“आप सुन रहे है कार्यक्रम, पुरानी फिल्मों के गीत। पेश है आज का आख़री गीत के एल सैगल की आवाज में।”
The announcer on Radio Ceylon would announce it at around 07.57 am daily. It’s been a custom for more than 50 years, to end the program with a song sung by Saigal. Many people consider it as a real start of the day. Though I haven’t experienced it personally, my father’s generation must have.
Today I pay tribute to Saigal, on the occasion of his 75th death anniversary. Let’s visit his career in short and listen to some of his immortal songs. Even after so many decades of his death, people still not only remember but cherish him. Even though I was an avid follower of the old Hindi film songs, initially Saigal wasn’t my favourite mainly because I had not heard him at all. As a child I used to listen to Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Mukesh and Kishore Kumar. Saigal wasn’t on the list. And the way his style of singing was made fun of in the advertisements and other comedy shows, I never turned to his songs. Now I understand it was utterly disgraceful to make fun of such a fabulous singer. The magic of Saigal’s songs can only be experienced, can’t be described.
Saigal was truly the first singing star of Hindi cinema. Born to Kesar Kaur and Amarchand Saigal in Jammu on 4th April 1904, Saigal was inclined to singing from childhood. His mother used to sing Bhajans and other devotional songs and Kundan used to accompany her. Though his father, who was a Tehsildar, didn’t endorse his singing, Kundan was allowed to act and sing in a play, where he played Seeta.
Later, the family settled in Ludhiana, where the Saigal family actually belonged. Saigal tried his luck as a timekeeper on a Delhi railway station, as a typewriter salesman for Remington etc.
But a singer at heart, as he was, he finally met his ultimate destination in Calcutta (now Kolkata). He was introduced to B C Sirkar of the New Theatres, Calcutta and to R C Boral, who was also with New Theatres, by Pandit Harishchandra Bali. Both of them, already impressed by Saigal’s singing, welcomed him. Saigal signed a five year contract with them at a salary of Rs 200 per month.
Saigal started with Mohabbat Ke Aansoo in 1932, which didn’t perform well, so were the next couple of ventures, Zinda Lash and Subah Ka Sitara. Saigal was credited as Saigal Kashmiri in all these films. All the films were directed by Premankur Atorthy for New Theatres, Calcutta and R C Boral composed for all the films. Unfortunately none of the songs from these films are available, even as an audio. It is said that even before he started his acting career, he recorded a couple of Punjabi non film songs. The songs are available on YouTube, though I couldn’t confirm the composer of those songs.
Saigal’s first popular song was in the year 1933 that opened the doors of success for him. The film was Yahudi Ki Ladki. Saigal has rendered a number of Ghalib ghazals, few as a film song, a few as non-film songs. Here’s one from the film, Yahudi Ki Ladki.
Nukta Cheen Hai Gham e Dil – Yahudi Ki Ladki (1933) / Pankaj Mullick – Mirza Ghalib
While this ghazal has been sung by many renowned singers, once you listen to Saigal’s rendition, you adore it instantly. So far I was fond of Suraiya’s rendition from the film, Mirza Ghalib, now Saigal’s version is amongst my favourites too.
The film Puran Bhagat, released in the same year 1933 had four solos of Saigal, though he didn’t play the main lead. Saigal’s songs were picturised in the movie as bhajans by a street singer.
Radhe Rani De Daro Na – Puran Bhagat (1933) / R C Boral – traditional lyrics
What a mesmerising bhajan!One can just sit back with eyes closed and relax.
It was however in 1934 that Saigal tasted fame with the film, Chandidas. He was paired opposite Uma Shashi, who was a popular Bengali actress of her times. She played a washer woman. The film raises a voice against casteism and the double standards of the society. The film started one of the most successful and popular journeys of Hindi cinema, that of K L Saigal. He never looked back after the film.
Prem Nagar Mein Banaungi Ghar Main – Chandidas (1934) with Uma Shashi / R C Boral – Agha Hashar Kashmiri
Though Saigal’s solos for the movie are more popular, I particularly added this duet. Usually while his solos are appreciated one tends to forget about his duets, which are very few anyway. What a beautiful duet it is! I sometimes feel the vintage era is more attractive than even the 50s.
