Kishore Kumar: A Musical & Cinematic Icon

By Nabeeha Ahmed


Kishore Kumar, the iconic voice and face of Hindi and Bengali films, established a legacy with his music and films that continue to inspire millions today. Born on August 4, 1929 in Khandwa, present-day Madhya Pradesh, as Abhas Kumar Ganguly, the singer always had a passion for singing. As a child, his father, lawyer Kunjalal Ganguly, would often ask him to sing for guests that would come home, and in return, he would ask whether he should sing songs of his guru K. L. Saigal or of his eldest brother, Ashok. Legendary actor Ashok Kumar had earned a name for himself in the Hindi film industry and wanted younger brother Abhas to achieve the same. Adopting the stage name “Kishore Kumar,” Ashok’s youngest brother began working in Bombay in hopes of becoming a professional singer, though Ashok wanted him to focus on acting. In Bombay, Kishore became a chorus singer at studio Bombay Talkies. The silver-screen saw Kishore Kumar for the first time in Shikari (1946), while Ziddi (1948) became the first film for which he sang as a playback singer.

Kishore Kumar, right, with his two brothers, Anuup and Ashok, and their mother.

Despite never receiving any formal musical training, the gifted Kumar began to receive many singing opportunities over time. Kishore Da, which is how many affectionately refer to him, sang countless duets with distinguished singers and sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. He frequently worked and shared close bonds with the notable Bengali composers Sachin Dev Burman and son Rahul Dev Burman. Sachin Dev’s romantic “Roop Tera Mastana” from Aradhana (1969) along with Rahul Dev’s emotional “Yeh Kya Hua” from Amar Prem (1972) are some of Kumar’s most popular songs. There are statues in Kolkata, West Bengal, India to commemorate both the honorary personalities, Kishore Kumar and Sachin Dev Burman.

Kishore Da had a beautiful voice and his own unique style. Exuberant songs like “Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhana” from Andaz (1971), “Haal Kaisa Hai Janaab Ka” from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), and “Main Hoon Jhoom Jhoom Jhumroo” from Jhumroo (1961) include his signature yodeling. Kumar also often became the distinct and consistent voice of many brilliant actors, singing for them in several films, so they could lip-synch. Kumar had great rapport with Dev Anand, for whom he sang “Gaata Rahe Mera Dil” in Guide (1965). Kumar would sometimes modulate his voice to match those of the actors; for example, in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978), he sang on a lower scale in accordance to actor Amitabh Bachchan’s deep voice. He was also fond of Rajesh Khanna and voiced “Mere Sapno Ki Rani” from Aradhana (1969).


“Mor Swapner Sathi” is the Bengali equivalent to the hit song “Mere Sapno Ki Rani,”  also sung by Kishore. There are more analogous Hindi and Bangla songs that Kishore Kumar has sung such as “Yeh Shaam Mastani” from Kati Patang (1971) and “Akash Keno Dake,” “Kya Janu Main Hoon Kaun” from Bandhe Haath (1973) and “Tobu Bole Keno Sahasai” from Rajkumari (1970), “Tum Bin Jaoon Kahan” from Pyar Ka Mausam (1969) and “Ek Din Pakhi Ure Jabe,” and “Yeh Kya Hua” from Amar Prem (1972) and “E Ki Holo” from Rajkumari (1970). Rajkumari’s hero, superstar of the Bengali film industry, Uttam Kumar, would also lip-synch to Kumar in Hindi and Bangla, depending on the language of the film.

Kishore Kumar admired Bengali poet and Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore. He has many sung Rabindra Sangeet, including “Ekla Cholo Re” and “Mayabonobiharini Horini.” Kumar has also composed many soundtracks, himself. Kishore Da created the music for Jhumroo (1961), except for the cover of “Koi Humdum Na Raha,” which is a song from brother Ashok Kumar’s film Jeevan Naiya (1936), composed by music director Saraswati Devi. Starring himself and legendary actress Madhubala, Kishore Da wrote the story for Jhumroo— a tale about tribal man, Jhumroo, and wealthy woman, Anjana, and their struggle to be with each other. For his home production, Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein (1964), he composed its music and worked with notable lyricist Shailendra. Furthermore, Kumar not only wrote and produced, but  also directed the film. Along with Kishore Kumar, the film stars his son, Amit Kumar.

         Outside of films, the singer has released Bengali albums consisting of songs from various moods. To name a few, Dake Loke Amake Clown (1970), Diner Seshey Ghumer Deshe (1982), and Aamar Pujar Phool (1982) are albums that were released during Kumar’s lifetime. Even today, numerous albums of Kishore Da’s song compilations are sold, a popular collection being Bengali Modern Songs – Kishore Kumar (1989). Kishore Kumar showcases his singing skills through the range of romantic, joyful, and sad songs. Some of his most popular Bengali songs include “Aami Je Ke Tomar,” “Amar Swapna Tumi Ogo,” “Aaj Milon Tithir Purnima Chand,” and “Chirodini Tumi Je Aamar.” He also demonstrates a playful aspect of his personality through his songs, for example, “Naam Amar Kishore Kumar Ganguly,” in which he sings about his life and family, and “Dake Loke Amake Clown” where he says people call him a clown.

         Although Kumar did not enjoy acting, he was an exceptional actor. He is especially remembered for his comic roles. In Hindi film Half Ticket (1962), Kumar portrays the role of Vijay, who leaves home after his father wants to get him married and pretends to act like a child in order to buy a “half ticket” for the train. He embarks on a journey that leads him to find love and also get tangled in matters regarding a diamond smuggler. In the Bengali film Lukochuri (1958), Kishore Da plays identical twin brothers Kumar and Sankar. Sankar aspires to make quality music, while Kumar has recently moved to live with his brother and work in an office. Sankar is in a relationship with Geeta, portrayed by Bengali actress Anita Guha, while Kumar develops one with Reeta, played by the popular Mala Sinha; both of whom are sisters and unaware that their partners have a twin, which creates problems in their respective relationships. The actor has sung for both of these films.

The singer, actor, director, producer, screenwriter, music composer, and songwriter passed away on October 13, 1987 due to a heart attack. The loss of Kishore Kumar created an unfillable void in the film and music world. His songs are still heard, felt, experienced, and loved. He poured life into his music and clearly emoted through his voice. Even today, mobile music applications make his playlists, hundreds post covers of his songs, singers perform his songs and consider him their guru, and millions regard him as a musical genius. Kishore Da’s songs are often recreated by newer singers and released in films. The world continues to search and yearn for him and his music. His voice continues to echo through the walls of cinematic and musical history.

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