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 on a 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 years or 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 education in music was not easily available in those days, as we do now. However, he 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 to 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 as an amateur. He used to sing in gatherings with friends and met many influential people. He had the luck to meet Meharchand Jain, who would become one of Saigal's early friend and supporter. In course of 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 full of music. Though, he briefly worked as a hotel manager, his sole interest was in music and he also participated in mehfils. He also recorded a number of songs written and arranged by Harishchandra Bali. These were released through Indian Gramophone Company. Little by little, his reputation as a singer increased. The film world at that time was in the midst of a revolution as the talkies was just introduced, and the producers were clamoring for actors who could sing like Saigal, Surendra, Punkaj Mullik, Noor Jehan and Suraiya.
You need to remember it was the time before the custom of ‘playback singing as we know in the golden era come into fashion. My dad who was a great fan of Noor Jehan and used to say “the actors and actresses sang their own songs, and musical ability was considered and important pre-requisite for a successful film career”.
Saigal's immensely famous music recordings proved to be his stepping-stone into acting in films. Saigal was later introduced to R.C. Boral, who signed Saigal to a contract with New Theatres. He was paid Rs. 200 a month to work to act in films. In those days Rs. 200 would have been worth crores. His first film was "Mohabbat Ke Ansoo" released in 1932. After that, he had roles in "Subah Ke Sitare", and "Zinda Laash”, both released in 1932. During this time, Saigal continued to make disks called Hindustan Records Company of which ‘Jhulana jhulao’ was popular. He continued to sing and act in a number of films, however, the film that was epoch-making was ‘Chandidas’ released in 1934. However, the film that shaped his career was ‘Devdas’ which was ironic as he was an alcoholic too and died due to heavy drinking like the character Devdas. 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 and had three children. There was a son named Madan Mohan (no connection to the director of the same name), and two daughters, Nina and Bina. 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 suffered from liver cirrhosis, and medical treatment was to no avail and he passed away on January 18th 1947 in Jalandhar, when he was only 42 years old.
Now let us come back to his relationship with Mangeshkar family, in the early 1930's, –the family of singers had their own idol, K.L. Saigal. His songs were very popular in the Mangeshkar household. In those days, they were only allowed to sing songs sung by Saigal. So, with no access to any other male singer's voice young Lata fell in love with him started to dream of getting married to Saigal. In an interview the Bharat Ratna said emotionally, "as far as I can remember, I always wanted to meet 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".
Unfortunately, Lataji was never able to meet up with her dream man. In her own words, she said, "I will always regret not to have met 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 Saigal saab's ring". Though she could not see him personally the ring would have meant much to her! Those were the days when music was the ‘milap of sur and taal’. Unfortunately, after the 1990s the film music lacked raag, alaap, tal, shruti aur sur, and you can imagine, without these no music would exist. Other than a few films like Parinita, Baji Rao Mastani and Padmavat, music ceased to exist. Hope “guzra hua zamana wapas aa jaye”!