Article Hindi

Death anniversary special: 10 immortal songs of KL Saigal

To commemorate the 71st death anniversary of the late great singing star, we revisit 10 of his greatest hits.

Sonal Pandya

For all the fame KL Saigal acquired during his career and his legacy that survives beyond his death, it is surprising to learn that the star’s career lasted for only 16 years. He recorded over 170 songs, sadly, many of them lost in the annals of history due lack of archiving and preservation.

Saigal began his film career in 1932 with New Theatres’ Mohabbat Ke Ansu under a monthly contract of Rs200. Even though the film did not do well, he continued on. The following year, he broke through and became a household name with his melodious voice. Though he had little musical training, he is still considered by many to be one of the finest playback singers of Indian film music.

He was only 42 when he died and the songs he sang have become those we listen to again and again, generation after generation. Here are some of his greatest hits.

1. ‘Nuktacheen Hai Ghame Dil’ Yahudi Ki Ladki (1933)

The New Theatres costume drama, directed by Premankur Atorthy, featured KL Saigal as a Roman soldier Marcus. Music composer Pankaj Mullick made his debut with the score to this film and used only two instruments — the tabla and harmonium — to compose the Mirza Ghalib ghazal in Raag Bhimpalasi. It became the first classical ghazal. Author Ganesh Anantharaman writes of Saigal’s rendition, “he uses his voice only to enhance the beauty of Ghalib’s verse; never to overpower it. With the sensitivity of a true artiste, Saigal knew where to draw the line.”

2. ‘Balam Aaye Baso Morey Mann’ Devdas (1936)

Before Dilip Kumar and Shah Rukh Khan, there was KL Saigal and his Devdas. And he sang his own songs to boot! The songs of Devdas (1936) were written by Kidar Sharma and composed by Timir Baran. In this song, ‘Balam Aaye Baso Morey Mann’, he sings of his unattainable love for Paro in the classic film directed by PC Barua. The popularity of the film and its music catapulted Saigal into Indian cinema’s first singing star.

3. ‘Ek Bangla Bane Nyara’ President (1937)

In Nitin Bose’s President (1937), made under the New Theatres banner, KL Saigal played a forward-thinking mill worker, Prakash, who clashes with the factory’s owner Prabhavati, played by Kamlesh Kumari. As a young man with dreams for his future, Saigal freely sang the evergreen song ‘Ek Bangla Bane Nyara’ which was composed by the dream team of Pankaj Mullick and RC Boral. Kidar Sharma wrote the lyrics of the popular song which remains relevant even today.

4. ‘Babul Mora Naihar Chooto Hi Jaaye’ Street Singer (1938)

His performance in Phani Majumdar’s first Hindi film further elevated his star status. Paired with another singing star, Kanan Devi, Saigal played an orphan, Manju, who helps Devi’s character Bhulwa fulfil her dreams and become famous. According to Anantharaman, the song ‘Babul Mora Naihar Chooto Hi Jaaye’, composed by RC Boral and written by Arzu Lakhnavi, was performed live by Saigal as he sang and played the harmonium walking through the lanes as a street singer.

How KL Saigal got Kanan Devi to be more confident of her singing

5. ‘Soja Rajkumari Soja’ Zindagi (1940)

Saigal sang all the songs of PC Barua’s last film for New Theatres, Zindagi (1940). The music for the film was composed by Pankaj Mullick. The everlasting lullaby, ‘Soja Rajkumari Soja’, written by Kidar Sharma, has been sung by countless parents to the their restless daughters at night, but listen to the original, Saigal has sung it so effortlessly. It has inspired others to sing their own renditions, even Lata Mangeshkar gave it a try.

6. ‘Nainheen Ko Raah Dikha Prabhu’ Bhakta Surdas (1942)

This was the first film KL Saigal took up after his big move from Kolkata (then Calcutta) to Mumbai (then Bombay). He continued his successful career, this time with composer Gyan Dutt and lyricist DN Madhok on Bhakta Surdas (1942), for Ranjit Studios. Saigal, cast opposite actress Khurshid, gave another hit with songs like ‘Nainheen Ko Raah Dikha Prabhu’. The pair sang a number of duets on the soundtrack as well.

7. ‘Diya Jalao’ Tansen (1943)

In Jayant Desai’s epic film on the musician Tansen, KL Saigal played the titular character and sang eight songs on the soundtrack as well. Khurshid was once again cast opposite Saigal, this time as the shepherdess Tani. Khemchand Prakash composed the song in the Deepak raag; in the film, the power of Tansen’s voice brings light to Akbar’s court. He is singing the song to cure the emperor’s sick daughter. The lyrics of ‘Diya Jalao’ were written by Pandit Indra.

8. ‘Ae Qaatib-E-Taqdeer Mujhe’ Meri Bahen (1944)

KL Saigal returned to Kolkata to make one more film with New Theatres as a schoolteacher-turned-singer with Meri Bahen (1944) which was set during World War II. He reunited with composer Pankaj Mullick to five songs in the film. The lyrics were written by Pandit Bhushan. Saigal was at his peak when he recorded many of these songs, afterwards his health began to decline as his dependence on alcohol grew. He passed away four years later.

9. ‘Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaaya’ Shahjehan (1946)

Based on the life of Emperor Shahjehan, AR Kardar’s hit film was written by Kamal Amrohi. KL Saigal played the role of Suhel in the film. Composed by Naushad, the songs of Shahjehan were written by Majrooh Sultanpuri in his first film as lyricist. The composer had to alter his score to match Saigal’s style. He requested Saigal to sing the song sober. It is said the song ‘Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaaya’ was a favourite of Saigal’s and he had remarked that he would have liked it to play at his funeral.

70 years of Independence: Walking down the film lane of 1947

10. ‘Toot Gaye Sab Sapne’ Parwana (1947)

The film released after KL Saigal’s death on 18 January 1947, mere months after India got Independence. Filmindia magazine mourned the star’s death and wrote, “The greatest singer the Indian screen had ever produced in its long history of misadventure.” Actress Suraiya, also a big fan of Saigal, was working with him for the third time after Tadbir (1945) and Omar Khayyam (1946). Khurshid Anwar, composer of Parwana (1947), followed Naushad’s example and requested Saigal not to drink before recording the songs for the soundtrack and the album went on to be well-liked and appreciated by listeners. It ended up in the history books as Saigal’s last film.