JAB dil hee toot gaya, hum jeeke kya karenge that song by Kundan Lal Saigal, tore the heart of the listener. His numbers in Tansen, a film made to show off his music talents and his story telling songs ek tha panchi… were huge huge hits. Saigal has a committed fan following, even sixty years after his death.
KL Saigal: The Definitive Biography by Pran Nevile looks at the life and music of the master singer. The book gives the personal life of Saigal, interspersing it with his career. Born in 1904 in Jammu, Saigal showed an extraordinary interest in music and by the time he was ten started taking roles in local Ram Lila. The Ram Lilas were kind of talent hunt shows, involving the entire community. The father attended these Ram Lilas out of religious feelings but was disturbed by the son’s love for music at the cost of studies. Soon enough he left home and took up several small jobs, waiting and hoping for lady luck to smile upon him. One of the anecdotes from his life is this as narrated by Raghav Menon, the renowned music scholar: Imtiaz Khan, a sarangi player who accompanied great masters is “reported to have heard Kundan, then in his late teens, humming a thumri which Abdul Karim Khan had sung at a function on the previous day when Imtiaz Khan accompanied the maestro with his sarangi: Imtiaz was captivated by the young Kundan’s voice and style of singing, especially the way in which he was trying to reproduce the cadences of the song…” He took the boy home and was surprised to hear that Saigal had had no formal training under any teacher!
Saigal worked extensively in Calcutta before shifting to Bombay. Nevile gives the complete story of his film career, discussing his heroines and directors and of course the songs, complete with lyrics.
Saigal died in January 1947, after prolonged illness. He had recorded 185 songs by then. His first record Jhulana jhulavo sold five lakh copies, creating history. The book gives the list of films Saigal did with details. There is also the lyrics of some of his popular songs and select film reviews. Black and white photos both from albums and films have added interest to the text. A really comprehensive book by Nevile, an IFS officer, who has authored several books on Indian art, culture and cinema.
(Penguin Books (India) Pvt Ltd, 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017)