In 1935, Saigal reached the heights of popularity with the film, Devdas. Based on Sharat Chandra Chatterjee’s novel, the film had some of the iconic numbers of Hindi cinema. This is considered as one of the finest performances by Saigal as an actor and as a singer too. Both the songs are excellent. Though I find ‘Balam Aaye Baso More Man Mein’ extremely melodious, I added a song with unparalleled pathos. It is said that these couple of songs were actually composed by Saigal, though were credited to Timir Baran. Of course there’s nothing to support the story, at least I’m not ware of it!
Dukh Ke Ab Din Beetat Nahi – Devdas (1935) / Timir Baran – Kidar Sharma
Saigal acted in a few more films by New Theatres, the popular ones being, President, Dharatimata, Zindagi, Lagan, Dushman, Street Singer and My Sister. I’ve included a few of my favourites from these films as well as other films he did after moving to Bombay (now Mumbai) and joining Ranjit Movietone.
While Saigal is mostly remembered for his soulful rendition of various sad songs, there was one comedy film where he did get an opportunity to show the lighter side of his personality. Maybe the movie is not very popular, but it’s an opportunity for us to appreciate Saigal’s light hearted songs too. I feel these songs prove his versatility. You almost don’t believe he is the same Saigal who sang Dukh Ke Ab Din in Devdas!
Jo Naukari Dila De – Karodpati (1936) with Pahadi Sanyal / R C Boral – Kidar Sharma
The film had a dozen songs including three duets by Saigal and Pahadi Sanyal. And this is one of the duets. It seems two friends, who became graduates, are still unemployed. It’s so surprising, even in 1936, we were facing the same problem. Anyways, the fun song is worth listening to.
Pujarin was a film where Saigal had a different role. He played a deceitful, manipulative gold digger.
Piye Ja Aur Piye Ja – Pujarin (1936) / Khemchand Prakash – ?Pandit Bhushan ?Kidar Sharma
The song opens with a waltz rhythm and mingles with other Indian styled orchestration. It’s a drunkard’s song that has no definite meter, Saigal sings, laughs and also recites a few dialogues. That’s a really difficult thing to do. It’s said that he didn’t rehearse, just went for it. He’s spontaneous and impressive. Given that he was an alcoholic too, the song seems like it was made for him.
New Theatre’s film, President again brought a number of beautiful gems by Saigal. I’m very much fond of ‘Ek Raje Ka Beta’ where Saigal sings, talks and laughs during the rendition. It’s a perfect song of storytelling, it’s really amazing the way he manages to do all the things perfectly in tune. As the song from from Pujarin is a similar one, I chose another extremely popular song from the movie. No points for guessing which is it! But of course,
Ek Bangla Bane Nyara – The President (1937) / R C Boral – Kidar Sharma
A dream of everyone. A beautiful little home of our own. One of the most popular songs by Saigal.
The film, Street Singer brought K L Saigal And Kanan Bala together for the first time. They sang three duets together for the movie. The pair was again together for the film, Lagan (1941) but had no duets.
Babul Mora Naihar – Street Singer (1938) / R C Boral – Nawab Wajid Ali Shah
It’s one of the most popular songs by Saigal, and one of my most favourites too. The soulful rendition always touches my heart and soul. It’s said that the song was recorded live with the entire orchestra going along with the shooting team. I will take the opportunity to add a link for the video song of course. I haven’t heard other singer’s rendition with attention, but Saigal’s one of the best for sure.
The film, Zindagi was directed by Prathamesh Barua, his last for New Theatres. The film had seven Saigal solos and a couple of songs have been iconic. Though the lullaby is perhaps more popular, my personal favourite is,
Main Kya Janu Kya Jadoo Hai – Zindagi (1940) / Pankaj Mullick – Kidar Sharma
What can I say about this one! It’s difficult to sing, mainly the lower notes and harkats while singing the word kya for the second time in the antara. Again Saigal is so good in this romantic song. Equally enchanting are the beats of tabla.
Saigal came to Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1941, and was signed by Ranjit Movietone. He acted in three films, Bhakta Surdas, Tansen and Bhanwra.
The film Bhakta Surdas is mainly remembered for its songs and as the first film Saigal and Khurshid Bano acted together.
Madhukar Shyam Hamare Chor – Bhakta Surdas (1942) / Gyan Datt – Surdas
One of the Bhajans by Surdas, sung with deep devotion and dedication. One of his best bhajans.
The film, Tansen brought Saigal and Khurshid together for the second time. The film is still remembered for the wonderful solos by Saigal. Saigal’s portrayal of Tansen has become an immortal. The songs in the divine voice of Saigal became extremely popular.
