Monkeys farting from the ceiling …

When a reporter visited him for an interview, he took her to his garden and introduced her to each of his friends, Janardhan, Raghunandan, Gangadhar, Jagannath, Budhuram and Jhatpatjhatpat-jhatpat. Problem was, all these ‘friends’ were trees in his garden.

And then he took her to his bedroom, to meet some more of his ‘friends’ –  a collection of human skulls.

During a hilarious interview in 1985 with Pritish Nandy for the now-defunct Illustrated Weekly of India, he spoke about the famous interior decorator whom he had called to his home. He told the decorator to design a moat in his living room instead of a sofa, live crows hanging from the walls instead of paintings, and instead of an air-conditioner, he wanted ‘monkeys farting from the ceiling‘. The decorator ran for his life.

He hung a huge notice board outside his house that read, “This is a lunatic asylum.”

When a producer paid him only half his promised fee, he turned up for shooting with half his head and moustache shaved off, and told him, “Aadha paisa, tho aadha make-up.”

He would turn up for song recordings in an old lungi, and refuse to start singing until his secretary called him up to confirm that he had received his payment from the producer. Once, when he did not receive that call, he called up his secretary, and asked him if his payment for the movie had been received. “But Sir, it is your own movie, and you are the producer”,  the secretary told him. “So what?”, was the retort.

A film director got a court order against him, for refusing to listen to him on the sets. The next day, the director forgot to say ‘Cut’ after a car chase scene, and so he continued driving for 100 kilometers more, right upto Khandala!

Only one man could get away with behaviour like that, and still be one of the highest paid stars in Bollywood.

Wild, wacky, unpredictable and uniquely gifted, Abhas Kumar Kanjilal Ganguly, or Kishore Kumar Khandwewallah as he called himself, was quite simply one of a kind. There never was another like him, and never will be.

Today, August 4th, is his birthday.

Kishore Kumar started out to be a hero, like his elder brother Ashok Kumar. He had no intention of being a playback singer. He was a huge fan of KL Saigal. One day, he was loudly singing a Saigal song in his bathroom, and was overheard by SD Burman. Burman had come to visit Ashok Kumar and he was impressed by Kishore Kumar’s singing. He took Kishore under his wing and trained him in the art of playback singing.

Kishore Kumar was the only leading playback singer of his time who never had formal classical training. That didn’t come in the way of his becoming an all-time great in Indian cinema.

From his film debut in 1948 till his sudden death in October 1987, Kishore Kumar excelled in every sphere – he was a hero, comedian, singer, music director, composer, lyricist, film maker and producer. His versatility as a film maker was amazing.  On one hand, he made badtki naamzany movies like Chalti Naam Gaadi and Badti ka Naam Daadi, that had audiences rolling on the floors. On the other, he made serious and thought-provoking movies like Door gagan ki chaaon mein and Door ka rahi, that were acclaimed by film critics. The last movie he made, Door wadiyon mein kahin, did not have a single song in it.

As controversial as he was in his public life, he was equally unconventional in his personal life. He was unabashed about the fact that he married four times. His first wife, Ruma Ghosh, was a famous playback singer and leading actress of her time. So was his second wife, the beautiful Madhubala, who died due to a hole in her heart. Yogita Bali, his third wife, was a well-known actress too.

She left him after a brief marriage, allegedly since she could not stand his habit of sitting awake each night and counting his money! Leena Chandavarkar, another beautiful actress of the nineteen-sixties and seventies was his fourth wife, and remained his wife until his death.


For all his weird behaviour and eccentricity, Kishore Kumar was a political activist in his own right. He stood up against the government during the Emergency, by refusing to sing at a political function. As a result, he was banned from All India Radio and TV for two years, but Kishore Kumar didn’t bother. After the Emergency was lifted in 1977, he promptly bounced back.

His sudden death on October 13, 1987 due to a massive cardiac arrest came as a total shock to everyone. Kishore Kumar was cremated in Khandwa, his native village.

For die-hard fans like me, Kishore Kumar will never die. Along with Mohammad Rafi, he is one of the immortals of Indian cinema.

