K. L. Saigal: The man who inspired Lata Mangeshkar & Mohd Rafi

On the occasion of the 114th birth anniversary of music maestro K. L. Saigal we look back at his short but illustrious career. Born as Kundanlal Saigal on April 11, 1904 in Jammu, the singer became the first Indian superstar.

He lived in the era when the film industry of India was based in Kolkata. He gave music lovers melodies like “Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya”, “Bangla Bane Nyara”, “Hum Apna Unhe Bana Na Sake”, “Do Naina Matwale Tihare”, “Main Kya Janoon Kya Jadu”, “Babul Mora” and “Katibe Taqdeer’ among others. In his more than a decade-long career, Saigal acted in more than 36 films, 28 in Hindi, seven in Bengali, and one in Tamil and sang around 185 songs including a mix of ghazals, films and non-films, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi, Tamil and Persian.

But before embarking on a musical journey, the noted singer worked in the Indian railways and also worked as a salesman. His father Amarchand Saigal served in the court of Raja of Jammu and Kashmir and mother Kesarbai Saigal was a religious lady who was fond of music. It was in the 1930s that Saigal was introduced to the music composer Raichand Boral who recognised the talent of the young singer and it was under his guidance that Saigal gained prominence in ghazal singing. His voice gave expression to the lost love in soul-stirring ghazals like songs like “Premnagar mein bassaaoonga ghar main” and “Nuktacheen Hai Ghame Dil”.

It was R.C Boral only who made him sign a contract with B N Sircar’s film studio New Theatres where he was paid Rs 200 per month to work on their films. Saigal’s first movie was an Urdu film Mohabbat Ke Ansoo (1932). Thereafter, he starred in several movies like Subah Ke Sitare, Zinda Laash, Chandidas, Devdas and others. Devdas (1935), based on Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay novel of the same name, was the actor-singer’s first superhit film. It established him as a talented actor in the Indian film industry.

K.L. Saigal in 1935 film Devdas.

In 1935, Saigal married Asha Rani and had three children, one son and two daughters. As the base of the film industry shifted from Calcutta to Bombay, Saigal also shifted base in 1941 and started working with the Ranjit Movietone Company. Films like Bhakta Surdas, Tansen, Kurukshetra, Omar Khayyam, Tadbeer, Shahjahan and Parwana were added to his filmography.

K.L. Saigal in the movie My Sister.

Meanwhile, the actor-singer resorted to alcohol before singing and his alcoholism started taking a toll on his health. The celebrated artist died at an early age of 42 in 1947 but became an inspiration for other noted singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar and Mohammad Rafi.

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