In a glowing career spanning decades, Kishori Amonkar has remained one of the foremost singers in Hindustani classical tradition. Her contribution and innovation in the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana of music and her distinctive style of singing made her one of the most loved Indian classical vocalist of recent times. But, Kishori deliberately stayed away from singing for films. Known for speaking her mind and having a strong opinion against Bollywood, she regarded the current film music as ‘rhythmic noise.’
Kishori Amonkar died peacefully in her sleep on Monday night. But all the 84-year-old legend left for the film industry is a total of six songs in her voice – the title song for V Shantaram’s Geet Gaya Patharon Ne in 1964, and five songs from 1991 film Drishti, for which she even composed. She chose to return to singing for Drishti after 26 years because of a reason. The makers of Drishti, starring Dimple Kapadia, Shekhar Kapur and Irrfan Khan, asked Amonkar to compose her own tunes.
Drishti also had several alaap tracks in Kishori Amonkar’s voice which were used in the background. One such prologue was added to a lovemaking scene in the film, which infuriated her mother and guru, Mogubai Kurdikar, who herself was a Jaipur-Atrauli gharana legend. Amonkar, during an interview with DNA in 2014, said that her small tryst with Bollywood ended right there.
“You know I defied my Mai and guru (Moghubai Kurdikar) to sing for Geet Gaya Patharon Ne. She was furious and told me that if I wanted to sing for films I shouldn’t ever touch her two tanpuras. I still remember how her words struck me. Drishti happened because the subject convinced me. Film music has now become only rhythmic noise. Amongst recent songs, I’ve only liked the qawwali Khwaja Mere Khwaja (Jodha Akbar). It’s soul-stirring,” she said in the DNA interview.
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A staunch critic of popular filmy music, the one song that surprisingly caught her attention was “Main Tenu Samjhawan.” Though she wasn’t aware about the voice in the song, she was all praise for the singer during another interview with The Hindu, when she was asked whether she likes to listen to film or popular songs.
“I not only listen to, but also like the good ones. A recent Punjabi song ‘Main tenu samjhawan ki…’ comes to mind. Whosoever is the singer, he has sung it really well. ‘Ga re sa’ and ‘dha pa ma’ are the most difficult notes of the song, but he has sung them with perfect accuracy. I had nothing to do with the words or language of the song but the raga and the composition attracted me,” Kishori Amonkar had said.
Amonkar left the film industry yearning to hear her voice on the big screen, as it could never appease the icon ever again. For her fans and enthusiasts, it was all about worshiping music. She took her singing seriously, and even wanted her patrons to do that. “At a concert in Kashmir, a top industrialist’s wife ordered paan while I was singing. I stopped and asked her if she thought I was singing at a kotha,” Amonkar had said in the same DNA interview.