Kundan Lal Saigal

Eons have gone by but that voice left people awestruck. Kundan Lal Saigal was the pioneering singer of Hindi film music. He also popularised Ghazals in India. In the span of 15 years, Saigalsaab had acted in 36 films and rendered over 200 songs. A niche craved by the legend with his unique voice. The admirable part of Saigalsaab was that despite super-stardom, K.L. Saigal remained a simple man. Saigal created history with Devdaas - based on Bengali writer Sharadchandra Chaterjee`s novel released in 1935. People all over heard Songs Balam Aao Baso Morey Man Mein and Dukh Ke Ab Din Bitat Nahi.

The very name K.L Saigal conjures up an image of a superstar who ruled the screens long before people heard of Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna. Not many are aware of the achievements of this great persona and his contributions to the Hindi film industry. K L Sehgal was undoubtedly India's first superstar whose charisma and magic is still alive and continues to inspire budding talents. Born in Jammu on April 11th, 1904 as Kundan Lal Saigal, he inspired legends like Kishore Kumar and Mukesh to copy his style to make their mark in the industry before developing their own signature tones. His songs are evergreen and are hummed even today.  

K.L Saigal started singing from a very young age and his mother used to take him to Sufi-Pir Salman Yousuf of the Yesvi sect. His father Amarchand Saigal was employed at the court of Maharaja Pratap Singh. At the age of twelve, K.L Saigal sang Meera Bhajan at the court of the king. The Maharaja was really impressed and blessed him saying that he had a bright future. His father was disappointed when he learnt that his son wanted to sing and dropped out of school.

K. L Saigal worked as a time keeper with Punjab railways and also a salesman before he chose music as a vocation. Those days, his singing was limited to his friend's circle. During one such occasion of his singing, a sales representative of Hindustan Record Company happened to be present in the congregation. He recognized Saigal's potential and persuaded him to sign a contract for recordings with the company. One of his earliest records "Jhulana Jhulao" in Dev Gandhar raga was a huge hit.

Thus started the flourishing career of K.L Saigal and he started to act and sing in films. Some of his earliest films were Subah Ke Sitare, Zinda Laash and Mohabbat Ke Aason. The songs that showered fame on him were Premnagar Mein Basoongi Ghar Main, Tadapat Beeti Din Rain and Prem Ki Ho Jai from the first feature film Chandidas. He was also the lead actor of the movie. More and more offers started to pour in making him one of the reigning stars of the film industry. His enigmatic voice only made him even more famous.

In 1932 Kundan Lal Saigal`s successful career commenced after he signed a contract of Rs. 200/- a month, with New Theatre to act and sing in films. Some of the films in his early days were Subah Ke Sitare, Zinda Laash and Mohabbat Ke Aason. Later on sang songs like Premnagar Mein Basoongi Ghar Main, Tadapat Beeti Din Rain and Prem Ki Ho Jai from the first feature film Chandidas in which Saigal was the lead actor. The songs catapulted Saigal to stardom.

In the year 1935, Devdas was released, which increased his popularity manifold. Saigal portrayed the character of the love struck and heartbroken Devdas with flawless perfection. His solo performances Balam Aaye Baso and Dukh Ke Ab Din were tagged as immortal. Saigal experimented with many forms of music and perfected Khayal, Bandish, Ghazals, Geets, Bhajans, Hori and Dadra in various Ragas. He also sang in many different languages like Hindi, Urdu, Pushto, Punjabi, Bengali and Tamil. Saigal always drank before recording and he fondly called a peg Kaali Paanch.

The period from 1932 to 1946 is called as Saigal era. Saigal shifted to Bombay in 1940 and did unforgettable films like Bhakta Surdas, Tansen, Kurukshetra, Omar Khayyam, Tadbeer, Shahjahan and Parwana. Some of his immortal songs are Diya Jalao Jagmag Jagmag, Rumjhum Rumjhum Chaal Tihari, Baag Laga Doon Sajani, Chah Barbaad Karegi, Ai Dil-e-beqarar Jhoom, Gham Diye Mustaqil and the eternal Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya.

A year after Chandidas in 1935 Devdas benchmarked the star-singers popularity like no other singer before or after. The story of a love-struck and doomed Devdas. The Hindi version in which Saigal starred had immortal arias like Balam Aaye Baso and Dukh Ke Ab Din. The version by Bimal Roy starring Dilip Kumar, Vaijayanti Mala, and Suchitra Sen flopped.

The distinct voice of Saigal transcended Saigal the actor. K. L. Saigal could render light classical with utmost ease. Saigal normally sang in lower octaves, which was emulated by many but was unmatched. It was said that Saigal never recorded without drinking (he used to call a peg Kaali Paanch).

A day before his death, Saigal`s health suddenly took turn. His niece, Durgesh, then 15, read Bhagwad by his bedside throughout the night. Early in the morning, Saigal breathed his last. He was 42 when he passed on 18th January 1947 in Jalhandar, his hometown. K. L. Saigal had expressed his last wish to play his song Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya, Hum Jee Kya Karenge a song composed Naushad.

The legend passed away depriving music lovers of his celestial voice. Fifty years since his demise Saigal still lingers in the memories of music lovers as K. L. Saigal the immortal singer.