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05 March 2023

Kishore Kumar's Comic Songs

I am not a great fan of Kishore Kumar, the actor, except in rare circumstances. But his physical comedy is absolutely fantastic, especially when restrained by the firm hand of the director. He seems almost ‘boneless’ at times, and can dance like a dream, albeit in the most comical fashion ever. His yodelling skills, the almost-farcical facial expressions, the uninhibited-ness that he portrayed on screen – together, the combination was lethal. So, the songs picturized on him inevitably become an avenue for him to express his comic side. One can only imagine that he must choreograph them himself. They are tailor made for his brand of physical comedy, and while I don’t usually enjoy his over-the-top comic antics on screen, I find that I can take them in the small doses that songs entail. Not just ‘take’ it, but I quite enjoy them. Here are some of my favourite Kishore Kumar songs where the singer’s vocal calisthenics complement the actor’s clowning. 
Ek roz hamaari bhi dal galegi
Bandi (1957)
Music: Hemant Kumar
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan

Kishore Kumar, blowing the embers into flame in his wood stove, has to be the funniest start to any song, ever. As he begins with ‘Haldi devi bahu hai apni/Shrimati mirchi apni saas’ and how blowing the chulha has destroyed his eyes, he still holds out hope that not all days herald kitchen disasters. There’s hope that someday, his dal will also cook. And that he will be rid of dry rotis and achar; that, since his brother is a ‘M.A. pass’, one day, he will have a ‘bearer’, a ‘Gurkha’ as a security guard, and be a ‘saaheb’. The lyrics are great fun, Kishore’s antics are even funnier.

Hum thhe woh thhi with Anoop Kumar
Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958)
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri

This may have been inspired from The Watermelon Song by Tennesse Ernie Ford, but man, was it inspired! Raised by their misogynist brother, Brijmohan (Ashok Kumar) Jagmohan/Jaggu (Anoop Kumar) and Manmohan/Mannu (Kishore Kumar) have been exhorted to keep away from women. But when Renu (Madhubala) arrives at their garage one stormy night, Mannu makes her acquaintance. When Renu’s car needs repairs again, it is Jaggu who goes there, only he’s too nervous to do anything, So Mannu does the needful and Renu drops him back at the garage, much to Jaggu’s envy (and surprise at the seeming friendliness). When his curiosity gets the better of him, and he enquires what happened between his younger brother and this beautiful young woman, Mannu spins him an exaggerated tale of their supposed closeness, leading to his brother agonizing, “Mannu tera hua, ab mera kya hoga?”

I dithered between this song and Paanch rupaiyya baarah aana, but finally picked this because song, lyrics and picturisation all meld into a totally lunatic sequence.
Main Bangali chokra (with Asha Bhosle)
Raagini (1958)
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi

This was a song where everyone seemed to be having fun – OP Nayyar, Qamar Jalalabadi, Kishore, Asha and Padmini. Whether it was the lyrics:
Sach poochho to mere dil mein pyaar illai-illai (To tell you the truth, there is no love in my heart) O Bengali, mera ho jaa kahti hai Miss Pillai (Please be mine, o Bengali, begs Miss Pillai.) 
Or Kishore and Padmini embodying every stereotype of a Bengali chokra and a Madrasi chokri (they were, respectively, Bengali and Madrasi – Padmini, though born in Kerala, grew up in erstwhile Madras and would definitely have identified as ‘Madrasi’) and prancing and flouncing away on stage, it’s a ridiculously infectious song sequence.
Aaj kal ki ladkiyon ka programme
Ladka Ladki(1966)
Music: Madan Mohan
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
Somewhat reminiscent of Aake seedhi lagi in that Kishore is dressed in drag, here, he is dressed as both the male and female (and singing for both) as well as various other roles in between. This, like Main Bangali chokra, is also a stage performance, and Kishore switches seats to show off the male and female profiles as he insists he knows all about college girls and how they spend their days. If proof was needed for Kishore’s comic timing, his versatility and his ability to sing falsetto, this song is proof indeed.
Gaana na aaya bajaana na aaya
Miss Mary (1957)
Music: Hemant Kumar
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan

To think of Kishore not being able to sing is deliciously ironic. I don’t know how much input he had into the lyrics, but Rajinder Krishan’s lyrics are a scream. And Hemant Kumar composes a melody that melds into Rock & Roll, sets a beloved nursery rhyme to a different rhythm and changes tempo mid-song. Kishore also gets to show off his ability to dance (even if, as he claims, he can’t sing), make faces and even yodel. This was one film in which he didn’t irritate me as much as he usually does.

