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  His name is synonymous with rhythmic, light classical film songs of 1930s and 40s In fact the moment one mentions 'Saigal', songs like ‘Ek bangla bane nyara' echo in one's heart. A singer with music in his veins and honey on his tongue. Kundan Lal Saigal literally sang his way into this world. Singing was such a passion with him that he drank himself to death just 'to sing and act better'. Using merely a harmonium and a pair of cymbals Saigal could produce the most scintillating melodies.
Saigal's popularity is it self a proof that masses of the time had an ear for quality music. All his songs and films were big hits. His knowledge of music and 'hauntingly melodious' voice even attracted the likes of Rabindranath Tagore to comment that 'his melody is not only correct but he perfectly  meaning'. AMRIK SINGH BARHOK had met Saigal on two occasions and profiles on this celebrated singer of yesteryears whose songs still stir many souls. 
On Jan. 18,1947a legend parted company with the mortal souls only to become immortal in the heart of millions of his fans. Kundan Lal Saigal had finally left for 'Nayeehar' leaving indelible impressions behind. Born on April 4, 1904 at Jammu to Amar Chand and Kesar Kaur, in a middle class family from Jalandhar Saigal was a natural artist. After his schooling Saigal moved to Lahore where he found himself a modest job with a company, at a meagre monthly salary of 50 rupees. He, however, was not satisfied and accepted the job to keep the wolf from the  door.'  Music was in Saigal's veins. Furthermore, he had a profound sense of humour, and was easy to get along with, though some say he tended to be moody. But no one denies that he was a happy go lucky fellow.
 It was in 1931-32 that Saigal was spotted reciting one of his most favourite songs  "Jhulana Jhulayen...." at a small, private gathering. His discoverer was Mr. Wali, who had by then made name for story and dialogue writing. He had also directed two or three films Wali liked Saigal's enchanting voice, and his flawless diction of Urdu words. A few days later, Wali invited Saigal to his studio and asked him if he was interested in films or in singing. Saigal's answer, predictably, was yes Hardly a fortnight had elapsed when Wali again set for Saigal. One of the New Theatres big bosses was in Lahore and was staying with Wali as his guest. Wali, it may be mentioned, married Mumtaz Shanti the heroine of a Punjabi film, "Sohni Kumharan", which broke all previous records in the country. The record was  only nearly matched, two years later, by a Hindi film 'Kismet' made by Bombay Talkies. His films interestingly, also featured Mumtaz Shanti in the lead role. Wali and Saigal sang the same song ('Jhulana Jhulayen') for the benefit of the New Theatre functionary.' The visitor from Calcutta was greatly impressed. The following day, a contract was signed between the singer and the company. It was for a period of five years, in the first instance. The salary, however, was very meagre.
The end of 1932 saw the release of Saigal's first film with New Theatres. It was titled "Mohabbat Ke Aansu" (The Tears of Love) and was directed by P. Ttorihy (?). Two years later, in 1934, 'Chandidas' was released. It was directed by Nitin Bose. "Devdas" directed by P C. Barua came in 1935. The film featured Jamuna {who had been discovered by Barua himself). She was cast in the role of "Paro". the heroine of the movie. This film caused one of the biggest stirs in the history of Indian Cinema. It became a super hit. The impact was so great that both Jamuna and Saigal became synonymous with 'Paro' and 'Devdas', respectively. The film ends on a tragic note. Saigal drinks himself to death following the heroine's refusal or inability to reciprocate his amorous advances. Two of this film's songs, "Balam aye baso mere man mein ..." and "Dukh ke din ab bitat nahin" became all time hits. Both Jamuna and Saigal had been catapulted into the dizzy heights of superstardom. The film director, P.C. Barua Iater married the actress.
Although Saigal had almost permanently settled down in Calcutta ,he never thought of severing his umbilical cord with Punjab. At least once every year he would visit Punjab to meet his relatives in Jalandhar and his fans and admirers in Lahore. Lahore, then, had acquired the reputation of being the touchstone of lndian films because of the enthusiastic reception of the good films.
 Anywhere else in those days, play back singing was not heard of. Understandably, actors who could sing beautifully were preferred. New Theatres had three of the most popular singers  Pahari Sanyal, KC. Dey (father of the celebrated singer. Manna Dey), and Saigal himself. K C DeY was called the "Blind Singer" because of the blindness in both his eyes Singing was considered very important for films. Romances were popular even then but mostly good, clean films were produced.
