with fun and feeling.  In the 1970s he was the undisputed king of melody, and as I think you’ll agree from this special collection of some his greatest songs, his music is essential today as it was forty years ago.


Thank you Kishore Da.


Track Listing:

01 Zindagi ek safar hai

02 Yeh sham Mastani

03 Yeh Dil Na Hota Bechara

04 Koi Hota Jis Ko

05 Jaan Tan Se

06 Kabhi Alvida Na Kahana

07 Aanewala Pal

08 C A T Cat Mane Billi

09 Mere Samne Wali Khirki Mein

10 Mein Aur Meri Awargi

11 Sapno Ke Sheher

12 Musafir Hoon Yaaro

13 Chingari Koi Bharke

14 Mein Tera Shehar

15 Dukhi Man Mere

16 Dream Girl

17 Phoolon Ka Taron Ka

18 Yaar Humari Baat Suno

19 Roop Tera Mastana

20 Neele Neele Amber

21 My Name is Anthony Gonsalves

22 Mere Sapnon Ki Rani

23 Mera Jeevan Kora Kagaz

24 Choo Kar Mere Man Ko

25 Beqarar-E-Dil

26 Tum Nahin Ya Hum Nahin

27 Aise Na Mujhe Tum

28 Lahron Ki Tarah

29 Dheere Se Jana

30 Tere Jaisa Koi Dekha

31 Ari Ho Paro

32 Pichli Yaad Bhula Do

33 Mere Hosh Ley Lo

34 Ab To Mere Huzoor [Natasha I Love You]

35 Jahan Mil Javen Chaar Yaar

36 Mere Mehboob Qayamat Hogi






Ab Kya, Dr. Gupta?: Dialogues from Hindi Films

Gabbar Singh does damage to Thakur Sahib

Gabbar Singh does damage to Thakur Sahib

There is lots to like about Indian popular cinema.  Buxom actresses in colourful saris choreographed to move like mercury set free on a hot plate, are some of my favourite things. The uniquely South Asian ‘item number’, a sexy dance sequence set in a dimly-lit cabaret, full of moustachioed villains making their eyeballs ever more bloodshot by downing huge tumblers of Vat 69 and Cutty Sark, is also a treat.  Music too (obviously) is a major attraction.

But there is one phenomenon which holds a very special place in the movie-goer’s heart: dayalog.  Even those who couldn’t give a damn about sexy dances or electrifying music love dayalog, the Hindi version of the English word, ‘dialogue’. In Indian cinema, a ‘dayalog is a snippet (often also, a rather large section) of a spoken scene that is committed to memory and then reprised to bolster (or undermine) a philosophical argument. Or to elicit support for a moral or humorous argument.

I grew up surrounded by friends who in addition to humming filmi tunes and raving about the songs of Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar or Mukesh, quoted long passages of dayalog with a seriousness usually afforded only to the recitation of Scripture.

‘Kya dayalog sunaaya, yaar!’ (What a piece of dialogue, man!) was a common exclamation whenever the conversation turned toward films and filmstars. The speaker would immediately and quickly rattle off the title of the film, give a concise synopsis of the scene, and then launch into a verbatim reprisal of the revered passage. At the end we would all move our heads back and forth, as if stunned by the gravitas of what we had just heard.  Or we would slap each other’s open palms at the punch line just delivered.   For many of my friends, dayalog and its recitation, was more important than the songs, music or artistic merits of the film.

There are some lines in English-language cinema that have been immortalised: ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn;’ ‘Go ahead. Make my day!’; ‘Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore’.  Though these (and more) are frequently quoted by politicians and plebians alike, the lines are, for the most part, long-divorced from the original film.  Each of these lines is considered to be a self sufficient entity, something that is complete in and of itself.  The lines do not need the original cinematic context to be powerful. In fact, there are probably many people who have no idea which movie they came from. And very few people would be able to remember the lines that preceded or followed the well-known one. Almost no one would be able to remember the 5 minutes of dialogue that came before or after the quote. And  that too, word perfect.

