RMIM Archive Article "244".
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM Archives..
# Subject: If its 7:56 it must be Saigal
# Posted by: email@example.com (Ajay P Nerurkar)
# Source: Times of India
# Author: Raju Bharatan
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
Greetings to everyone and a sincere note of gracias to Ashok
Dhareshwar for that marathon typing effort. Here is an article
snitched from the TOI, Bombay, by Raju Bharatan. It tells us lit-
tle that is new and Bharatan's writing style is not what one can
honestly call absorbing. (The words are his own, though). It
does, however, support my conjecture that this is indeed the year
of Saigal's fiftieth death anniversary. Also if you have spent
sleepless nights wondering whether Saigal ever sang for Anil
Biswas, read on.
If it's 7:56 a.m., it must be Saigal
-- Raju Bharatan
Yesterday was a Saturday of rare poignance. It marked 50 years
since Kundan Lal Saigal died, on January 18, 1947. If Saigal thus
passed away nearly seven months before India became independent,
it was just seven days after freedom that Lata Mangeshkar came to
record her first Hindi song as a playback singer : "Pa laagu kar
jore re Shyam mose na khelo hori re" --- under the baton of Datta
Davjekar for Vasant Joglekar's `Aap Ki Seva Mein'. Lata since,
has sung Saigal for HMV. It was but natural that she should have
done so, considering that Lata has always looked upon Saigal,
alongside Noorjehan, as her vocal mentor.
"I never got the honour to learn music from Saigal saheb," Lata
has noted." But constantly listening to his songs kindled in me
the desire to learn light music and, in this sphere, I regard
Saigal saheb as my guru. My father, the late Dinanath Mangeshkar,
was extremely fond of Saigal saheb's music and often used to
request me to sing his songs. The feeling and emotion Saigal
saheb put into his rendition with such magical effect will,
perhaps, never be equalled by anyone."
As Lata paid that tribute to Saigal in the `Vishesh Jaymala' pro-
gramme of Vividh Bharati on the occasion of her silver jubilee in
1967, she sang, over the air, a snatch of Saigal's `Zindagi'
evergreen "So jaa raajkumari so jaa". And proceeded to play the
Saigal original of this song for listeners to savour the differ-
ence between her and him! As Lata did this, the realisation sud-
denly dawned upon listeners that, in the case of Saigal, the
legend is the reality.
It has been so for 50 years and more. For all that, it would be
no more than the unvarnished truth to state that, where quality
music for a whole generation ended with Saigal, it began for a
whole new generation with Lata. Stalwart Naushad Ali has drawn
attention to how Saigal's vocals, in their range could extend to
eight octaves. [Surely, he's joking! -- A] Also how only Lata,
among the latter-day singers, could come close to touching that
Onkar Prasad Nayyar brought us the nearest thing to Saigal when
he got C.H.Atma to articulate, under his music direction in
Lahore, "Preetam aan milo". "Didn't Atma have the essence of
Saigal in him ?" I asked Nayyar. "Nonsense!" came back Nayyar.
"Atma, at best, was a copy of Saigal -- and not a very good copy
C.H. Atma gripped you, nonetheless, in "Preetam aan milo". And
that is a measure of the resonant sway Saigal exercised. The per-
former who came closest to duplicating Saigal, even while that
icon was living, was perhaps Mukesh in Anil Biswas' famous Raag
Darbari creation for `Pehli Nazar' (1945) : "Dil jalta hai to
This one, or some other Saigal 'unforgettable' was religiously
played by vigilant Radio Ceylon announcer Gopal Sharma, at 7:56
each morning during the 'Purani Filmon Ke Geet' programme. For my
niece Madhushalini, living in the Jayanagar sector of Bangalore,
the announcement of the Saigal song was the desperate signal to
rush out and catch her school bus! It so happened that, one morn-
ing, Gopal Sharmal played Mukesh's "Dil jalta hai to jalne de"
just five minutes before he came up with the `Yahudi Ki Ladki'
Saigal classic, "Nuktacheen hai gham-e-dil usko sunaye na bane"
-- for listeners to compare and contrast Mukesh and Saigal. And
my niece's response to Mukesh's song a la Saigal, was an educa-
tion in itself. "Mummy, mummy!" she cried out. "I'm so late for
school today, hear how the Saigal song is already playing, how
can I still be here!"
To that nine-year-old young lady, Mukesh was Saigal and Saigal
was Mukesh. Yet Madhushalini reflected the thinking of a whole
new generation impatient of Saigal. You needed a very fine ear
for music to appreciate the way Saigal touched the subtleties of
your imagination. How is that, while a whole generation so
nuanced remained hooked on Saigal, the generation to come could
not care less for this singer ?
The point about the music Saigal vocalised is that it needed rapt
attention. In other words, you just could not listen to Saigal
casually. The words were no less important than the music, as he
came over in a strain of "Ek bangla bane nyara" (from
`President'). Next, you eagerly waited for Saigal to chip in with
"Dukh ki nadiya jeevan naiya" even as Pankaj Mullick and Uma
Sashi led the way with "Duniya rang rangeeli baba duniya rang
rangeeli" (from `Dhartimata').
