Kishore Kumar, or as he is lovingly remembered, Kishore Da, was primarily a singer. A wonderful, talented singer and is probably regarded among the top artistes in his field in the entire subcontinent. However, Kishore Da was not just that. Apart from singing, he also dabbled a fair bit in acting. In the initial years, when he was starring in dramatic roles, he was not interested in the arena at all, and agreed to do so only because his brother, veteran actor Ashok Kumar, wanted him to. And so Kishore Kumar debuted in the movies with Shikari (1946), in which Ashok played the lead role.
In the following decade, Kishore appeared in over 20 movies, out of which at least 15 were duds. And it is said that since he was never serious about acting to begin with. Kishore Kumar did his best to irk the creators, which would more often than not, result in him quitting the project. But, his acting career got a new lease of life post mid 1950s when he was seen in a slew of successful movies, including the likes of Ladki and Naukari, among others. He established himself as a lead in some solid romantic comedies, and the audience loved to see him on the silver screen with other acting legends like Nutan, Meena Kumari and of course, with his partner at the time, Madhubala.
In one of his earlier appreciated works, New Delhi, Kishore Kumar showed the naysayers what he was capable of as a leading man. His easy charm and excellent comic timing brought everyone to their feet. People loved his playful romance with the lovely Vyjayanthimala. New Delhi was about a classic tale of opposite attracts and was helmed by Mohan Sehgal. Think modern 2 States, but a lot better.
Then there was of course, the 1954 release Naukri, the socio-political feature directed by Bimal Roy. In Naukri, Kishore Da displayed his dramatic flair, which was aplenty. His grounded act about the realities and hardships of unemployment impressed one and all. In another one of his few roles with a more intense touch about it, Kishore Da played a breadwinner in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s 1957 episodic feature Musafir.
Then came the period of comedies with Madhubala. Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Jhumroo (1961) and Half Ticket (1962) featured top-notch performances from the lead pair. Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi perhaps attracted more attention in this list of movies, because it had appearances by all the three Ganguly brothers — Ashok, Kishore and Anoop.
A few years later, Kishore Kumar begins filming the role he will most be remembered for by millennials. Yes, I am talking about Padosan (1968), in which Kumar overshadowed the rest of his talented cast members with his brilliance. He sang, danced, mimicked, acted his heart out, and it genuinely looked like he had a lot of fun doing it. The energy was infectious, it just bounced off the camera. If IMDb is to be believed, Kishore Da even choreographed the iconic “Bindoo” song from the film. Since the choreographer was absent at the time, Kishore Kumar apparently volunteered for the job! It was even reported that some of his co-stars actually had reservations about Kumar stealing their limelight as he was the one who would get maximum cheers even on set. Therefore, some of Kumar’s scenes were apparently edited to balance things out.
Post his golden decade of success from mid 1950s to 1966, Kishore Kumar’s acting career saw a marked downward trend, with many of his subsequent features failing to make an impression at the box office. His last appearance as an actor was in 1982 release Chalti Ka Naam Zindagi.
Many said that this happened because Kumar never wanted to act and was pushed into it deliberately. In a later interview with Pritish Nandy, Kishore Da confirmed the same and said, “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.”
Even today, despite acting in around 100 movies, Kishore Kumar is mostly known for his vocal skills, which is a shame because he was one of the few actors who acted not only with his whole heart, but his whole body. His eyes danced, his body language conveyed often what the words couldn’t.