Kundan Lal Saigal, the first Hindi-film superstar, sang with a melancholic strain. He started his film career when the ‘talkies’ were on the rise and music was becoming an important element in films. His musical talent was unparalleled – singing songs of love to songs of heartbreak with equal ease. Portraying tragedy was his forte, both through acting and singing. In his career spanning 15 years, Saigal sang around 200 songs and acted in 36 feature films. Drinking overdose led to his untimely demise in 1947. Here’s looking at some of his immortal films.
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s tragic hero made Saigal a household name in this P C Barua-film of 1936. Saigal’s portrayal of a drunk, self-destructive lover called for special attention. Being a talented singer, he also sang the film’s songs. The movie’s hit songs include Piya Bin, Dukh Ke Din and Balam Aaye Baso.
Remember the evergreen song So Jaa Rajkumari, So Jaa? This lullaby was made famous by the supremely talented Saigal. The actor-singer once again teamed up with director P C Barua in this highest-grossing film. The music of Zindagi was composed by Pankaj Mullick. The film not only challenged social mores but also explored the complexities of an unusual platonic relationship.
Produced by Ranjit Studios, Saigal’s Tansen is still hailed as one of the greatest musical hits of Indian cinema. The biggest attraction was the enchanting raga-filled music created by composer Khemchand Prakash. The film had 13 songs, simple in melody but universal in appeal. One of the most memorable songs of Saigal from this film was Jagmag Jagmag Diya Jalao. More Bachpan Ke Sathi and Ghata Ghanghor are a few striking duets he sang with actress and singer Khurshid Begum.
Saigal did not essay the title role and appeared in only a few scenes in this film directed by Abdul Rashid Kardar. Yet, he had a commanding screen presence. The talented singer delivered memorable musical masterpieces like Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya, Mere Sapnon Ki Rani Ruhi Ruhi Ruhi and Gham Diye Mustaqil.
Co-starring with Suraiya, this was Saigal’s last film and was released in February 1947, one month after his death. He played a rich man who is considerate towards the poor and needy, but his benevolence creates trouble in his married life. Saigal’s songs from this film – Toot Gaye Sab Sapne Mere and Ae Phool Hanske Bagh Mein – are simply beautiful and have remained immortal.