From the silly “C- A-T Cat, Cat Maane Billi” to the pathos filled “Badi Sooni Sooni Hai” the legendary Kishore Kumar is well known for the versatility of his songs. Although he sang his first song “Marne ki duayen kyon mangu” in 1949, Kishore Kumar gained immense popularity only in the late sixties. This period, between the late sixties and seventies, saw the emergence of Bollywood cinema’s first superstar Rajesh Khanna, and as the favored playback singer for Rajesh Khanna, Kishore Kumar became extremely popular and successful. In the songs that he sang for Rajesh Khanna, Kishoreda portrayed the gamut of feelings characteristic of romance and youth with effortless grace and heartfelt emotions.
After his first song in 1949, Kishoreda acted and sang in several movies like Naukri, Musafir, Aasha, Dilli Ka Thug, and Chalti ka Naam Gaadi. Although he sang in a number of films for the leading hero at that time, Dev Anand,- notable numbers like “Maana Janaab Ne Pukara Nahin” “Hai Hai Hai Ye Nighahen” “Hum Hai Raahi Pyaar Ke” and “Yeh Dil Na Hota Bechara” to name just a few- he was still not considered the top singer of the time. But all that changed in 1969 with Aradhana. If Rajesh Khanna was the face of youthful good looks, Kishore Kumar was the voice. Aradhana, the film that catapulted Rajesh Khanna to the pinnacle of popularity had several amazing songs. From the playful “Meri sapnon ki rani” to the romantic “Kora Kagaz Tha” these songs convey the essence of youth and young love. And who can forget “Roop Tera Mastana” for which Kishoreda won his first Filmfare award for Best Male Playback Singer? The way in which he sang the song, voice slightly husky with passion, the little intake of breath between the “roop tera” and “mastana” in the refrain, and the voice softening at the end to show the weakening resolve to resist temptation, all of these touches combined to make this song a timeless ode to youthful passion. In fact, I believe that Rajesh Khanna owed a big part of his success to the popularity of the songs in his films, especially those sung by Kishoreda.
Kishore Kumar continued to excel in singing romantic songs for Rajesh Khanna. I’m sure that songs like “Jeevan Se Bhari Teri Aankhen” “Ek Ajnabee Haseena Se” and “Mere Dil Mein Aaj Kya Hai” in which Kishore did for Rajesh, what Cyrano did for Christian, or in Hindi movie terms, Guruji did for Bhola, had the effect of creating masses of swooning female fans for Rajesh Khanna. Which woman could have resisted the face of Rajesh Khanna and the voice of Kishore Kumar singing the soulful yet romantic “O Mere Dil Ke Chain,” especially the line “Dil Tumko Hi Chahe to Kya Keejiye?“
While Rajesh Khanna ruled the silver screen, Kishore Kumar ruled the airwaves with numerous hit songs and even succeeded in silencing those critics, who held his lack of classical training against him, by singing semi-classical numbers like “Mere Naina Saawan Bhadon” and “Humein Tumse Pyaar Kitna” as well as ghazals like “Mere Deewanepan Ki Bhi Dawaa Nahin.”
But it wasn’t just the softly romantic numbers for Rajesh Khanna that Kishoreda excelled in. He conveyed the angst of love just as well. His heartfelt rendition of songs like “Chingari Koi Badke” and “Zindagi Ke Safar Mein” and “Woh sham kuch ajeeb thi “ truly make the listener feel the pain of love and betrayal. And who can forget Kishoreda singing the drunken rejection of love in “Ye Jo Mohabbat Hai?”
Kishoreda also performed lighthearted and carefree numbers for Rajesh Khanna with such panache. Songs like “Chala Jaata Hoon”, “Chal Chal Chal Mere Haathi” and “Jai Jai Shiv Shankar” convey a fun-loving irreverence that was Kishoreda’s forte and added a carefree dimension to Rajesh Khanna’s roles. And how about the devil may care attitude that he brings to “Zindagi Ek Safar?” The yodeling, which was a special talent of Kishoreda, was the highlight of this song and made Rajesh Khanna’s cameo role in the movie truly memorable.
Kishore Kumar continued to sing a wide range of songs throughout his career, winning the maximum number of Filmfare awards of any male singer, and although he sang for all the top heroes of Bollywood, I believe that the duo of Kishore and Rajesh was an unbeatable combination that created magic for the viewers and listeners of Hindi cinema. Just watch songs like “Vaada Tera Vaada” or “Ye Shaam Mastani” and you will know what I am talking about.