Enjoy this rare song from Half-Ticket (1961), a freaked-out comedy that was typical of Kishore Kumar. I think this is the only song of its kind in Indian cinema. This is a male-female duet in which both parts are sung by the same singer! Who else but a mad genius like Kishore Kumar could perform a duet like this?

Yoodleyoo, Kishoreda!

Cheers … Srini.


Mere saamnewali khidki mein …

The weather in Bangalore is hot and miserable. And, as always in summer, power supply is down, water supply is a luxury, vegetable prices are up, and so are tempers. Furious with the elements, locked in at home due to the heat, and sick of watching re-re-re-runs of Friends on the telly, one decides to cheer oneself up by watching Padosan, the classic comedy from our youth.

I first saw Padosan at Rupam Talkies, Sion, during my MPharm days. After that, I made it a point to see it wherever it ran in Bombay. And in the 21st century, after CD’s became affordable, the first movie CD I bought was Padosan.

Padosan is one of the best comedy movies ever made. Forty years after it was first released in 1968, the movie still makes modern audiences laugh, and laugh heartily. Almost all the actors from the original cast are long dead, but they can still make you split your sides laughing.

There is a sweet innocence about the movie, a cheerful, uncomplicated niceness that takes one back to better times. Life was so much simpler then.

Except for some outdoor sequences, Padosan was shot in Mysore, on a single set with just three cameras. This low-budget movie was Mehmood’s first attempt as a film-maker and he had little money to spare. And yet, in spite of its spartan production values, in spite of its cheap sets and minimalism, and in spite of being almost half a century old, Padosan can still do what Chennai Express does not – it glues you to your chair for three hours, it respects your intelligence and it makes you happy.

That’s because, unlike Shahrukh Khan, Mehmood understood what drives a movie fan to leave his home, stand in a queue to buy a ticket and sit in a theater for three hours. It’s not ultra-tech special effects, or digitised villains, or Priyamani’s cleavage. It’s simply a good story. Movie making is nothing more than story telling and that’s what we really need – one good story.

Based on a Bengali tale called Pasher Bari, Padosan had a nice, funny story about a village simpleton who woos and wins his city-bred neighbourette. The story was complemented by shrewd casting by Mehmood and the director, Jyoti Swaroop. They assembled the best comedians of the era – Kishore Kumar, Mukhri Ali, Keshto Mukerjee, Raj Kishore, Om Prakash, Agha, Sundar and Mehmood himself. Sunil Dutt as Bhola, the village bumpkin and Saira Banu, as Bindu, the haughty neighbour were the perfect choices for the lead pair.

Although it was a hit in Bombay and other parts of India, Padosan was not well received in Tamil Nadu, and was banned in Madras. Tamilians were not amused with Mehmood’s role as Master Pillai, the bungling Madrasi music teacher who competes with Bhola for Bindu’s hand. But the movie poked gentle fun at north Indians as well, with Om Prakash in the role of Kunwar Pratap Singh, Bhola’s elderly and lusty uncle, and Kishore Kumar as Vidyapati, the wily nautanki who helps Bhola in cheating Bindu. Master Pillai was in fact portrayed as an honorable man who politely backs out at the end, to allow Bhola marry Bindu. It was all in good humor, and eventually the ban on the movie was lifted.

The humor in Padosan was clean and spontaneous. No sleaze, no below-the-belt jokes, no dangerously low necklines, no clinging wet sarees – except for a brief bathtub scene involving Saira Banu and some strategically placed foam.

Padosan has very good songs. The highlight of the movie is the singing competition between Kishore Kumar and Mehmood. Playback for Mehmood was provided by Manna De, who was unhappy that he was shown as losing to Kishore Kumar and refused to sing some verses. Those verses were sung by Mehmood.

My favorite song from Padosan is this clip. This particular song was not in the original list. The original scene had Kishore Kumar giving love advice to Sunil Dutt, in the form of humorous dialogs. In his typical spontaneous style, Kishore Kumar insisted on singing his lines and the story goes that he composed the tune on the spot and had RD Burman create the music for it.

Enjoy then, this funny sequence from Padosan, and cast your blues aside.