Aake seedhi lagi  
Half Ticket (1962)
Music: Salil Chowdhury
Lyrics: Shailendra

The fun in this song lies in the picturization – Vijay (Kishore) is being chased by Raja (Pran), who is being chased by the police. The prize is a precious diamond, stolen by Raja and hidden away in Vijay’s pocket, unbeknownst to him. On this utterly loony journey, they stumble into a gypsy camp where Vijay dresses as a woman, and Raja as the man wooing him. The song itself is a wonderful melody and the lyrics are that of a straightforward romantic duet, but Kishore Kumar’s antics and Pran’s dancing (and his determined pursuit of the ‘lady’) make this a hoot to watch. Kishore exaggerates every ada, heightens every coquettish expression, and syncopates every mischievous flirtation, in a way that makes me laugh outright. Not to mention that he sings in his normal voice for Pran, while employing a falsetto for his act as a lady.

C-A-T Cat Cat maane billi (with Asha Bhosle)
Dilli ka Thug (1958)
Music: Ravi
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri

Dilli ka Thug
was a film that didn’t know what it wanted to be, and so wasted a good part of its running time on hare-brained ‘twists’. But it did have a wonderful musical score. And while Kishore set my teeth on edge for most of the movie (except the last half an hour), as a song, C-A-T Cat Cat maane billi in isolation always makes me smile, Both Kishore and Nutan are cutting loose and having fun, that much is evident. And Asha, who has always said that Kishore was her favourite colleague, obviously had as much fun recording this – I can only imagine the recording session with Kishore up to his usual tricks. And I must confess that I think Majrooh definitely had Kishore in mind when he wrote:
M-A-D Mad, mad maane paagal
B-O-Y boy, boy maane ladkaa
Arre matlab iskaa tum kaho to kya hua
Kamaata hun bahut kuch
Adhikaar (1954)
Music: Avinash Vyas
Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan

I love the lyrics, though I am not sure if Kishore had any input into the lyrics, or whether lyricist Raja Mehdi Ali Khan threw in a jab at the income tax, with reference to Kishore. The song is the complaint of the common man – his income is not enough for his ‘out go’. Half his salary is taken by the income tax, complains Shekhar (Kishore Kumar) and the rest? It is spent by his wife. Thankfully, not being the sort to take matters lying down, Usha (Usha Kiron) gives back as good as she gets. Well, if he stopped smoking and going to the movies and travelling by taxis, perhaps there would be more income and less out-go! This is not a ‘funny’ funny song, but the lyrics always make me smile.

Khali peeli kaahe ko akha din baith ke
Tamasha (1952)
Music: Manna Dey
Lyrics: Bharat Vyas

I loved every bit of Tamasha, though the versions available online are inexplicably truncated. This song is comic not just because of its lyrics, but also because of Dilip’s (Dev Anand) hangdog expression as he is increasingly irritated by Kiran’s (Meena Kumari) presence in his house and in his life. Kishore plays Dilip’s cousin, Rajju, who is completely involved in his grandfather’s plot to get Dev and Meen married off. And while he’s sympathetic towards his cousin, he doesn’t have any patience for Dilip’s pusillanimity. Hence, this song, in which Bharat Vyas, usually known for lovely devotional numbers and mellifluous romantic ones, gets to write: O aalasi, kaahe ko himmat haarta hai? /Khaali peeli kaahe ko akha din baith ke bom maarta hai?

Kue mein kuud ke mar jaana
Parivar (1956)
Music: Salil Chowdhury
Lyrics: Shailendra

The hilarity begins from the scene preceding the song. Suresh (Ashim Kumar), who is a musician, has organized a cultural programme. He begins the programme by announcing a list of famous artistes – world-renowned sarod player Khan Saheb Ali Akbar Khan; famous singer, Pankaj Mullick; sitar maestro Khan Saheb Vilayat Khan, singer Hemant Kumar, music director Sachin Dev Burman – and the audience breaks out into applause, before he admits that he couldn’t invite any of them. As the audience begins booing and jeering, he quickly announces that they have a special guest who will captivate the audience. And in answer to their eager questioning, he pulls back the curtains to reveal – no one. Catcalls from the audience ensue as one wag wants to know if Suresh had forgotten to invite him as well, but from the well on the stage emerges – Kishore Kumar (playing himself). He then proceeds to share his ‘life experience’, warning people against getting married.

Which are your favourite comic songs of Kishore Kumar (as an actor)?

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