 Saigal had PlaYed in almost all kinds of films  romantic, social, musical, mythological, religious, and historical. And in almost all films, he played the title role. For instance, in 'Chandidas' he played Chandidas. In 'Devdas' he played Devdas, ln 'Tansen' he plaYed Tansen, and in 'shahjehan' he played Shahjehan. None of his films flopped. As a matter of fact, Saigal's presence in a film was an insurance against possible failure. In 'Tansen' Saigal was paired with one of the leading actresses of the day  Khurshid Begum. She was the film's heroine. Her song "Pahle jo mohabbat se inkar kiya hota……". became an instant hit. Its haunting tune was hummed by lovers of music for years to follow. Saigal himself gave several songs  all hits.
Saigal's 'shahjehan' was both a historlcal as well as musical. The film had some of the finest songs Those which are heard very often on the 'All lndia Radio', include. "Chaah barbad kare gi, humen maisom na tha", "Sham dive mustaggil, 'kitna nazuk hai dil", "Toot gaye sab sapne mere", and "ab ji kar kya karen ge, jab dil hi toot gaya". "shahjehan" was Saigal's last film.
Saigal played a wide range of roles in a variety of films. He tried two or three comedies  President' and 'Karorpati', but it was in the tragic roles that the actor excelled. Indeed, he Was 'tragedy', personified. Saigal must be given credit for introducing 'society' girls to the screen, although Pune's "Prabhat Film Company" had also, about the same time introduced quite a number of talented girls from affluent families.  Nalini Tarkhud and Shanta Apte, to mention just two of them In "President" he was paired with two new heroines  both from rich and sophisticated families. They were Leela Desai and Kamlesh Kumari. In the movie both the girls are sisters and are in love with the hero (Saigal). One of the film's songs "lk bangla baney nyara" is still as fresh and popular as it was half a century ago. 
The 'New Theatres' were known for quality and not quantity. They made just one film a year, on an average. Saigal faith fully stood by the company until he himself called a day. Saigal did not last long on the film scene. But, as long as he was on the screen, he shone like the 'Pole Star' dominating the cine scene. His supremacy was not challenged until he himself chose to withdraw from the field In about fifteen year period of this star in the industry, Saigal appeared in about a dozen and half films. Other films in which Saigal appeared include "street Singer", "Dushman", "Meri Bahen", and "KarwaneHayat" (The Cara van of Life) In this film, Saigal is a member of a nomadic tribe which is perpetually on the move travelling by day; and halting by a suitable site by night. This film had one of Saigal's most enchanting songs, "Hazrate nazara aakhir ban gayee rehnaivan" It was a tragic song, sung in a group, The carefree and happy go lucky members of the party, including two young girls sing and dance in amazing abandon and uninhibitedness.

A special feature of Saigal's singing was that he needed only a harmonium and a pair of cymbals to produce the most scintillating melodies In fact, there were no Laxmi kant PYare lals or Shankar Jai kishans at that time. Nor were elaborate orchestras used.
I had the opportunity and privilege of meeting the superstar twice in the forties. The first time we met was at a public reception held to welcome at the vast ground near 'Gurdwara Dera Sahib' and the Red Fort (Lahore). The sec ond time we met was at a common friend's house (also at Lahore). I asked the actor, why he drank excessively if not horribly, he replied: "To sing and act better." "Drinking does not detract from the quality of my singing or acting," he quipped. "On the contrary," he added, "it helps to get the best out of me." ln support of this contention, he cited the case of his musical, street singer, which turned Kanan Bala, a   very gifted actress and songstress of all times. I would have to compete with Kanan, who is a reputed singer. It posed a challenge for me I, therefore, drank heavily before each of my song was filmed or recorded," the actor confided. This reminds me of the famous lines of Winston Churchill, who once declared: "l have taken more out of drinking than it has taken out of me."
Among Saigal's religious films, the more notable were "Puran Bhagat" and "Surdas". Saigal is also remembered as a trendsetter, in that with his emergence as a singer performer, the popularity of stunt films began to decline, giving way to soft, sentimental and emotional types of films. Although Saigal's singing repertoire was amazingly wide and varied, ghazal was his 'forte' In most of his films, he played a' disappointed, rejected, or jilted lover, or a victim of unacknowledged love. Understandably' the songs or ghazals he sang had a touch of agony and pathos. Was he a victim of unrequitted love in real life too? Many are convinced he was. We all know he drank himself to death. Saigal is no more with us, but his memory always is. His tragic songs have immortalised him, just as he has immortalised the' New Theatres' (the company he worked for, lived for, and died for).

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