Today is the birth anniversary of Kundan Lal Saigal - K.L.Saigal for short- the singer- actor without mentioning whom any annals of Indian Films and Film music would be incomplete. He is arguably the first super star of Hindi Cinema. Born this day in 1904 at Jammu , Saigal developed interest in music at an early age. His mother , an extremely religious lady would take the young boy to Kirtans as well as Sufi saints .As a boy Saigal used to act in Ramlila and play Sita .Once he had an opportunity to sing a bhajan in presence of the Ruler of Jammu in whose Court, his father was a Tehsildar .The Ruler was so much impressed with his singing that he predicted a bright future for the boy in music. Later, leaving his formal education midway , Saigal took up job first as a time keeper with the Railways and later as a sales person with Remington Typewriter Company. He lived and stayed in Shimla during his employment with the said Typewriter Company . Amateur singing went side by side with Saigal singing in private gatherings. The job involved touring and he had to visit many places all over India. During one of such visits he chanced upon one Mehar Chand Jain, who sensing his musical talent encouraged and aided him in his pursuits.Saigal acknowledged his debt to Mehar Chand Jain and always remained grateful to him. . Both went to Calcutta and Saigal participated in many a mehfil-e mushaira. Saigal recorded some songs with the Indian gramophone Company under the music direction of one Harishchandra Bali. Calcutta was the centre of Hindi Cinema those days and there were many stalwarts like R.C.Boral. K.C.Dey, Pankaj Mullick and Pahadi Sanyal. As Saigal’s reputation as a singer spread, he was employed by New Theatres on contract on a monthly salary of Rs.200/- .
The talkies had just started and there was a demand for actors who could sing as well . Obviously, Saigal fitted the bill. He worked in three films in 1932 , the first one being Mohabbat ke Aansoo, followed by Subah Ka Sitara and Zinda Laash. In the titles, his name had appeared as Saigal Kashmiri. The films did not do well but Saigal had launched a career. His first film with his original name in the titles was Yehudi Ki Ladki , released in 1933 . He also worked in Chandidas, Rooplekha and Karwan-e-Hayaat . The bhajans he sang for Puran Bhagat became a rage of the times. However the defining moment came in Saigal’s career when he played the title role in Devdas, based on Sharat Chandra’s Bengali novel of the same name. The film was directed by P.C. Barua and became an instant hit. Saigal’s name catapulted to fame. Living in Calcutta, Saigal had picked up Bengali and also acted in seven Bengali Films.
He became the first non- Bengali singer to sing and record Rabindra Sangeet after formal approval from Tagore himself. This speaks for his extraordinary talent. With New Thatres, Saigal worked in both Hindi and Bengali films , titled Didi, President , Desher Mati, Dharti Mata , Saathi, Street Singer, Dushman ,Jiban Maran , and Zindagi ,in the lead role.
Towards the end of 1941 , Saigal moved to Bombay and worked with Ranjit Movietones. He acted in successful movies like Bhakt Surdas, Tansen , Shahjehan and Parwana. The movies and the songs became hits . A song Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya from the movie became Saigal’s favourite and he wished it to be played at the time of his funeral procession.In singing and acting both he teamed well with Khursheed , another shining star of Hindi Cinema at that time .
Saigal sang 185 songs in all – 142 film songs and 43 non film songs . Amongst the film songs 110 were in Hindi, and two in Bengali . He acted in 36 films – 28 in Hindi, 7 in Bengali and one in Tamil.
Among his songs the following stand out in my list :
Jab dil hi toot gaya…..
Gham diye mustakil ….
Aye dil-e- beqarar jhoom….
Babul mora naihar chooto ri jaye….
Ik bangala bane nyara….
More balapan ke saathi chhalia….( duet with Khursheed )
Aye kaatib-e taqdeer…..
So jaa rajkumari sojaa…..
Karun kya aas niraas bhayi …….
Premnagar main banaugi ghar mein……( duet )
Madhukar Shyam hamare chor…..
Main kya janoo, kya jadoo hai…..
Suno suno a Krishna kala……
Ruhi ruhi ruhi mere sapnon ki rani….( Muhammad Rafi also sang a line at the end )
Jag mag jagmag diya jalao …
He also rendered Ghazals 0f Ghalib like Nukta chin hai gham-e dil... etc .
Of course there are many other gems in his repertoire.
A gifted singer that he was, many budding singers of the time were influenced tried to emulate him and it them took quite some time to get out of his shadow and evolve their own style.
His popularity as a singer can be gauged from the fact that for many years a slot was reserved for a song in his voice in the old film songs’ program broadcast from Radio Ceylon every morning.
Given to alcohol in a big way, his health deteriorated and he breathed his last on 18th January , 1947 at his native place Jalandhar.
Our humble tributes to the legendary star of Hindi Cinema !!