Paschimbanga- as it is currently named) garlanding the artist Kishore Kumar (1929-1987) on his 82nd birth anniversary on 4th August 2011 in her own office, indicates a quantum change in the perception of the Bengalis towards this genius. Not very long ago, entertainment in this state was taken as a lower grade of arts and entertainers were from a species not to be revered but only to be enjoyed. Question comes then, why such change?
Well, Kishore belonged to a period of "artistic brilliance in Bengal". He was not born in Bengal, neither he had a mainstream role in Bengali cinema and music for quite some time. Bengalis were preoccupied with the music of Tagore and Nazrul with intermittent inputs from Hemanta, Manna, Shyamal, Manabendra, Satinath, Sandhya and many other local breed talents. Being hailed from a middle class Bengali family myself, I could feel the indifference major Bengali music lovers had for Kishore Kumar. Too light, too fast and sometimes too modern as well..!!!
Kishore's first Bengali song came almost in the same time of his Hindi debut. The assembled number of Samar(1950) never came to notice in Bengal. He did make a more serious venture into mainstream Bengali movies and music with Lukochuri(1958), but again, a big hit notwithstanding, the reception was "casual". Many people perceived Kishore's antics in Lukochuri a mere translation in Bengali from what he was already doing in Bombay. Also, from Kishore's perspective as well, he might have assessed the monumental task of penetrating into Bengali mass and hence, concentrated more in his Hindi assignments, which were, by then, reduced to only acting.
There are very few anecdotes available today as to how Bengali musicians assessed Kishore's musical prowess that time. The traditional school of Bengali music, lead by the likes of Nachiketa Ghosh, Robin Chatterjee, Satinath Mukhopadhyay etc had hardly anything to say about him. Hemanta Mukhopadhyay was the only one working with Kishore, albeit only in the Bengali movies where Kishore himself was the hero- Lukochuri, Ektuku Chhoan Laage and Dushtu Projapati. Although, even with this limited association, Hemanta had given Kishore some of his best compositions like "Ei to hethay kunjo chhayay" ,"Chholoki chholoki man tanu" , "Shudhu ektukhaani chaoa" (with Geeta Dutt).
Anindya singing a Rabindrasangeet in Rituparno Ghosh's "Shubho Mahorat" today), "exceptions"- that is what they used to say.
Perhaps, the problem with "artist" Kishore Kumar was that his life changing album was "Aradhana" and not "Safar" or "Amar Prem", which came later. It was easy to assume that Kishore was a light singer and Bengal hardly had any allowance of light songs in their school of music.
And this label followed Kishore in spite of his undisputed dominance in the much larger Hindi music arena in the 70s and 80s. Shyamal Mitra was the first to lift the image to a small extent. Unfortunately, "Bipin babur karan shudha" was more popular on the lips of a drunken Uttam Kumar in "Amanush" than "Ki ashay bandhi khelaghar"- a sparkling semi-classical gem from the same film.
Between 1968-1975, Kishore came out with several non-film modern Bengali songs, each and every one being in the highest musical value league. He himself composed Raga Puriya Dhaneshri based "Aamaar deep nebhaano raat", Lata Mangeshkar composed for him " Aami nei aami nei"- a soulful composition sung with extreme vocal accomplishment by Kishore and R D Burman skillfully and delicately composing a lifetime " She to elo na". Kishore Kumar, after a long time, it seemed to have gained a place in the hearts of Bengali music lovers.
Kishore's low involvement in Bengali music in the 70s can be attributed to the fact that Hindi movies were still creating good music that time and hence he might not have felt the need to do something more serious in Bengali as well as to the fact that his major partners in that period like SDB, RDB, LP, KA or RR were not doing any music in Bengali in the 70s. Come 80s, Bengali movies and music underwent a sharp descent just like their counterparts in Bombay. Uttam Kumar was gone and so was, alongwith him, the evergreen romantic musicals. Nachiketa Ghosh breathed his last in 1976, Hemanta was too old to keep on going and Salil Chowdhury decided to focus only on very very limited assignments. The torch bearers left were Shyamal Mitra, who again had drastically cut down on his assignments and the Bomaby "importeds" like Sapan Jagmohan, Bappi Lahiri and R D Burman.
Definitely, not a period to be recalled with fondness, Bappi churned out insignificant numbers one after another, "mumbai-nizing" the Bengali music and Pancham, it seemed, clicked only with his non-film modern Bengali song albums. All his Bengali ventures that period- "Troyee","Kalankini Konkaboti", "Teen Murti", "Anyay Abichaar" do not justify the genius of Pancham- perhaps the greatest ever MD in Hindi films after his father. So, Kishore was reduced to singing in Bengali films largely under Bappi and Ajay Das- with horrible movies for more horrible faces like Sukhen Das..!! So, a gem like "Aaj milon tithir poornima chand" went unnoticed with Sukhen Das and a stray "Ek taanete jemon temon" or "Kheye oi laathi lyang" became cult songs with Mithun Chakraborty on screen.
This made an interesting transformation again. Kishore Kumar now became a "mass popular singer" in Bengal and a hot favourite amongst all the rookie crooners in Puja pandals and Local trains with intellectual Bongs drifting farther away from him. Even two full albums of Rabindrasangeet released in 1981 and 1986 could not repair the damage, as he was singing "Diner sheshe ghumer deshe" and "Rakhalchandra Mataal" in the same year, and yes, "versatility" was a taboo as far as traditional Bengali music was concerned.
So, now the million dollar question- how come sudden change in the perception today, after 25 years of Kishore's death?? Why suddenly reams and reams of papers are spent glorifying how Satyajit Ray used to admire Kishore or Hemanta had given some of his best compositions to Kishore or how his Rabindrasangeets are so unique even today?? The chief minister declaring that Kishore Kumar songs should be played during the traffic signals on the roads of Kolkata was a bit too much to digest for those who had always been fed with Akhil Bondhu Ghosh and Jaganmay Mitra.
Is Bengal desparately looking for a National Hero today? With music being one of their proudest domains, what Bengal can claim today at the National level is Pritam Chakraborty and Shantanu Moitra. Uttam Kumar might have been the superstar of Bengal, but 99% Indians outside Bengal yawn at this name, vaguely recalling Amanush and Chhoti Si Mulaqat.
And Kishore Kumar and Rahul Dev Burman have become youth icons! A gradual study and evolution in music have delved up a strange fact that these two together, had created music which was much much ahead of their times. So, the forgotten gems are revisited, unnoticed numbers that time are awed at and the intellectuals relook at their stances that time. Yes, perhaps, Kishore Kumar was a genius. He was a singing superstar when he died, and a comprehensive artist 25 years after his death.