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How Kishore Kumar turned down Hrishikesh Mukherjee

On the filmmaker’s 10th death anniversary, a look at his most beloved film, Anand, for which Mukherjee wanted Kishore Kumar for the lead role.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee

Sonal Pandya

Anand (1971), a film held dear by its filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee, was a landmark in the careers of actors Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. Its scenes, dialogues and songs are etched in Hindi film buffs' memories. Looking back, we can’t imagine anyone else but Khanna as the stoic but cheerful cancer patient, Anand Saigal.

But, apparently, Hrishikesh Mukherjee could. He had initially imagined Shashi Kapoor in the role, but the actor was busy with other projects and wasn’t as interested.

Mukherjee then thought of his good friend and Shashi’s eldest brother Raj Kapoor in the role. But the ending of Anand (1971) required the lead character to die on screen and even Hrishida couldn’t imagine his dear friend leaving cinematically. He ended up dedicating the film to Raj Kapoor, along with the city of Bombay.

Anand re-imagined

Mukherjee’s third choice was quite unusual. He wanted Kishore Kumar to play Anand Saigal. The singer-actor was approached with the story and script. While Kumar liked it, he wanted to change the ending. Hrishikesh Mukherjee thought the script was perfect and no change was warranted. After several disagreements, they agreed to go ahead with the shooting.

In Shashikant Kinikar's book on the singing star, Kishore Kumar, A Versatile Genius, the author noted that Kumar showed up on the sets of the film with his head completely shaved and Mukherjee realized there was no way he could ask the notoriously stubborn star to change his mind. He decided to go with Rajesh Khanna instead.

Another version of the story is that Kishore Kumar and Hrishikesh Mukherjee had financial disagreements over the part. Kumar wanted the full payment for the role and Mukherjee would only pay him half at the beginning.

After a court ordered Kishore Kumar to finish the film, he landed up at the shoot with a half-shaved head and half a moustache and told Mukherjee, “Aadhe paise mein aadha Kishore hi milega! [At half-price, you will only get half a Kishore.]”

Whatever be the truth of these two accounts, Hrishikesh Mukherjee knew that Kishore Kumar was not his Anand.