Likewise, you sat poised in front of the radio for that
melancholy-tinged laughter of Saigal in "Dukh ke ab din beetat
nahin". The man who wrote "Dukh ke ab din beetat nahin", Kidar
Sharma, makes compulsive listening as he describes how "hamara
Kundan" brought his own inimitable touch to the song -- as to
another one of his songs tuned by sarod virtuoso Timir Baran for
`Devdas' : "Baalam aaye baso more man mein". The spell cast by
Saigal thus abides half a century after the music he made for New
Theatres in Calcutta and Ranjit Movietone in Bombay. Naushad is
the only composer living for whom both Saigal and Noorjehan sang.
[ So, a sufficient condition for Saigal to have never sung for
for Noorjehan to *have* sung for him --A ]
According to Naushad, even when Saigal was in front of the play-
back mike, he needed a dummy harmonium (with dummy keys) for his
fingers to feel the thing and get going. Such timeless
`Shahjehan' renditions by Saigal as "Jab dil hi toot gaya" (in
Bhairavi); "Ae dil-e-beqaraar jhoom" (in Bihag); "Chaah barbaad
karegi humein maaloom na tha" (in Bageshri); "Gham diye mustaqil
kitna naazuk hai dil" (in Kafi) were all recordings done by
Naushad with a dummy harmonium in front of Saigal.
Even Talat Mahmood has candidly admitted that his aura as the
ghazal king derived from the initial inspiration he drew from the
vocals of Saigal. Kishore Kumar too looked up to Saigal.
Yet Kishore buffs cannot stand Saigal! Nor, to be fair, could a
whole new listenership (that grew up in the mid-'50s). For this
young audience, Lata Mangeshkar became the vocal touchstone. Sai-
gal, this young audience (weaned on Talat Mahmood, Mukesh,
Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey and Hemant Kumar) could not follow at
They could not follow Saigal because, perhaps, they lacked the
patience and percipience needed to listen enthralled, to some-
thing like "Baabul mora naihar chhoto jaaye" that made Saigal a
`Street Singer' without peer. `Street Singer' was the 1938 New
Theatres classic in which Saigal teamed up so well with another
charismatic singing star, Kanan Devi. Kanan, going solo, dom-
inated this movie with her vibrant vocals; yet it is via Saigal's
"Baabul mora" and "Jeevan bin madhur na baaje" that `Street
Singer' is remembered, nearly 60 years after the film wa
Nore is it as if Saigal took any particular care of his voice.
Like Lata, he was very fond of 'achchars' (pickles). But where
Lata controlled her palate in the interests of preserving her
voice quality, Saigal had the habit of stealing into the kitchen
and gobbling up the oiliest of 'achchars'! Yet nothing happened
to his voice. Because it was God-given. Saigal's remarkable con-
trol over his vocals derived from the fact that he was not so
much a trained as a natural singer.
Another singing star emerging during his end-days, Suraiya, was
totally without formal training in music. Naturally, therefore,
the thought of singing with a titan like Saigal scared Suraiya
out of her wits -- as she came to be his co-star in `Parwana',
which turned out to be tha idol's last film. The moment she heard
that Saigal was her `Parwana' co-star, Suraiya told music direc-
tor Khursheed Anwar that all her songs must be solos in the movie
("No duets with Saigal saheb, please!"). Thus `Parwana' ended up
with four solos by Saigal and four by Suraiya.
Suraiya was the last of the singing stars with whom Saigal acted.
Before her, there was Khurshid and Kanan Devi. Even as Saigal
reigned supreme at Ranjit Movietone in Bombay, there emerged in
Lahore a new singing star called Noorjehan. Each one of these
singing stars had her pull, each was a queen in her own right.
But Saigal was king. How ironic that the Kishore Kumar generation
cannot understand Saigal when Kishore himself revered the singer.
How relevant really today is that voice which could scale eight
octaves so effortlessly ? Did Saigal not die at just the right
time for his vocals to endure forever ? For the era of the sing-
ing star was seen to be drawing to an end, as India broke free in
August 1947. Saigal did not live to see, at Filmistan , music
director C.Ramchandra sack Ashok Kumar as a singing star, bring-
ing Mohammed Rafi in as Ashok Kumar's playback for the "Hum ko
tumhara aasra" duet with Lalita Dewoolkar-Phadke in `Saajan'
Of course, Ashok Kumar was an apology for a singing star compared
to Saigal. But had K L Saigal lived on, the singing star may have
lived on for just a while longer. For Saigal was now `Devdas',
now `Surdas', now `Tansen'.
Kundan Lal Saigal remains an ageless performer five decades after
he put over what turned out to be his swan song: "Toot gaye sub
sapnein mere, ye do naina saawan bhaadon, barse saanjh sabere".
From `Parwana' memory Suraiya records: "Saigal saheb's range was
nothing short of phenomenal. I wonder whether even Lata Mangesh-
kar, whom I wanted as my playback at one stage, could have stood
up to this singing giant, so where was there any question of my
venturing to put over a duet with him ?"