K. L. Saigal is a name that crops up in our mind whenever we get to hear any soundtrack from the pre-playback era. The nasal touch, the classical aroma along with the special Saigal aura reminds us of the man constantly even today, almost after 110 years since his demise.
K. L. Saigal was born on 11th April 1904 in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. His father worked as a revenue administrative officer in the Maharaja’s court. As a child he used to accompany his mother to various religious occasions and the bhajans, raag, kirtan deeply attracted little Saigal.
He also enacted as ‘Sita’ in Ramlila during his childhood. Saigal left school and started earning at an early age. He worked as a typewriter and also as a salesman before he landed up in Kolkata. It is said, that Mahenchand Jain was the main man who inspired Saigal to take up his hobby of singing as a career for living.
He recorded his first song under the guidance of Harishchandra Bali in Punjabi which was released by the Indian Gramophone Company. He came to Kolkata in the 1930s and joined the famous New Theatres headed by B. N. Sircar. He met the musical brilliants Pankaj Mullick, Timir Baran and Rai Chandra Boral during this time period who helped him to groom his voice.
In 1932, he acted for the first time on screen in the movie ‘Mohabbat Ke Aasoon’. Just a year later, his bhajan collection of ‘Puran Bhagat’ became hugely popular.
A major breakthrough happened in his career in 1935 when he played ‘Devdas’ in P. C. Barua’s screen adaptation of the original Bengali novel ‘Devdas’. The songs of Devdas as well as the movie created an unbeatable sensation throughout the country. ‘Balam Aaye’, ‘Dukh Ke Ab Din’ became extremely popular tracks that time.
Saigal and his association with the New Theatres of Kolkata produced almost seven Bengali movies. He became very competent in the language and was absolutely fluent in Bengali. He rendered more than 30 songs in Bengali too. He continued to act in films till 1940. ‘Zindagi’, ‘Street Singer’, ‘President’, ‘Parichay’, ‘are some of the notable films by K. L. Saigal. ‘Yahudi Ki Ladki’ in 1933 was the first hit of Saigal.
Towards the beginning of the 1940s, Saigal came down to Mumbai. During this period he worked in successful films like ‘Bhakt Surdas’, ‘Tansen’, ‘Bhanwara’, ‘Tadbir’, ‘Shahjehan’, ‘Parwana’.
Saigal shared a close bond with musical maestro Naushad Ali. He rendered songs for Naushad for the movie ‘Shahjehan’. ‘Mere Sapno Ki Rani’, ‘Ae Dil’, ‘Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya’ from ‘Shahjehan’ became hits.
During the 1940s, Saigal adopted a regular habit of alcohol. His habit soon became a predominant addiction which slowly started affecting his health. Saigal started believing that his creativity and best renditions came out only when he was under the influence of alcohol.
On the day of recording the song ‘Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya’, Saigal came to the studio, sat for the recording and asked for a bottle of alcohol. He kept singing and drinking simultaneously. Being dissatisfied with his own performance, he started giving takes and re-takes for the same song again and again. After some time he lost all his control and collapsed down due the increasing effect of the alcohol.
Next day when he appeared to the studio again, Naushad requested him to give a take without drinking. Saigal, inspite of his belief, succumbed to Naushad’s idea and rendered the song without consuming any alcohol.
Later, Naushad played both the version of his renditions and on hearing the best one among the two, Saigal commented that he always delivers his best when he is under the influence of alcohol. Naushad gladly corrected him and informed that the best one was the one which he recorded without drinking. The information took Saigal by surprise.
Naushad further told him that those who say that without alcohol he doesn’t sing well, are not his friends. A grieving Saigal regretted and said, “Only if someone told me this before, I might have been able to live a bit longer”.
His last movie was ‘Parwana’ in 1947. ‘Toot Gaye Sab Sapne Mere’, ‘Mohabbat Mein Kabhi’, ‘Kahiin Ulajh Na Jaana’ were the most popular tracks from ‘Parwana’ that released after his death on the 18th of January 1947. K. L. Saigal, in his fifteen years of career span acted in 36 movies and rendered more than 150 songs. His style of singing may have become outdated today but still it is highly recognisable as a typical Saigal style.
K. L. Saigal took his last breath at the age of 42 and was survived by his wife and four children .