“Shakti Samanta was planning a Hindi version of the Bengali Balika Badhu in ’75 and looking for fresh, young voice for lead actor Sachin,” reminsced Amit. “Baba (Kishore Kumar) was at his peak at the time, a one-man industry. When Panchamda (RD Burman) heard that I’d just done a stage show with him, he invited us home.”
There were a number of people including Shaktida in Burman’s house that evening. Amit, who was 24 then, was urged to sing. He chose one of Kishore’s from Jhumroo. When he finished, everyone clapped and told him he was really good. Only Kishore didn’t say a word till they were in the car driving back home. Then, he chided his son saying, “What happened to you Amit? You sang so badly!”
Amit retorted by telling his ‘baba’ that he was not a singer like him. The next day, RD Burman called to invited Amit for a rehearsal. He was singing for Balika Badhu after all!
The memory drew a laugh from Amit’s younger brother Sumit, who at 21 had just recorded his first film song for Raju Mawani’s Mudda. Sumit admitted that despite being Kishore Kumar’s son, he never dreamt of becoming a singer.
“As a child I wanted to be a cricketer and in school would hide behind a taller classmate and mime the way his lips moved during music class. Then, the teacher got wise, hauled me up front and made me sing alone,” he chuckled. “In college, I was into dramatics. Dancing was a hobby. I’d learnt to play the piano but I never sang.”
Amit pointed out that it was his father’s dream that Sumit learn the piano: “Baba wanted him to conduct the Philaharmonic Orchestra,” he informed, adding that one evening after Kishore’s death, when he was sitting with RD Burman in his living room discussing a song while Sumit fiddled with his keyboard in the corner, Panchamda abruptly stopped in mid-sentence. “He said, ‘The little boy is playing wonderfully. Amit, you must teach him the piano.’”
Sumit’s mother, Leena Chandravarkar, who joined us, admitted that both boys reminded her of her late husband, “Sumit is a prankster just like his baba,” informed Leena, remembering how Kishore was always trying to scare everyone with his practical jokes. “Amit has his voice. He sings and speaks exactly like him. Once, when he called me from the airport, his ‘hello’ sounded so much like Kishore’s that for a moment I was speechless. When I told Amit this, he pointed out that his ‘awaaz’ (voice) had to be like ‘baba’s’, after all he was his son.”
Leena went on to talk about a show at Shanmukhananda Hall. Kishore and Amit were singing the Padosan chartbuster, Ek Chatur Naar Badi Hoshiyar… that ended with Amit spread on the stage, his ‘baba’ sitting on his chest and trying to mock strangle him.
Sumit was watching from the wings and seeeing his ‘bhaiya’ in a vulnerable position, the four year old jumped to his rescue.
“He ran out, clambered on his ‘baba’s’ back and started punching him with his little fists,” says Leena. “The audience were on their feet, laughing and clapping. After that, Sumit’s spontaneous act became an regular item at Kishore Kumar shows and always drew the same thunderous applause.”
Kishore would have turned 82 on August 4. But he left us 24 years ago, when only 58. His sons and Leena too have moved out of Gauri Kunj. But every morning, when I drive by Maneckji Cooper School behind which the bunglow stood, I remember Amit telling me how his ‘baba’ and he had once been abusing the kids-next-door for breaking one more window when suddenly a little voice piped up. “It was quite a sight,” giggled Leena. “Three ‘boys’ from three different generations hollering at the schoolboys while their teacher watched in open-mouthed amazement.”