Aficionados of dayalog, on the other hand, remember not just the lines but the scene, the actors and how the bit of speech advanced or blocked the story’s progress. Without the cinematic context the dayalog means nothing. In fact, the dayalog is a fan’s homage to his favourite actor and film.  When the President warns a Congressman, ‘I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,’  few would know, or care, that this line (or something close to it) was spoken by Marlon Brando in The Godfather.

But when dayalog is loosed upon eager ears, it is very much ‘that scene when Amjad Khan played Gabbar Khan in Sholay. And his underlings were so terrified. What a villain Amjad played!’  The context is entirely about the film. And in its repetition, the fan demonstrates his awe and love for the actor, film or director.

Dayalog is a many faceted pleasure. Love scenes, as much as torture scenes are repeated.  Comic monologues as well as dramatisation’s of social injustice are equally loved and memorised.  What is remembered is the emotion, the pathos, the cruelty, the compassion, the desperation.

And the voice.

Not every big star’s speeches are repeated again and again. Only those who have a commanding voice or whose presence can be felt when they open their mouth.  Villains like Pran and Amrish Puri were super dayalog spinners. They say of some singers, ‘she could sing the phonebook and it would sound gorgeous’. Well, Pran and Amrish Puri could read a nursery rhyme and make you recoil in horror. With voices as deep as Johnny Cash, they could weaken the knees of anyone within a hundred meters. On the other side of the moral fence, Amitabh Bachchan Bollywood’s greatest superstar, put his resonant baritone to multiple uses: angry young man, lovable drunk or earnest and tender lover. Others, especially, Raaj Kumar were considered so skilled at vocalisation, their speeches are held up as being among the finest ever recorded. True dayalog diamonds!

Among female actresses, Rekha, the Tamil tart, is a huge favourite for many of the same reasons  as Amitabh, with whom she often co-starred. She is able to bring to life the whore and the wronged woman with equal feeling and credibility. Nargis and Madhubala, starlets of the 1950s, are dayaloged because their on-screen roles often mirrored the ones they struggled with off the set.

In celebration of this unheralded aspect of Indian cinema, I’ve put together a special collection, which I hope will be enjoyed by many audiences. For the seasoned dayalog wala I’ve included some of the all time classic dialogues which will never be forgotten. For the novice, there are brief contextual notes for each dayalog that will help you get a feeling for the scene. In between the talking I’ve inserted film songs and music, some of it quite rare, to suggest a bit of the aural maahol (atmosphere) that one encounters in a dark Indian cinema hall.

ab kya

Track Listing:

01. Title music from the film Dharmatma (1975). Composers Anandji Kalyanji dominated the 1960s and experimented with new ‘rockish’ sounds coming out of the West. Here they bring a sweet ‘south of the border’ feel to the horn charts.


02. Dialogue: You Are Simply Great. Film: Nirnayak (Crucial) 1997. Amrish Puri plays a Government Minister whose daughter is missing. Om Puri, who shot to fame in the late 70s in India’s parallel (art) cinema, is a honest, if slightly drunk cop who promises (not without some disgust) to help the Minister find his daughter. This results in the title of the dayalog, when the Minister exclaims and embraces the police officer.  Late in his career by this point, Amrish Puri, made his name as a villain (including in one of the Indiana Jones movies) but in this film plays a somewhat morally ambiguous politician.

03. Banarsi Babu Beats. More film incidental music from Anandji Kalyanji.


04. Dialogue: Teesre Badshah Hum Hain.  Film: Kaala Pathar (Black Stone) Shatrugan Sinha’s best years were as a villain. An actor from Bihar who later became a conservative politician, Sinha in this scene, plays a shady character who pulls a fast one on one of his accomplishes in a game of cards. His opponent cheats by hiding a Jack in his sleeve and should beat Sinha’s hand, of two Kings and a deuce. But he knows the other guy is a cheat so tells him “I’ve got three Kings.” When asked to show his hand, Sinha tosses two Kings on the table before jumping up and grabbing the cheat and shouting, “I’m the third King!” (Teesre Badshah Hum Hain!)

