Kundan Lal Saigal (1904-1947), the great Kashmiri Singer and the first superstar of the Hindi film industry

KL Saigal

Play Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya 

(Based on excerpts from an article by 

Har Mandir Singh ‘Hamraaz’ & Harish Raghuwanshi 

and writeup from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

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.

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.

A Gifted Singer :

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.

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.

An Actor :

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.

Kundan Lal Saigal was really the first male superstar of Indian Cinema who set the tone for musical melodrama acting in the 1930s and 40s. Though not conventionally good-looking and balding (in fact he always wore a wig to cover his baldness), people responded to his everyman demeanor and to that voice…even when articulating dialogue.

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 Rajkumari (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).

He died on January 18, 1947 at Mumbai.

Family :

Saigal had a son named Madan Mohan and two daughters named Nina and Bina.  His wife’s name was Asha Rani.  Unfortunately, none of these family members are now alive.

An Inspiration to later day Singers :

Such was the power and mystique of Saigal’s singing that singers like Mukesh and Kishore Kumar started their careers singing in the ‘Saigal style’ before etching out their own identities. It is over half a century since Saigal passed away but his haunting resonant, voice continues to enthrall listeners on early morning radio or on some fanatic collector’s old gramophone player.

Even today, the name K.L. Saigal conjures up images of the great Indian singing film star of the 1930s and 1940s with the unmatched golden voice.

( ‘Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya’ is the last song supposed to have been sung by Saigal before he passed away with ‘Jhulna Jhulaye Aao Ri’ being the first recorded song – what a grand entry and what a swan song indeed ! )