Apr 13 2016

KL Saigal's greatest hits 

by   Shriram Iyengar

Lata Mangeshkar was in love with him. Kishore Kumar and Mukesh imitated him. Few stars have been able to combine the talent, skill and emotive ability that Kundan Lal Saigal brought to Indian cinema. Even as Indian cinema moves into the next century, the actor/singer remains one of the most iconic performers to have graced the silver screen. Here is a list of 10 songs that shall forever carry his name through the ages. 

1 Nuktacheen hai gham-e-dil (Yahudi Ki Ladki, 1933)

An avid fan of ghazals, KL Saigal was known to read and memorise ghazals from poets like Ghalib, Zauq, and Momin. In New Theatres's Yahudi Ki Ladki(1933), Saigal got a chance to sing one of his favourite poet's verses on film. The song remains one of the best renditions of the great poet's ghazals. 

2 Babul mora naihar chooto jaaye (Street Singer, 1938)

In Phani Majumdar's high drama about the trappings of fame, KL Saigal rendered Wajid Ali Shah's famous thumri, 'Babul mora naihar chooto jaaye'. It is one of his greatest hits and exemplifies Saigal's command of Hindi classical music. Saigal reportedly sang the song live on the sets, though director Phani Majumdar told him that a playback version would be used in the film. Reportedly, Saigal's live version proved far better. 

3 Piya bina (Devdas, 1933)

Devdas was the film that immortalised the legend of KL Saigal. It was not just his acting, but also his singing that rose to a new level in PC Barua's film. Saigal sang three songs, 'Piya bin', 'Balam aaye baso', and 'Dukh ke din'. By Saigal's own admission, 'Dukh ke din' and 'Piya bin' are among his best works. 'Piya bin', in particular, is a thumri based on Raga Jhinjhoti. The celebrated Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, a doyen of the Kirana gharana, who had sung the song earlier, walked into a cinema hall for the first time only to hear Saigal sing this song. 

4 Ek bangla bane nyaara (President, 1937)

Another iconic song of KL Saigal, it would go on to be mimicked countless times. For generations born in the age of television, this remains the song most identified with the actor. Composed by RC Boral, the tune grew to become more popular than the other scintillating number in the album 'Na koi prem rog laage'. 

5 Aye qatib-e-taqdeer (Meri Bahen/My Sister, 1944)

New Theatres and KL Saigal had a very close connection. Along with Pankaj Mullick, Saigal delivered a wonderful and nuanced tone to enhance the soundtrack of Meri Bahen (1944). 'Aye qatib-e-taqdeer' was a runaway hit on the film's release. It was to be the last time Pankaj Mullick and Kundan Lal Saigal worked together. 

6 Main kya jaanu kya jadu hai (Zindagi, 1940)

Disciplinarian that he was, Pandit Dinanath Mangeshkar would not let his two little girls, Lata  and Asha, listen to any ordinary music. One of their favourite lullabies was this melodious number (WHICH?) by KL Saigal in PC Barua's Zindagi (1940). But it was the other song, 'Main kya jaanu kya jaadoo hai', which remains evidence of Saigal's vast vocal range. His subtle variation on the word 'kya' throughout the song adds a layer of subtext to a seemingly simple ghazal. 

7 Diya jalao jagmag jagmag (Tansen, 1943)

When Jayant Desai decided to make a film on the legendary singer Tansen in 1940, KL Saigal was the automatic choice for the role. The film is littered with several special numbers like 'Rumjhum rumjhum chaal tihari' in Raga Shankara composed by Khemchand Prakash. But it is in the crescendo of 'Diya jalao jagmag jagmag' that the power of KL Saigal's vocal chords emerges. As he sings on screen, few would have doubted him to be a reincarnation of the man who was one of Akbar’s Nine Gems. 

8 Rain gayee ab hua savera (Bhakt Surdas,1942)

It is a testament to his skill that KL Saigal portrayed two of the most famous legends of Indian music on screen, Tansen and Surdas. As the blind singing sage, he evoked some of the most potent emotions of kindness and mercy through his songs. This particular number stands out as one of the more melodious tunes of Gyan Dutt's compositions, as sung by Saigal. 

9 Gham diye mustaqil (Shahjehan, 1946)

One of KL Saigal's greatest hits was delivered in the twilight of his tragically short career. The album of Shahjehan (1946) contained several stunning compositions by a young, talented music director named Naushad. One of the film's famous numbers was this ghazal by Majrooh Sultanpuri which brought out the latent pathos in the individual style of the tragic actor. 

10 Jab dil hi toot gaya (Shahjehan, 1946)

The legend of KL Saigal is incomplete without a mention of this heartbreaking elegy by Naushad. The film came in the twilight years of the great singer-actor's career and life. So impressed was Saigal with the composition that he ordered it to be played at his funeral. For generations to come, it would be the song that would define the personality of Kundan Lal Saigal.