05. Main Hun Don. Opening title track from the huge 1978 hit sung by Kishore Kumar.


06. Dialogue: Don Ko Pakadna Mushkil Hi Nahi, Namumkin Hain. Film Don (Don). Amitabh plays a Godfather in Bombay, in this blockbuster from 1978. In this scene his moll, played by Bollywood’s finest dancer, Helen, tries to entrap him and have him arrested. But using his superior intelligence and ruthlessness, Don eludes the authorities with the statement, “It isn’t hard to capture the Don. It’s impossible!” Hence the title of this dayalog.

07. Tumhari Mulaqat Se. Film song by Mohammad Rafi. Film: Mohabbat Zindagi Hai (Love is Life) 1966.

08. Choo Kar Mere Man ko. Instrumental interpretation of film song by guitarist Sunil Ganguly.


09. Dialogue: Ab Chooti? Film: Tarana (Melody) 1951. Dilip Kumar and Madhubala who feature in this dayalog were superstars. Both were Muslim Pathans and single and at the top of their game. This is their first film together and the beginning of a torrid off-screen romance that deeply affected both stars for years to come.

10. Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho. Film: Hanste Zakhim. (The Laughing Wounded) 1973. Song by Mohammad Rafi.

Umrao jaan

11. Dialogue and Song: Justju Jis Ki Thi, Film: Umrao Jaan (Umrao Jaan) 1981. One of India’s finest films and film scores. Rekha plays the courtesan Umrao Jaan who is haunted by personal loss and tragedy. Here she discusses leaving behind a wealthy and kindly patron. Asha Bhosle sings what has become one of Indian cinema’s most beloved songs.

12. Kya Hua Tera Wada?. Instrumental interpretation of film song by saxophonist Joe Gomes.

hulchul13. Dialogue: Mujhe Pata Hai ke Aap aur Qanoon ke Beech  Film: Hulchul. 1995. Amrish Puri is up to his old villainous ways in this thriller. Ajay Devgun, as Angry Young Man, gives the rather corrupt Puri a piece of his mind.

14. Mere aankhon mein. Film: Videsh (Foreign). Early guitar-driven rock n roll sung by the inimitable Mohammad Rafi.

Pagla kahin ka

15 and 16. Dialogue: Mujhe Bulaya Nahi. Film: Pagla Kahin Ka (Some Kind of Madman) 1970. A classic psychological thriller starring the fantastic Shammi Kapoor who in this scene is driven mad by the unexpected betrayal of two old friends who decide to get married.  On the bandstand he leads everyone is a frenzied song and dance.


17. Dialogue: Gabbar Khan’s speech. Film: Sholay (Flames) 1975. One of the greatest and most successful films ever to come out of Bollywood this was a multi-star studded Western. This scene in which the cruel boss Gabbar Khan played by Amjad Khan is probably the number one dayalog in history. Gabbar here plays Russian roulette with three of his flunkies who have failed their boss. When the gun does not fire the relieved flunkies burst into laughter, as does Gabbar himself, who then quickly kills each one of them.

18. Dance Music. Film: Bairaag (Asceticism) An upbeat dance number from a 1976 picture.

mera naam joker

19. Dialogue: The Show Must Go On. Film: Mera Naam Joker (My Name is Clown) 1972. Though a commercial failure Mera Naam Joker was a huge labor of love for the grand old man of modern Indian cinema, the fabulous and influential, Raj Kapoor. Autobiography and pathos. Raju is a clown who despite the hardship and pain of life must make others laugh. Here he loses his mind after the death of his mother but being forced by the circus boss to perform.

20. Title Music. Film: Shalimar (Shalimar) 1978. Opening credit music by the one and only R.D. Burman


21. Dialogue: Aap Ke Liye Tohfa Laya. Film: Ghungroo (Anklets) 1974. Shashi Kapoor pledges his love for a courtesan whom he wants to redeem by marrying her.

