The World is crazy, not me: When Kishore said this to Pritish Nandy
On Kishore Kumar’s 88th birth anniversary, we bring you excerpts from a rare interview that the late singer-actor gave to Pritish Nandy in1985 in which he spoke of Mumbai, IT raids & ghosts
Pritish Nandy: I understand you are quitting Bombay and going away to Khandwa…
Kishore Kumar: Who can live in this stupid, friendless city where everyone seeks to exploit you every moment of the day? Can you trust anyone out here? Is anyone trustworthy? Is anyone a friend you can count on? I am determined to get out of this futile rat race and live as I’ve always wanted to. In my native Khandwa, the land of my forefathers. Who wants to die in this ugly city?
Pritish Nandy: If you didn’t like Bombay, why did you stay back? For fame? For money?
Kishore Kumar: I was conned into it. I only wanted to sing. Never to act. But somehow, thanks to peculiar circumstances, I was persuaded to act in the movies. I hated every moment of it and tried virtually every trick to get out of it. I muffed my lines, pretended to be crazy, shaved my head off, played difficult, began yodelling in the midst of tragic scenes, told Meena Kumari what I was supposed to tell Bina Rai in some other film – but they still wouldn’t let me go. I screamed, ranted, went cuckoo. But who cared? They were just determined to make me a star.
Pritish Nandy: Well, you are notorious for the trouble you give your directors and producers. Why is that?
Kishore Kumar: Nonsense. They give me trouble. You think they give a damn for me? I matter to them only because I sell. Who cared for me during my bad days? Who cares for anyone in this profession?
Pritish Nandy: Is that why you prefer to be a loner?
Kishore Kumar: Look, I don’t smoke, drink or socialise. I never go to parties. If that makes me a loner, fine. I am happy this way. I go to work and I come back straight home. To watch my horror movies, play with my spooks, talk to my trees, sing. In this avaricious world, every creative person is bound to be lonely. How can you deny me that right?
Pritish Nandy: Why do you have this reputation for doing strange things?
Kishore Kumar: It all began with this girl who came to interview me. In those days I used to live alone. So she said: You must be very lonely. I said: No, let me introduce you to some of my friends. So I took her to the garden and introduced her to some of the friendlier trees. Janardhan; Raghunandan; Gangadhar; Jagannath; Buddhuram; Jhatpatajhatpatpat. I said they were my closest friends in this cruel world. She went and wrote this bizarre piece, saying that I spent long evenings with my arms entwined around them. What’s wrong with that, you tell me? What’s wrong making friends with trees?
Pritish Nandy: Then why do you make films?
Kishore Kumar: Because the spirit moves me. I feel I have something to say and the films eventually do well at times. I remember this film of mine – Door Gagan ki Chhaon mein – which started to an audience of 10 people in Alankar. I know because I was in the hall myself. There were only ten people who had come to watch the first show! Even its release was peculiar.
Subhodh Mukherjee, the brother of my brother-in-law, had booked Alankar(the hall) for 8 weeks for his film April Fool- which everyone knew was going to be a block- buster. My film, everyone was sure, was going to be a thundering flop. So he offered to give me a week of his booking. Take the first week, he said flamboyantly, and I’ll manage within seven. After all, the movie can’t run beyond a week. It can’t run beyond two days, I reassured him. When 10 people came for the first show, he tried to console me. Don’t worry, he said, it happens at times. But who was worried? Then, the word spread. Like wildfire. And within a few days the hall began to fill. It ran for all 8 weeks at Alankar, house full! Subodh Mukherjee kept screaming at me but how could I let go the hall? After 8 weeks when the booking ran out, the movie shifted to Super, where it ran for another 21 weeks! That’s the anatomy of a hit of mine. How does one explain it? Can anyone explain it? Can Subodh Mukherjee, whose April Fool went on to become a thundering flop?
Pritish Nandy: Why didn’t you ever offer to work with a good director?
Kishore Kumar: Offer! I was far too scared. Satyajit Ray came to me and wanted me to act in Parash Pathar – his famous comedy – and I was so scared that I ran away. Later, Tulsi Chakravarti did the role. It was a great role and I ran away from it, so scared I was of these great directors.
Pritish Nandy: But you knew Ray.
Kishore Kumar: Of course I did. I loaned him five thousand rupees at the time of Pather Panchali-when he was in great financial difficulty- and even though he paid back the entire loan, I never gave him an opportunity to forget the fact that I had contributed to the making of the classic. I still rib him about it. I never forget the money I loan out!
Pritish Nandy: Well, some people think you are crazy about money. Others describe you as a clown, pretending to be kinky but sane as hell. Still others find you cunning and manipulative. Which is the real you?
Kishore Kumar: I play different roles at different times. For different people. In this crazy world, only the truly sane man appears to be mad. Look at me. Do you think I’m mad? Do you think I can be manipulative?
Pritish Nandy: What are those files?
Kishore Kumar: My income tax records.
Pritish Nandy: Rat-eaten?
Kishore Kumar: We use them as pesticides. They are very effective. The rats die quite easily after biting into them.
Pritish Nandy: What do you show the tax people when they ask for the papers?
Kishore Kumar: The dead rats.
Pritish Nandy: I see.
Kishore Kumar: You like dead rats?
Pritish Nandy: Not particularly.
Kishore Kumar: Lots of people eat them in other parts of the world.
Pritish Nandy: I guess so.
Kishore Kumar: Haute cuisine. Expensive too. Costs a lot of money.
Pritish Nandy: Yes?
Kishore Kumar: Good business, rats. One can make money from them if one is enterprising.
Pritish Nandy: What about your new film? Are you going to play hero in this one too?
Kishore Kumar: No no no. I’m just the producer-director. I’m going to be behind the camera. Remember I told you how much I hate acting? All I might do is make a split second appearance on screen as an old man or something.
Pritish Nandy: Like Hitchcock?
Kishore Kumar: Yes, my favourite director. I’m mad, true. But only about one thing. Horror movies. I love spooks. They are a friendly fearsome lot. Very nice people, actually, if you get to know them. Not like these industry chaps out here. Do you know any spooks?
Pritish Nandy: Not very friendly ones.
Kishore Kumar: But nice, frightening ones?
Pritish Nandy: Not really.
Kishore Kumar: But that’s precisely what we’re all going to become one day. Like this chap out here (points to a skull, which he uses as part of his decor, with red light emerging from its eyes)- you don’t even know whether it’s a man or a woman. Eh? But it’s a nice sort. Friendly too. Look, doesn’t it look nice with my specs on its non-existent nose?
Pritish Nandy: Very nice indeed.
Kishore Kumar: You are a good man. You understand the real things of life. You are going to look like this one day.