The three Ganguly Brothers – of the iconic Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958) – were a part of me, many of us I should think, but we never articulated that.
Jointly produced by Kishore Kumar and his secretary Anoop Sharma, the screwball, black-and-white comedy had a timeless zingy music score by S.D. Burman with Jaidev and assisted by R.D.Burman. Incidentally, it’s no secret that the songs Hum They Woh Thi and Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhaagi Si were adapted from American country singers Tennessee Ernie Ford's The Watermelon Song and Merle Travis' Sixteen Tons respectively.
Be that as it may, from the opening credit titles, in animation, to the last frame, the Ganguly Brothers had come together to confect a laugh riot. Moreover, Renu, portrayed by Madhubala was no bimbette, but an independent, self-willed woman. In addition, for once the topic of ill-placed misogyny was highlighted in bold strokes.
Be that as it may, Kishore Kumar was horrified that the comedy was a huge success since he had expected to show heavy cash losses to the income-tax authorities. Although the film’s copyright was signed over to his secretary, Sharma, the income-tax wrangle persisted for the next four decades. Such an irony, that.
Needless to emphasise, the 1950s and ‘60s weren’t the eras of multiple award ceremonies, scholastic tracts and apportioning due where it’s deserved. The Ganguly brothers -- Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar and the cavaliery ignored Anoop Kumar -- were taken for granted.
The brothers were born to a Bengali family in Khandwa (now in Madhya Pradesh). Their father was a lawyer, and the mother was from a wealthy family. There were four siblings. Ashok Kumar was the eldest. The other three were Sati Devi, Anoop Kumar and Kishore Kumar, who was the youngest.
The senior-most sibling, Ashok Kumar, was quite easily the most prolific and effortless actor of the trio. Kishore Kumar was ghettoised either as kinky or on the other end of the spectrum, too morose (as evidenced in some film he directed like Door Gagan ki Chhaon Mein, 1964). That was till he resurfaced big-time as a playback singer with S.D. Burman’s chartbusting songs Mere Sapnon ki Rani, Roop Tera Mastana and Kora Kaagaz Tha Yeh Mann Mera for Aradhana(1969).
As for Anoop Kumar, although he had featured in supporting roles in as many as 50 films, he was the Cinderella, neither endowed with a camera-friendly personality, nor showcased sufficiently to exhibit his deadpan brand of comedy.
While his big brothers became household names, Anoop would spring up in thankless roles (Junglee, Victoria No.203 and Anhonee for instance), and was never popular enough to be surrounded by autographoholics.
On a bus route from Juhu to town, in the late-1970s, I’d often see Anoop close to midnight, scrunched on the last row of a single-decker bus, mumbling and humming to himself, happily.
I’d be returning from the Bandra home of my mentor, film critic Bikram Singh, after dinner over which there would be conversations on cinema, be it of Robert Bresson, Jean-Luc Godard or Manmohan Desai. The bus (route 83) dropped Anoop Kumar nearabout Podar Hospital, Worli, a honeycomb of thoughts buzzing through his head. Or was it a song, which he hoped to get out of his system, at a recording studio? Never found out.
Right to his end in 1997 at the age of 71, I never read an interview with Anoop Kumar. It is to my abiding regret that I never accosted him for one either. Not that it would have been given prominent display in any newspaper or magazine. He didn’t ever make news, there was no peg to hang a story on. Unless, of course, he lashed out against his brothers or some such. The mumbling man on route 83? Could he ever be persuaded into a tell-all? No chance.
Down the years, intermittently the newspapers are packed with ads of sangeet soirees paying tribute to Kishore Kumar on his birth anniversaries. Networking sites are crammed with salutes to the imperishable Kishore Kumar (October 13. 1987, aged 58) Justly so. He was, unarguably, one of a kind.
A couple of years ago, it was announced in the trade papers that Anurag Basu would be directing Ranbir Kapoor in a biopic of the genius actor-singer-director-- who could be a Mad Hatter as well as an epitome of sobriety. If you ask me the Kishore Kumar story cannot be contained within one or even two biopics. His life could inspire ceaseless sequels.
A biography by Leena Chandavarkar, the last of his four wives, would be an interesting read, to put it mildly. Some years ago, a reporter at a paper I was editing, had suggested that she was living under impoverished circumstances. He brought back a sob story, with a melancholic photo to match.