Diya Jalao Jagmag Jagmag
Sapt Suran Teen Gram
Bina Pankh Panchhi Hoon
But as I said earlier in the post, I’ll try to add his duets wherever possible. And this is the right opportunity. So let me add,
More Balapan Ke Saathi – Tansen (1943) with Khurshid / Khemchand Prakash – Pandit Indra
The song has a sad and a happy version. I’m adding both the songs. The separated couple in the sad version expects each other to remember their love, while the couple reunites in the happy version.
My Sister was Saigal’s film with New Theatres, and it portrayed the beautiful relationship between a brother and sister, set on the backdrop of World War II. Saigal played a singer, and the song mentioned is a stage performance.
Ae Katib e Taqdeer Mujhe – My Sister (1944) / Pankaj Mullick – Pandit Bhushan
A beautiful ghazal rendered with correct pronunciation and apt expressions. Though full of Urdu words, I like it. Saigal pours out his heart with this soulful song.
Kurukshetra was an offbeat film and is considered to be a forerunner of art cinema in India. The composer and lyricist are unknown, though what I could gather is that the composer Ganpat Rao was a classical singer, disciple of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. He composed just for a couple of films, Kurukshetra and Bebus. Though the film and the songs are hardly known, I liked the songs. I thought of highlighting one of the songs.
Tu Aa Gayi Tu Aa Gayi – Kurukshetra (1945) / Pandit Ganpatrao – Allam Jamil Mazhari
The singer is waiting eagerly for his beloved and is delighted to see her. What a beautiful song! A lot of hidden gems are waiting to be discovered because all of his songs were not popular.
Shahjahan is said to be a turning point in Naushad’s career when he composed for Saigal for the first time. I don’t know if the stories about Saigal’s alcoholism and Naushad’s asking him to sing without consuming alcohol are true or not. The film has a song, ‘Mere Sapnon Ki Rani, Ruhi Ruhi’ where newcomer Rafi sings a couple of lines in the end, though I think he was part of chorus. It’s a great coincidence that both the great singers sang together, let it not be a full length duet.
Gham Diye Mustaqil – Shahjahan (1946) / Naushad – Majrooh
All the songs from Shahjahan are popular and all are good. It’s just a matter of personal choice , I chose the one I like the most. The singer complains about the ruthless society for not appreciating his tender mind as he continuously experiences sorrows. The song is full of pathos and who else would have rendered it so soulfully than Saigal!
Suraiya had the opportunity and honour to be a part of Saigal’s films. They acted together in three films. The first film was Tadbeer (1945) where she sang a couple of duets with him. It is said that she used to get nervous while singing duets and was reluctant for the recordings. The other two films, Omar Khayyam (1946) and Parwana (1947) had none of their duets, so the story could be true. While I could have added their duet from Tadbeer, I skipped as those are not my favourites. I will add instead a romantic solo from Parwana.
Us Mast Nazar Pe Padi – Parwana (1947) / Khurshid Anwar – D N Madhok
The film was released posthumously, several months after Saigal’s demise. The film had good songs, and I’m adding a song where Saigal teases Suraiya. The latter is shy but doesn’t oppose him. The film also had four solos by Suraiya.
Now it’s time for non-film songs by Saigal. Saigal would be one of the few singers who started with NFS and sang for a film later (the other singers I could remember offhand are Talat Mahmood and Jagjit Kaur). I guess Saigal’s NFS are equally popular among music lovers. A tribute to Saigal is incomplete without mentioning his NFS. He has sung 37 non-film hindi songs. Let’s listen to a few of his NFS.
Jhulna Jhulao Ri (1932 – 33) / ?R C Boral
This is Saigal’s first recorded song. What an excellent semi-classical song it is! The listener just melts in the rendition. There’s a confusion about the composer of the song. The composer and the lyricist are not known with certainty.
Saigal has rendered a few excellent ghazals. In addition to some of the popular ghazals by Ghalib, he sang ghazals by other urdu poets as well.
Woh Aake Khwab Mein – Ghazal by Mirza Ghalib
A wonderful ghazal by Ghalib, though difficult to understand the Urdu words. Again the name of the composer is not mentioned in most of the YouTube uploads. I wonder if these ghazals were set to tune by Saigal himself!
Layi Hayaat, Aaye, Qaza Le Chali, Chale – Ghazal by Zauq
The ghazal is full of Urdu words that make it difficult to decipher but once you get to the meaning, you know the way Saigal has rendered it with perfect expressions. ‘Life brought me here, I came. Death will take me away, I’ll go. I neither came on my own wish, nor will I leave on my will’.
