By Susenjit Guha
A singer’s relevance and mass appeal long after he is dead and gone can be judged from the song track of commercials that break in between prime time soaps and serials.
Be it hair oil or fun munch companies, they still bank on a line or two from Kishore Kumar’s hit songs sung thirty or forty years ago to hook customers.
Had he been alive today, he would have been 79.
Did he have some magic in his voice which other great singers of his era lacked? Was he --- as believed by many of his fans---a freak genius?
Or, was he just in tune with the changing preferences of a new generation of movie goers?
Bombay films or Bollywood as it is known now, like Hollywood, always amplify and echo popular sentiments. Music was always synonymous with the story line and in sync with the principal characters. The present should not be confused with the past when musicians gave singers a much needed breather, not vice versa.
While conservative India gave stardom to Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor in the fifties, the closeted rebels itching to brace up found their hero in Dev Anand.
While most Raj Kapoor productions stuck to nasal Mukesh, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand rode the crest with the melodious Mohd.Rafi.
Rafi had few parallels during his time.
In the late fifties and sixties when Errol Flynn look-alike Shammi Kapoor became India’s very own on screen Elvis Prestley commanding the highest signing amount as hero, Rafi’s songs made his films memorable. Nasir Hussain’s ‘Dil Deke Dekho’ made Shammi Kapoor a star because he could match his lip movements best with some of Rafi’s greatest fast paced numbers and was blessed with an excellent beat sense.
But during Mohd.Rafi’s heydays when Majrooh Sultanpuri and Hasrat Jaipuri penned the lyrics to the music of all time greats like O P Nayyar and Shankar Jaikishan, Dev Anand experimented with little known Kishore Kumar in his Navketan home productions. Another well known music director, S D Burman, another Dev Anand favourite, spotted raw talent in Kishore Kumar.
He was also a complete raw artiste who could sing, play comic roles and dance ahead of his time.
His songs went down well with the closeted rebels who finally swelled the tribes of Hindi film buffs and fans.
But it was some years after the numbers in ‘Guide’, ‘Gambler’ and ‘Padosan’ endeared a new set of fans to a fresh voice in tune with the late sixties, the single Kishore Kumar ‘Zindagi ek safar’ song sung onscreen by an unknown Rajesh Khanna in a guest appearance in the film ‘Andaz’, sent Shammi Kapoor into hibernation.
Mohd. Rafi, the voice behind Shammi Kapoor’s success sadly slipped to the second slot in playback singing soon after. It was said Shammi Kapoor’s fans, put off by his bulging mid-riff, left the cinema halls soon after the song.
And soon after, Shakti Samanta with ‘Aradhana’---the director, who like Nasir Hussain could feel the pulse of the audience---made a superstar of Rajesh Khanna and pushed Kishore Kumar up to the first slot which he occupied till his death in 1987.
They knew the right mix for a super hit movie.
Shakti Samanta repeated the scene from his 1960 Dev Anand-Waheeda Rahman starrer, Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai where the chart buster, Rafi’s Jiya o Jiya o Kuchh Bol Do was sung with the hero hanging out of the toy train and the heroine traveling alongside in a Dodge up the winding road to Darjeeling.
He kept the scene and location, but changed the position of the actors in ‘Aradhana’. Perhaps he thought 1969 demanded a makeover. Rajesh Khanna belted out the Kishore Kumar all time favourite ‘Mere Sapno Ki Rani’ from a jeep with Sharmila Tagore inside the toy train.
Mohd. Rafi was the ultimate in melody while Kishore Kumar was sonorous to the hilt.
The swinging 60’s emboldened the rebels in India who defined audience tastes for the next two decades. And they were not averse to yodelling in public.
Songs with a classical bent were passé as screen plays got bolder with heroes and heroines more relaxed enacting song sequences.
There was more action in movies. More heroes vied for attention as more money flowed into the film industry.
Kishore Kumar could adapt and put in the required punches in his songs to suit everyone. Producers, directors and financers found in him a recipe for return on their investments even if the lead artistes were little known.