Before Kundan Lal Saigal became a singer and actor, he was for a while a typewriter salesman and even a hotel manager. His work brought him to Calcutta, where he was introduced to R.C. Boral and then hired by New Theatres.
An early record of Punjabi songs and a couple of films brought little success or fame, but the massive popularity of the bhajans he sang in Puran Bhagat (1933) made him a household name. His mellifluous singing, full of feeling and depth, captivated audiences who were just getting used to the ‘talkies’, which began with Alam Ara in 1931.
In those early days, the actor had to be a singer too and the songs were recorded, live, on the set, often with the musicians hiding in the background. It was the time of the singing-stars. Bhajans, ghazals, songs of love and those of parting, sad songs and happy ones – he did them all.
For Saigal, who could do both, there was no looking back. Songs in films like Chandidas, Yahudi Ki Ladki, President, Devdas, Street Singer, My Sister and Shahjehan made him a superstar. He moved from Calcutta to Bombay – which was becoming the centre of film production. The copyright to most of his songs belongs to Hindustan Records in Calcutta and he continues to be their top seller even today.
His last film was over 70 years ago but his popularity and fame have endured; even today, he has legions of fans.
On the occasion of his 114th birth anniversary, here are a few of his best known songs.
‘Ek Bangla Bane Nyara’ (President, 1937)
‘Babul Mora’ (Street Singer, 1938)
‘Duniya Rang Rangeeli’ (Dharti Mata, 1938, with K.C. Dey and Uma Shashi)
‘Karoon Kya Aas Niraas Bhayi’ (Dushman, 1939)
‘So Jaa Rajkumari’ (Zindagi, 1940)
‘Chah Barbaad Karegi Hame’ (Shahjehan, 1946)
‘Madhukar Shyam Hamaare Chor’
‘Aye katib-e-taqdeer’ (My Sister, 1944)
‘Do Naina Matware’ (My Sister, 1944)
‘Jab Dil hi Toot Gaya’ (Shahjehan, 1946)