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When Kishore Kumar took on the government

In an excerpt from a new book on the singer and actor, we learn about the official ban on Kishore Kumar’s songs

Madhubala and Kishore Kumar in ‘Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi’
Madhubala and Kishore Kumar in ‘Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi’

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It was around January 1976. Geeton Bhari Shaam was Sanjay’s brainchild, and it was decided to rope in film celebrities to do films for television eulogizing the Twenty Point Programme. The session was to be the antidote for a nation engulfed in despondency. And who better to lift them from the despair than Kishore, by now the authority on live shows?

He wanted Kishore to sing jingles in praise of the government and its schemes. ‘Wanted’ would be a wrong choice of word for Sanjay of those days. It was more of a demand than an appeal. Kishore was basking in the glory of a Filmfare Award, his first in six years, when the trunk call came from Delhi. Not known to pick up phone calls directly, Kishore had made an exception that day.

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‘You have to come to Delhi. Sanjay Gandhi ka programme hai.’

‘Who are you?’ Now it was Kishore’s turn to ‘demand’.


It was a voice that reeked of unmerited power. An infuriated Kishore was unusually cool and, for a change, politically correct.

‘Please talk to my secretary or else take prior appointment.’

In his interview with Pritish Nandy, Kishore would set the record straight some nine years later. ‘Who knows why they come? But no one can make me do what I don’t want to do. I don’t sing at anyone’s will or command.’

The conversation would end there, but the confrontation had just begun. In those days, the Gandhi scion would not take no for an answer. Shukla needed to act in a hurry to save his job and honour.

‘Kishore Kumar : The Ultimate Biography’ by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Parthiv Dhar, published by HarperCollins India, 592 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>699
‘Kishore Kumar : The Ultimate Biography’ by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Parthiv Dhar, published by HarperCollins India, 592 pages, 699

Sayed Muzaffar Hussain Burney, the then Secretary in the Ministry of I&B, reported the conversation to his boss and was swiftly directed to arrange a meeting with some government officials and industry representatives in Bombay. The said meeting took place on 29 April 1976 and was attended by G.P. Sippy, the then head of the All-India Film Producer’s Council, director Shriram Bohra, B.R. Chopra, Subodh Mukerji and Nasir Hussain, among others.

Sippy tried to convince Kishore for the show but was snubbed. Sippy then explained to the officials that convincing Kishore was not their cup of tea and that ministry officials should contact him directly.

Next, it was the turn of Joint Secretary C.B. Jain to engage with Kishore. He spoke to the singer directly on phone and explained the government’s stance on the matter. Jain even suggested visiting Kishore to discuss the matter but was told that Kishore was not to see anyone as per medical advice. Kishore, during these years, was indeed suffering from hypertension, eosinophilia and other issues for which some live shows had to be curtailed midway.

By this time, Kishore was also mentally prepared to make a debut on the streets. With a harmonium hanging from his shoulders, he would sing to anybody’s tune but not the government’s:

I did what I thought best. Singing at private functions is definitely not an anathema. With genuine love and respect, I am only too eager to bend. However, if someone decides to rest his foot in my head, he will not have the good fortune to witness the best of my courtesies.

The film industry had attuned themselves to the eccentricities of Kishore, but for the mandarins at Delhi, this ‘impertinence’ was not to be taken lightly. Note sheets were initiated, and the job was entrusted to Jain.

Jain’s note started with the meeting at Burney’s office, where Kishore Kumar’s name was mentioned as being one of those who was ‘non-cooperating’. Therefore, the government needed to immediately ban the playing of Kishore Kumar records on AIR and Doordarshan for three months. Contact had to be made with the gramophone recording companies to request them to ‘freeze all records of Kishore Kumar’s songs’ and to see that ‘no record of his should be sold’. Jain had not finished yet. A list of under-production films with Kishore Kumar as the playback singer was also to be produced so that steps could be taken not to release any raw stock to ‘these productions’. It was also to be examined whether ‘such films could be refused censor certificate(s)’.

Still not satisfied, Jain took the matter to ridiculous proportions by exploring options regarding the broadcasting of songs by the BBC and if anything, ‘can be done to stop this’.

Based on Jain’s note, Burney would initiate his on 30 April, which Shukla would approve on 11 May 1976. The note read thus:

All the songs of Sri Kishore Kumar should be banned from AIR and DD and that all films in which he was the playback singer should be listed out so that suitable action can be taken against these films. Besides, the representative of HMV and Gramophone recording Companies should be sent for and, in consultation with the Ministry of Education, the sale of Sri Kishore Kumar’s records and discs should be frozen.

Strangely, the orders were issued even before Shukla had vetted the proposal. Exactly a week before that, on 4 May 1976, orders were issued by the Director General of AIR that songs by Kishore Kumar should not be broadcast and that film excerpts or films featuring him as a playback singer should not be shown on TV. All records of his songs should be kept in the ‘personal custody’ of the head of the various AIR and TV centres. Three days later, on 7 May, another order followed, this time related to advertising spots featuring Kishore Kumar’s voice. They could be used but only without any mention of his name.

The ban had well and truly begun.

Excerpted with permission from ‘Kishore Kumar : The Ultimate Biography’ by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Parthiv Dhar, published by HarperCollins India.

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