Kundan Lal was born at Jammu where his father Amar Chand was
a tehsildar at the court of the Raja of Jammu & Kashmir.
His mother Kesar Bai was a deeply religious lady who was very
fond of music. She used to take her young son to religious
functions where bhajan, kirtan and shabad were sung in traditional
styles based on classical music. Kundan was the fourth-born
child of five and his formal schooling was brief and uneventful.
As a child he occasionally played Sita in the Ramlila of Jammu.
Saigal dropped out of school and started earning money by
working as a railway timekeeper. Later, he worked as a typewriter
salesman for the Remington Typewriter Company, which allowed
him to tour several parts of India. His travels brought him
to Lahore where he befriended Meharchand Jain (who later went
on to start the Assam Soap Factory in Shillong) at the Anarkali
Bazaar. Meharchand and Kundan remained friends when they both
moved to Calcutta and had many a mehfil-e-mushaira. In those
days Kundan was a budding singer and Meharchand encouraged
him to pursue his talent. Kundan Lal often remarked that he
was what he was because of Meharchand's encouragement and
early support .He also briefly worked as a hotel manager.
Meanwhile, his passion for singing continued and became more
intense with the passage of time.
at New Theatres
In the early 1930s, classical musician and music director
Harishchandra Bali brought K.L. Saigal to Calcutta and introduced
him to R. C. Boral. R.C. Boral took an instant liking to his
talents, Saigal was hired by B. N. Sircar's Calcutta-based
film studio New Theatres on a contract of Rs. 200 per month.
There he came into contact with contemporaries like Pankaj
Mullick, K. C. Dey and Pahari Sanyal. In a short span of time,
he stood tallest among them with his brilliant singing and
Indian Gramophone Company had released Saigal's record containing
a couple of Punjabi songs composed by Harishchandra Bali.
In this way, Bali became Saigal's first Music Director. The
first film in which Saigal had a role was the Urdu film Mohabbat
Ke Ansoo, followed by Subah Ka Sitara and Zinda Laash, all
released in 1932. However, these films did not do very well.
It was in 1933 that his four bhajans for the film Puran Bhagat
created a sensation throughout India; thereafter, Saigal never
looked back. Films that followed were Yahudi Ki Ladki, Chandidas
and Rooplekha. As a youngster, India's melody queen herself,
Lata Mangeshkar, is alleged to have said that she wanted to
marry K.L. Saigal after seeing his performance in Chandidas.
In 1935, Saigal played the role that would come to define
his acting career: that of the drunken title character in
Devdas, based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's novel of the
same name and directed by P.C. Barua. His songs in the film,
Balam Aaye Baso Moray Man Mein and Dukh Ke Ab Din Beetat Naahi,
became feverishly popular throughout the country.
picked up Bengali very well and acted in seven Bengali films,
produced by New Theatres. Rabindranath Tagore first heard
Saigal before giving consent for the first time to a non-Bengali
singing his songs. Saigal endeared himself to the whole of
Bengal through his 30 Bengali songs.
association with New Theatres continued to bear fruit in subsequent
films that became all the rage, which created success after
success with films such as Didi (Bengali)/President (Hindi)
in 1937, Saathi (Bengali)/Street Singer (Hindi) in 1938, and
Zindagi in 1940, with Saigal in the male lead. These films
were lapped by audiences mainly for Saigal's songs. There
are a number of immortal songs of this era which form the
rich heritage of film music in India. Also, it is well-known
that in Street Singer, Saigal rendered the song Babul Mora
live in front of the camera, even though playback was becoming
the preferred method of singing songs in films.
to Bombay and Death
In December 1941, Saigal moved to Bombay to work with Ranjit
Movietone. Here he acted and sung in a number of hit films.
His voice, music and songs took him to even greater heights.
Bhakt Surdas (1942) and Tansen (1943) were huge hits during
this period. The latter film is still remembered for Saigal's
amazing performance of the song Diya Jalao in Raga Shuddha
Kalyan; in the same movie, he also sang a wonderful song "Sapta
Suran,Tin .. Gaa-o Saba Guni Jan" - which is about music,
and is a special treat for all the lovers of music. In 1944,
he returned to New Theatres to complete Meri Behen. This film
contained such Saigal gems as Do Naina Matware and Ae Qatib-e-Taqdeer
Mujhe Itna Bata De.
this time, alcohol had become a predominant factor in Saigal's
life. His dependence on alcohol had begun affecting his work
and his health. It was said that he could only record a song
after being fortified with liquor. He survived ten years of
drinking, however, his alcoholism was too advanced for even
a single attempt at abstinence, and Saigal died in his ancestral
city of Jalandhar on 18 January 1947, at the age of 42. However,
before his death, he was able to churn out three more hits
under the baton of Naushad for the film Shahjehan (1946).
These are Mere Sapnon Ki Rani, Ae Dil-e-Beqaraar Jhoom and
the immortal Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya. Parwana (1947) was his
last film, released after his death, in which he arguably
sang some of the best songs of his career under the baton
of Khawaja Khurshid Anwar. Saigal was survived by his wife
Asha Rani (whom he married in 1935) and three children, a
son and two daughters: Madan Mohan, Nina (born 1937) and Bina
a career of fifteen years, Saigal acted in 36 feature films
- 28 in Hindi/Urdu, 7 in Bengali, and 1 in Tamil. In addition,
he acted in a short comedy Hindi/Urdu film, Dulari Bibi (3
reels), released in 1933. After Saigal's death, based on the
life and times of K.L. Saigal, B.N. Sircar released a documentary
film called Amar Saigal in 1955. In the film, G. Mungheri
performed the title role of Saigal. The film contained 19
songs lifted from Saigal's films. In all, Saigal rendered
185 songs which includes 142 film songs and 43 non-film songs.
Of the film songs, there are 110 in Hindi/Urdu, 30 in Bengali
and 2 in Tamil. There are 37 non-film songs in Hindi/Urdu,
and 2 each in Bengali, Punjabi and Persian. His non-film songs
comprise Bhajans, Ghazals and Hori. He has rendered the creations
of legendary poets such as Ghalib, Zauq, Seemab and others.
and meant for information only.