22. I Love You. An English song from the Hindi film, Sangam (1964). Sung by Goanese singer Vivin Lobo.


23. Dialogue: Maafkeejeeega, Aap ke compartment mein chala aya Film: Pakeezah (Pure). 1972. The king of dayalog Raaj Kumar accidently enters the carriage where the troubled but beautiful courtesan played by Meena Kumari  is asleep. Moved, he leaves a letter with her which she discovers when she awakens. One of the best movies of all time and one of the best dayalogs too.

24. Yeh Mausam Ashiqana. Film: Pakeezah 1972. Lata Mangeshkar gives voice to what it feels like to fall in love.

mother india

25. Dialogue: Mere Bache Bhuke. Film: Mother India 1957. Nargis plays the quintessential, oppressed, long suffering but loving mother, here being harassed by a lecherous, creepy priest. My children are hungry, is the title.

Mother India is a regular contender for Best Indian Movie of All Time.

26. Awara Manjhi Jayega Kahan Film: Pyaasi Shaam (Thirsty Evening) 1969. Hindi song by Mohammad Rafi.

27. Pyar Zindagi Hai Film: Muqaddar ka Sikandar (The Alexander of Luck). A song from this superhit. Love is life sing Asha Bhosle and Mahendra Kapoor.

namak halal (1982)28. Dialogue: English is a very funny language. Film: Namak Halal. Another one of the great dayalogs. Amitabh Bachchan plays a country hick who comes to the big city to look for work.  His relative introduces him to an executive of a company. In an effort to impress Arjun (Bachchan) begins a rapid fire monologue in English.

29. Bombay Palace Nr. 1. Groovy 1960s Indian flavoured guitar funk piece by Muhavishla Ravi Hatchud & the Indo Jazz Following.


30. Dialogue: Waqt Badal Chuka Hain Film: Saudagar (Bargain). Considered to be one of the great voices of Hindi cinema, Raaj Kumar shows a young punk and his fat companion who’s who.

31. Na Na Na Yeh Kya Karne Lage Ho. Hemalata, a classically trained playback singer does a Donna Summers impression in the film Bombay 405 Miles. Kalyanji Anandji the composers blend west and east beautifully in this ‘item’ number.

32. Listen to the Pouring Rain. Another night club number sung by the amazing Usha Iyer (Uthup) from the 1970’s film Bombay to Goa.

satte pe satta

33. Dialogue: Darru Peene Se Liver Kharab. Film: Satte pe Satta (Seven on Seven). Another classic example of the comedic dayalog ability of the wonderful Amitabh Bachchan. Here he is a drunk who keeps repeating the phrase, ‘Drinking is bad for you. You know why? Because it destroys your liver.’

34. Jazz Style Malkauns. A 1960’s jazz version of one of India’s most ancient ragas composed for a non-filmi album by the dominant team of Shanker Jaikishan.


35. Dialogue: Ho Gaya Khush? Film: Amar, Akbar, Anthony (Amar, Akbar, Anthony). This was a massive hit in 1977 starring Amitabh, Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor.  The superstars played three brothers brought up in different homes. One of the public’s most beloved dayalogs is this scene in which Anthony (Amitabh), drunk and beaten bawls himself out in a mirror.

36. Pollam Pol. A rocking rarity from Mohammad Rafi from the film Laxmi. (Laxmi).

37. Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu. S. Hazarasingh gives a lively interpretation of the evergreen hit from the 1966 blockbuster, Howrah Bridge.

a wednesday

38 Dialouge: Stupid Common Man. Film: A Wednesday. One of India’s most brilliant and accomplished contemporary actors, Naseeruddin Shah gives a stunning dayalog in which he voices the frustration of a Muslim in modern India who is both suspected of being a terrorist and fearful of being a victim of terror.

39. Dil To Pagal Hai. A contemporary Indian pop instrumental.