Lata Mangeshkar and KL Saigal a true story

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Anupama Nair


Lata Mangeshkar is considered as one of the greatest singers in living history, no wonder she is called Swar Kokila, or nightingale of India and was awarded the highest civilian award Bharat Ratna. She left for her heavenly abode on 6th February this year, leaving a deep void, in Indian music that can never be filled. All lovers of music can never forget the impact of the news that greeted us last Sunday. It has left an untold sadness in my heart. So, I am writing many articles about her, the facts I learnt in the course of my career.

Few of you might know that along with Veer Savarkar ji she also idolized one of the greatest male playback singer as well as actor K.L Saigal. Who can forget the song “jub dil he toot gaya” from the blockbuster film Shah Jehan released in 1946 starring Saigal himself? In those golden era of Hindi Music, it was necessary for an actor or actress to be a playback singer too. Saigal, Noor Jehan, Surendra, Suraiya are all great singers as well as actors and most of their films were block busters – Devdas, Anmol Ghadi, Mirza Sahiba, Rattan and many others.

Now, let me tell you about Saigal and I am sure, he needs no introduction to music lovers. Actor-singer Kundanlal Saigal, or K.L. Saigal, was born on April 11, 1904. Known for his unique voice, K. L. Saigal has sung over 185 songs throughout his career. He also established himself as one of the first true Bollywood superstars and worked on 36 films in three languages – 28 in Hindi, seven in Bengali, and one in Tamil. Some of his most popular and successful movies were Yahudi Ki Ladki, Bhukt Surdas, Tansen, Devdas, Street Singer, Lagan, among others.

Formal music education was not easily obtainable in those days. Never-the-less, the young Saigal did whatever he could to learn music.  Initially he got experience in acting in local Ramlila pandals  It is said that as a youth he used to sneak near the house of a local tawaif so that he could hear her sing and later he would imitate what he heard.

As a young man he tried several occupations.  After he dropped out of school, he worked for a while as a railway timekeeper and as a typewriter salesman which gave him the opportunity to travel widely in India.

He started singing on an amateur basis.  He used to sing in gatherings with friends and met many people.  He had the luck to meet Meharchand Jain, who would become one of Saigal's early friend and supporter. In his travels, he also met B.N. Sircar the founder of New Theatres. It is said that it was Sircar, who persuaded Saigal to go to Calcutta.

Saigal's life in Calcutta was steeped in music.  Although, he briefly worked as a hotel manager, his interest was in the music scene. He participated in mehfils. He also recorded a number of songs written and arranged by Harishchandra Bali.  These were released through Indian Gramophone Company.  His reputation as a singer increased. The film business at that time was in the midst of a shake-up.  The talking picture was just introduced, so the film companies were clamouring for actors that knew how to sing.  We must remember that these were the days before the custom of "playback" singing came into fashion.  The actors and actresses sang their own songs, and musical ability was considered and important prerequisite for a successful film career.

Saigal's immensely popular music recordings proved to be his stepping-stone into the films.  While in Calcutta, Saigal was introduced to R.C. Boral.  It was Boral who signed Saigal to a contract with New Theatres.  He was payed Rs200 a month to work on their films.  His first film to act in was the Urdu film "Mohabbat Ke Ansoo" (1932).  Thereafter he had roles in "Subah Ke Sitare", and "Zinda Laash".  These were released in 1932.  These were by no means hits, but they did demonstrated that Saigal had what was necessary in the film industry.

During this period Saigal continued to make disks.  Hindustan Records Company of Calcutta brought out several disks, of which Jhulana jhulao attracted much attention from the public.

He continued to sing and act in a number of films.  However the film that made him famous was "Chandidas" (1934).  After that he had many offers to do more films, but the one which earned him a place in film history was "Devdas" (1935).  After the phenomenal success of "Devdas", there was no doubt that Saigal was a formidable entity in the film industry. It was during this period that his personal life developed as well.  In 1935 he married Asha Rani.  together they had three children.  There was a son named Madan Mohan (no connection to the director of the same name), and two daughters, Nina (b. 1937) and Bina (b. 1941).

But unfortunately alcoholism was gripping Saigal.  It is said that in the years before his death, he was unable to sing or perform without first having a drink.  This was affecting both his health as well as his work.  He developed cirrhosis of the liver.  As his health deteriorated, Saigal expressed the desire to be with a saintly man in Jalandhar, but his family objected; they wanted him to take the assistance of one of the best doctors in Bombay.  A compromise was reached whereby the doctor would accompany Saigal to to Jalandhar.  However medical treatment was to no avail; he passed away on January 18th 1947 in Jalandhar.  Saigal was only 42 years old.

Back in the early 1930's, the family of singers too had their own idol, singer K.L. Saigal. His songs were very popular in the Mangeshkar household. What's more, in times of conservative India back then, they were only allowed to sing songs sung by Saigal. So with no other singer's voice heard in the entire household, Lata Mangeshkar started to weave her dreams of getting married to K.L.Saigal in her early childhood days. The nightingale quotes, "As far as I can remember, I always wanted to meet K.L.Saigal. As a child, I used to say that 'I will get married to him after I grow up' and that's when my father explained to me that when I'll be big enough to get married, Saigal saab will be too old enough to get married."

Lataji was never able to meet up with her dream man. In her own words, she says, "I will always regret not to have met K.L.Saigal, the man of my dreams. But yes, with the help of his brother Mahendra Saigal, I did get a chance to meet his wife Ashaji and his children who gifted me K.L.Saigal saab's ring."







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