When the story came out, with a blaring headline, she was appalled. Over the ‘phone, she denied the quotes and stated the photo had been manipulated. She was doing well, thank you very much, and intended to record an album of songs. So why don’t I drop by for tea some day? She’d fix the appointment. She never did.
Kishoreda’s first wife, Ruma Guha Thakurta, didn’t ever say much that could be termed as informative. The legend’s second wife – the ethereally beautiful Madhubala – never made any pronouncements on him.
Circa 1960, early evenings, I would see her huddled, alone under a Japanese umbrella with Kishore Kumar, walking by the seascape at Narayan Dabholkar Road (close to Walkeshwar), where I stayed during my childhood years. She had eloped with Kishore Kumar, to escape the wrath of her father.
Their marriage had created a sensation: it was said that Kishore Kumar had converted to Islam. Denials were issued that they were married in court. Since the couple was being hounded, they were given refuge by a promoter of classical music, Brij Narain, who requested a group of us curious kids not to approach them.
“What if we do?” I said, already soaked in Bollywood then. A compromise was struck. Madhubala gave five of us an audience, pinched our cheeks and said the right things, “So sweet. Which school do you go to...?”, that sort of stuff. Meanwhile from behind her back, her groom pulled out his tongue, contorted his face to look devilish and glared-glared-glared at us. Seems amusing today, but at that point we were terrified, as if we had met Dracula reincarnated.
Yogeeta Bali, who featured in his latter-day movies, doesn’t say a word about him. Leena Chandavarkar would and should -- if there is any residue of her former peppiness in her. We need to know more about Kishore Kumar, whose life remains a source of omigawd-do-you-know-he-did-thaaat anecdotes?
The Disco Dance director, B Subhash, his former assistant, can recall many anecdotes. This includes Kishoreda’s insistence that his assistants run up and down the stairs a dozen times, and never take the elevator at the Ramnord recording studio. Or he wouldn’t record.
The most common Kishore Kumar story is that he shaved off half his moustache because he didn’t want to shoot for a film producer who hadn’t coughed up his fee installment. Without half the moustache, there would be no continuity. The producer paid up; the shooting was resumed once the moustache grew back.
The reclusive one could suddenly throw open the gates of his Juhu bungalow to celebrate the first birthday of his son with Leena Chandavarkar, Sumit Kumar. A beshawled Amitabh Bachchan had arrived. The rest of the guests sat at tables with their beers and chicken tikkas. Once Bachchan left, Kishore Kumar strode up to some of us from the media at a table, and rolled his eyes, “Shawlwaala gaya…now let’s have fun”, and broke into song. “Main Hoon Don…Main Hoon Don, ending with a bonus yodel.
Kishore Kumar passed away too soon. To re-re-re-reiterate Kishore Kumar’s gift for performance – whether as an actor of a dual Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality, or as a singer of ballads and dance numbers – is superfluous.
I still long to know what made him the versatile artiste he was, what made him the wacky kid in a man’s body, what made him a serial husband, what made Kishore Kumar...well Kishore Kumar, whom we know essentially from hearsay.
Ashok Kumar, by contrast was convivial and would love to chat at his Chembur home with journalists over a Sunday lunch. He didn’t relish discussing his brothers beyond a point and had told me, “Look, people will always remember us as the trio of Chalti ka Naam Gaadi. That kind of chemistry between us could never happen again. We, had to often control Kishor who could go wild before the camera. (Director) Satyen Bose would go crazy with worry.”
“That apart Kishore was a superb actor with great comic timing,” Big Brother had elaborated. “I had advised him not to become a playback singer –initially he was obsessed with K.L Saigal. Later, I had told him that there was too much competition, with Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Talat Mehmood and Manna Dey around. But he proved me wrong, didn’t he? And I admitted my mistake to him.”
And what was Dadamoni’s take on Anoop Kumar? The response was, “I think he could have become a lawyer like our father, or looked after the family’s business interests. Sorry to say, he was way too shy, an introvert. It was much too difficult for him to act naturally.”
The Gangulys’ ancestral bungalow in Khandwa, when I visited it five years ago, was in an utter state of neglect. The locals around said that it was the property of Anoop Kumar and his family, but no one had come to claim it. An aged gardener looked after the overgrown foliage, free of cost, since he had known the Ganguly family ever since he could remember.
In sum, I’m sure that I will never be able to erase the memory of Anoop Kumar on bus route 83. If only he had broken into a song full-throatedly.
Khalid Mohamed is a Mumbai based film critic, scfreenwriter, producer & director.