Suno Suno He Krishna Kala – Bhajan by Chandidas (it’s at times credited to Kidar Sharma)
The bhajan displays the emotions of Prem bhakti. The words are wonderfully written, and sung in a simple tune. But the emotions Saigal infuses into it and expressions he delivers are beyond my words. Slowly I’m finding his NFS more and more enchanting than his Hindi film songs.
Main Baithee Thi Phulwari Mein – Lyricist, Composer and Singer – K L Saigal
I won’t say anything about this song. I now consider this as the most superlative creation by Saigal. And I couldn’t help but add the wonderful yet simple lyrics
(Lyrics courtesy – AKji from Songs of Yore)
मैं बैठी थी फुलवारी में
एक सखी आ गयी और बोली
क्या सोच है तुमको बोलो तो, हूं बहन तुम्हारी मुंहबोली
कुछ कह ना सकी मुंह तकत रही, नैनों से चली अंसुवन टोली
चलते चलते वो ही बोल गयी
सखी कौन देस राजे पियरा
वो सुनते ही खामोश हुई और नैन भए बौरान सखी
मैं चाहा उसको चेत करूं था जाने उसको मान सखी
जब होश हुई तब कहने लगी यही था मुझको भी ध्यान सखी
और ये ही मैं कहनेवाली थी
कौन देस राजे पियरा
सखी कौन देस राजे पियरा
कुछ ना समझी क्या कहे सखी, बिन जाने ढूंढ़न चल निकली
जंगल उपवन त्रिभुवन ढूंढ़ा, पर कहीं ना उसकी टेर मिली
आखिर थककर मैं बैठ गई और लगी पूछने कहो कोई
सुंदर छवि जिसकी कहते हैं, वो कौन देस राजे पियरा
सखी कौन देस राजे पियरा
तब मन ने मीठी बात कही, क्यों तूने इतनी बात गढ़ी
घर बैठे ही पा सकती थी, मैं विधि बताऊं वो क्या थी
बाहर के नैना मूंद सखी और नैन हृदय के खोल सखी
अब अपने मुंह से बोल सखी
सखी कौन देस राजे पियरा
Just listen with your eyes closed. What a great experience!
- In the 15 years of his career, he sang for a total of 36 films (28 Hindi +7 Bengali+1Tamil) and recorded a total of 185 songs, including 110 Hindi film songs and 37 non-film Hindi songs.
- He has very few duets to his credit, perhaps following the trend those days. Uma Shashi, Suraiya, Khurshid Bano, Amirbai Karnataki and Pahadi Sanyal were his co-singers. I’ve tried to highlight some of my favourite duets. I wonder why Noorjahan and Saigal never acted together?
- He apparently never took formal training in Indian classical music. His only guru, a Sufi Saint, advised him Zikr and Riyaz, which helped him when he lost his voice at the age of 12.
- For a film Dhoop Chhaon (1935) he sang only for the record versions, he didn’t act in the movie, nor were his songs included in the movie.
- He was very fluent in Bengali and was the only non-Bengali to sing Rabindra Sangeet.
- He married in 1934 to Asha Rani and had three children, two daughters and one son.
- He was diabetic and all his children also had diabetes.
- He was a philanthropist, there are stories of his generosity, making him a great human being as well. At the same time, the stories of his heavy alcohol consumption and his dependency on alcohol for recording a song are also talked about.
- He was the role model and inspiration for singers like Mukesh, Talat Mahmood, Rafi and Kishore Kumar. They tried to imitate his style of singing as they were his fans. Even Lata Mangeshkar as a child was fond of his songs.
- A film called Amar Saigal by New Theatres, was released in 1955, directed by Nitin Bose. It had songs of Saigal woven around a story depicting ‘Life of Saigal’.
- In my opinion, he seems more natural and comfortable in his NFS than film songs. I can’t give a reason why it could be so! Perhaps he did really compose his NFS and was more satisfied as an artist. I absolutely loved his NFS, while I’ve always liked his Hindi film songs.
I end the post here, it was an absolutely delightful experience going through his songs and selecting amongst those. Please add your favourite Saigal song.
Mehfil Mein Meri, claims no credit for any image, screenshots or songs posted on this site. Images on this blog are posted to make the text interesting. The images and screenshots are the copyright of their original owners. The song links are shared from YouTube, only for the listening convenience of music lovers. The copyright of these songs rests with the respective owners, producers and music companies.