KUNDAN LAL SAIGAL (1904-1947) – A Profile


By Har Mandir Singh 'Hamraaz' & Harish Raghuwanshi*

Kundan Lal Saigal was born on 11th April 1904 at Nawa Shahar in Jammu State.  His father Amar Chand Sehgal was a Tehsildar in the court of the then state of Jammu. His mother Kesar Kaur was a deeply religious lady who was very fond of music.  She used to take young Kundan to various religious functions where Bhajans, Keertan and Shabads were sung in traditional styles. Kundan often accompanied his father to the interior parts of the State where he would drink deep into the folk music of Punjab and Kashmir straight from the shepherds and wandering minstrels.  He did not have a formal training in classical music nor had a Guru but his extraordinary musical perception made him absorb the notes that went into his ears and responded to all technical musical needs as a singer.


His formal schooling was brief and uneventful. He started earning by working in the Railways as a timekeeper and later in the Remington Typewriters as a salesman, which allowed him to tour to several places in India.  Meanwhile, his passion for singing continued and became more intense with the passage of time. Finally, he landed at Calcutta in early thirties and met Rai Chand Boral, the highly respected music director of the pioneering film company New Theatres.  RC Boral took instant liking to his talents. Saigal was employed by New Theatres on a contract basis.  There, he came in contact with stalwarts like Pankaj Mullick, K C Dey and Pahari Sanyal.  In a short span of time, he stood tallest among them with his brilliant singing and popularity.


The first film in which Saigal had a role, was Mohabbat Ke Ansoo, followed by Subah ka Sitara  and  Zinda Laash all released in 1932 though these films did not do well.  It was in 1933 that his four Bhajans in the film Puran Bhagat created a sensation throughout India. These included - Radhe Rani De Daaro Na Bansari Mori and Bhajoon Main To Bhaav Se Shri Girdhari. Thereafter, Saigal never looked back.  Films that followed were Yahoodi ki Ladki, Chandidas and Rooplekha.


The real breakthrough came soon thereafter with the film Devdas in 1935, which established K L Saigal as the first superstar of the Indian Cinema.  It created history and the image of Saigal as Devdas got imprinted in the minds of people which continued to haunt film lovers of India for all the time to come. In this film, the character of Paro was played by Jamuna (still alive) and that of Chandramukhi by Rajmumari (of Calcutta).  The songs of this film, like Baalam Aye Baso More Mann Mein, Dukh Ke Ab Din Beetat Naahin and Piya Bin Nahin Aavat Chain were hummed in all the corners of India.


Saigal picked up Bangla very well and acted in 7 Bangla films produced by New Theatres. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore first heard Saigal before giving consent for the first time to a non-Bengali singing his songs.  Saigal endeared himself to the whole of Bengal through his 32 odd Bangla songs.


Success followed success and a number of successful movies came out with Saigal in the main lead.  Films like Karwan-e-Hayat (1935), Krorepati (1936), Pujarin (1936), President (1937), Dharti Mata (1938), Street Singer (1938),  Dushman (1939), Zindagi (1940), Lagan (1941) and My Sister (1944) were lapped by the audience mainly for Saigal songs.  Notable among the Bangla films are Jeeban Maran and Saathi. There are a number of immortal songs of this era which form the rich heritage of film music in India, e.g., Do Naina Matwaare Tihaare (My Sister), Main Kya Jaanoo Kya Jaadu Hai (Zindagi), Preet Me Hai Jeevan Jokhon (Dushman), Ik Bangla Baney Nyara (President), Ai Katibe Taqdir Mujhe Itna Bataa De (My Sister), Nain Heen Ko Raah Dikha Prabhu (Bhakta Surdas), Tarpat Beete Din Raen (Chandidas), Soja Rajkumari (Zindagi) and the unforgettable Babul Mora (Street Singer).


In December 1941, Saigal came to Bombay where he acted and sang in a number of hit films like Bhakta Surdas, Tansen, Bhanwara, Kurukshetra, Omar Khayyam, Tadbeer, Shahjahan and Parwana. The songs which took him to greater heights were: Diya Jalao Jagmag Jagmag (Tansen), Chah Barbaad Karegi (Shahjehan), Gham Diye Mustaqil (Shahjehan), and the immortal Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya (Shahjehan).


Saigal acted in 36-feature films- 28 Hindi, 7 Bangla and 1 Tamil. In addition, he acted in a short comedy Urdu/Hindi film titled “Dulari Bibi” (3 reel) made in 1933.  After Saigal’s death, based on life and times of KL Saigal, BN Sircar made documentary-feature film “Amar Sehgal” in 1955 wherein G. Mungheri performed the title role of Saigal . The film contained 19 songs lifted from old films of Saigal.


In all, Saigal rendered 185 songs which includes 142 film songs and 43 non-film songs.  In the film songs category, there are 110 Hindi, 30 Bangla and 2 Tamil songs.  In the non-film category, there are 37 Hindi and 2 each in Bangla, Punjabi and Persian languages.  His non-film songs comprise Ghazals, Bhajans, and Hori. He has rendered creations of famous poets like Ghalib, Zauq, Seemaab and others.


            Saigal had a son named Madan Mohan and two daughters named Nina and Bina.  His wife’s name was Asha Rani.  Unfortunately, none of his family members are now alive.  His wife and son expired in 1978 and 1981 respectively while the daughters expired on 15th April 2000 at Bombay and 31st October 2001 in Delhi respectively.


            [Ref. Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya - To commemorate the birth centenary year of the Immortal Singer-Actor K.L. Saigal, a complete reference compendium, compiled jointly by Har Mandir Singh 'Hamraaz' (Kanpur) & Harish Raghuwanshi (Surat) was released on 3rd April 2004 at Ahmedabad, and on 4th April at Rajkot and also at Jammu (Birth place of K.LSaigal).  The 472 pages of the book (9" x 11.5") covers details of all the 185 songs sung by the singer and also the 39 films in which he acted.  Complete text of all songs with full credits is given in Hindi & English along with rare photographs in the compendium]. (The book is being released on 30/5/2004 at the Shanmukhand Hall, Mumbai)

About the Authors :

1.        Har Mandir Singh 'Hamraaz' is the distinguished compiler of famous “Hindi Film Geet Kosh” series and other books on music and films. Date of birth : 18.11.1951 Education : Graduate, serving in the State Bank of India, Zonal Office, Kanpur. (Contact :  Har Mandir Singh 'Hamraaz', 'Dreamland', H.I.G.-545, Ratan Lal Nagar, Kanpur 208 022 India; Phone : 91-512-2281211; E-Mail : hamraaz18@yahoo.com  Web sites : http://hamraaz.org     http://hfgk.8m.com    http://saigal.hamraaz.org   )

2.        Harish Raghuwanshi is the famous compiler of Mukesh Geet Kosh (Pub. 1985), Gujarati Film Geeet Kosh (Pub. 1995 in Gujarati) and the writer of Inhein Na Bhulana (In Gujarati) books. Date of birth : 15.10.1949 Businessman - Electronic items shop [Vision House, Surat] (Contact :  Harish Raghuwanshi (Vision House, Near Putli, Sagrampura, Surat 395 002 India; Phone: 91-261-2331838(Shop), 2225561(Resi.), 91-261-3112322 (Mob.), E-Mail : harish_nr51@hotmail.com    Web Site : http://mukesh.hamraaz.org )


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