Champ off the old block

Champ off the old block

versatile singer

Champ off the old block

It was an impossibly tough call — to live up to the legend that his Baba (father Kishore Kumar) was, and that too, in his lifetime. Amit Kumar’s voice also had Kishore’s tenor, so the trick was in sounding different.

This is where the singer feels grateful to many composers who fashioned individualistic songs for him. And while in the 70s he also competed with Mohammed Rafi, in the 80s, he had to forge his identity with his father ruling at the top until his death in 1987.

Amit Kumar’s greatest achievement, thus, is that he carved his niche as an original singer and was never listed among his father’s clones. This, despite the similarly strong throw and a similar versatile range from a sober ‘Yeh Zameen Gaa Rahi Hai’ (Teri Kasam) to a rousing ‘Kehdo Ke Tum’ (Tezaab), and from a pathos-laden ‘Soone Sham Savere’ (Khel) to the rollicking ‘Laila O Laila’ (Qurbani).

Vocal prowess

It is because of his vocal uniqueness today that his legion of fans want to know why he cannot return to playback singing and annihilate the ‘competition’. “I will never do that,” says Amit with amused vehemence. “I have no regrets. I have sung whenever I have been called, and there have been memorable songs like ‘Dil Mein Baji Guitar’ in Subhash Ghai’s Apna Sapna Money Money (which the filmmaker insisted should be sung by me!) and ‘Dilrubaon Ke Jalwe’ for Shah Rukh Khan in Dulha Mil Gaya. There have been mediocre songs as well, like in Jhankaar Beats. But I am happy doing shows and when the creative urge comes up, making albums on my own label — Kumar Brothers Music (KBM).”

A wry smile comes on his face when I point out that when he enters the song ‘Bole Chudiyan’ midway in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…, with his powerful throw, he effortlessly dwarfs the other male and female voices in the song. Dismissively, he smiles, “That was because I was the voice of Amitabh Bachchan in it.”

His maiden (and brilliant) debut album ‘MAD’, released all of 23 years ago, set a new precedent for the singer. “I officially began to compose with this album, and Leenaji (erstwhile top star Leena Chandavarkar Ganguly, Kishore Kumar’s widow) showed her flair for writing superb lyrics.” The team has collaborated in many albums, and their latest album together is ‘Zinda Hoon Main’, which was launched recently with a concert in Mumbai.

For Amit, there is no joy like seeing a CD of his songs, for online releases do not give him a high. “With my last album, ‘Sapne Banata Hoon’, only 500 CD of 1,500 were sold. I lost money, as I record in the best manner possible. There have been hurdles of all kinds, but I enjoy doing my kind of music.” He mentions how his composition ‘Baba Mere’, sung by his daughter Muktika in honour of Kishore Kumar and released on the latter’s birthday, had 1,25,000 downloads!

‘Zinda Hoon Main’, whose inlay cover shows Amit getting out of a part-open coffin, is definitely a way of saying that he is still around. “But it does not mean that I want to regularly sing in films,” he points out.

Amit Kumar now spends most of his time listening to the greats of Indian classical music. Ustad Amir Khan and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan are among the legends on his current playlist and he says that ‘Kajraa’, a song in this album, is influenced by raagas.

His voice, strong and supple, belies his age (64), and Amit credits that to yoga as well as his experience with legendary composers and co-singers. “I believe in the kind of amalgam of poetry, melody and harmony that touches the heart,” he says simply.

When he came in, was there a struggle to make an entry because he was Kishore’s son, or was it easier? He replies, “My first recorded song was ‘Hosh Mein Humka’ for Ramsay Brothers’s Darwaza under Sapan-Jagmohan. Of course, Baba had recorded with me for Door Ka Rahi when I was a kid. But Darwaza got delayed.”

Next up was a song for no less than Rajesh Khanna in a Salil Chowdhury film, which was shelved. “I was called because Salilda made it clear that they could not afford Baba,” he recalls with a smile. He was next summoned by Madan Mohan for Chaalbaaz, which again never released, though the album was.

On a rise

It was after these songs that his good friend R D Burman called him for the multi-singer ‘Salaam Kijiye’ (with Mohammed Rafi and Bhupendra) for Aandhi and for the duet ‘Bade Acche Lagte Hain’ in Balika Badhu, which were his first films as an adult singer.

Before the decade was out, Amit had sung for all the leading composers like Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyan-Anand and Rajesh Roshan, besides his Baba. From the 80s and 90s, he also recorded for veterans like Shankar (-Jaikishan), O P Nayyar, and had lovely experiences with them. Among the new generation, he doffs his hat to Viju Shah, Anand-Milind and Jatin-Lalit in particular.

Despite his Baba’s closeness, why did he miss out on S D Burman? “That has a simple answer — Dada was in indifferent health and passed away in 1975. In 1974, Baba launched me on stage in Mumbai with the show ‘Daddy Kishore Son Amit’, in which Dada was the chief guest. Before I came on stage, Baba had garlanded him. When I sang a couple of songs, from the front row, Dada threw his garland on me. Later, he told my father, “Send him to Pancham (R D Burman)!”