Tomorrow, August 4, if you happen to sit in front of television for a while, you are likely to see a familiar face. That of Kishore Kumar. Tomorrow is his birthday: had he been alive, he would have been 82, perhaps leading a retired life and giving the occasional stage performance. But can you imagine a doddering Kishore Kumar climbing on to the stage with the help of a walking stick -- that would have gone against his very name and also nature. Even when he died at the age of 58, in 1987, he was still dancing on the stage in spite of having suffered two cardiac arrests. It isn't, therefore, surprising, that he didn't live long; entertainers like him don't.
There are two Kishore Kumars I know. One belonged to the black and white era, the actor who also sang his own songs. I wouldn't really waste my time collecting those songs. Though there might be exceptions, such as O.P. Nayyar's Piya, piya, piya... or Ravi's Nakhrewaali...
The other Kishore, the one I worship, arrived on the scene riding the metaphorical Sholay-type of bike (denoting friendship and partnership) with Rajesh Khanna. A bike song (Zindagi ek safar hai suhana) and a jeep song (Mere sapnon ki raani) for Rajesh Khanna marked the reinvention of Kishore Kumar as the country's most sought-after playback singer. And Kishore Kumar lived up to his status: he made it appear as if it was the actor, be it Dev Anand or Randhir Kapoor, who was really singing the song and not him. The best example is Muqaddar ka Sikander: can you ever tell whether O saathi re was sung by Kishore or Amitabh Bachchan? Bloody hell, he sounded convincing even in the throat of Amol Palekar! -- Aane wala pal, jaane wala hai.
But which song, according to you, is Kishore Kumar's best? The best?
Readers are welcome to send in their choices, even though it's an unfair question: it's like asking a 70-year-old man to pin down the best meal he has ever had in his life. But since Kishore Kumar is one of the guiding forces of Ganga Mail, and since tomorrow happens to be his birthday, I have decided to search for an answer to mark the occasion; and I think I have found an answer, after three drinks and spending two hours surfing You Tube.
The most wholesome song that Kishore Kumar has ever sung, according to me, is Tera mujhse hai pehle ka naata koi (from Aa Gale Lag Jaa). When I say wholesome, I mean a song that gives your soul all-round nourishment -- good lyrics set to a catchy tune and a great voice that does justice to the tune as well as the poetry. In short, a situation when you are unable to decide who should get the real credit for the song -- the lyricist, the composer, or the singer? This song is one such song.
The movie got released sometime in the early 1970's, but the words written by Sahir Ludhianvi, the most sensitive lyricist Hindi cinema ever had, still hold so true. Every so often, irrespective of how old you are or whether you are married or have married several times, you come across an engaging person from the opposite sex who makes you silently remember the lines, "Tera mujhse hai pehle ka naata koi, yun hi nahin dil lubhata koi (I'm sure we had a connection in the previous birth, or else why should you fascinate me so much!). The works of a great lyricist or writer, even if he himself dies an early death, transcends time.
Now, Sahir could have written this song for Shankar-Jaikishen, who in turn could have got Mukesh to sing it. What a disaster the song would have been! If the song still happens to be entrenched in public psyche today, it is mainly because of the racy tune that R.D. Burman imparted to Sahir's lyrics. And once thought-provoking lyrics are set to a catchy tune, what can be a better voice than Kishore Kumar's to carry the message to the masses? Kishore Kumar, the untrained singer, but possessing the voice of the serenader living next-door. He never sang at you, but sang to you; you had no choice but to listen to him, and in the process appreciate the music as well as the lyrics.
It is, therefore, not surprising at all that Tera mujhse hai pehle ka naata is recognised, even today, as a Kishore Kumar song. Very few will associate the song with Sahir Ludhianvi or R.D. Burman. Such was the power of the man's voice. Thanks to the song, Kishore Kumar continues to come to the rescue of those men and women who like each other but who can't figure why.
The song comes thrice in the film, under different circumstances -- each time a delight to listen to! Listen to this and this. My favourite lines from the song -- that's also a message from Ganga Mail to its readers:
Dekho abhi khona nahin
kabhi juda hona nahin
ab ke yuhin mile rahenge donon
waada rahaa yeh iss shaam ka
jaane tu ya jaane na
maane tu ya maane na...