The first singing star of Indian cinema, Kundan Lal Saigal left behind a huge body of work when he passed away at the age of 42 on January 18, 1947. His nasal baritone made his style unique, and inspired many singers including the genius Mukesh.
To mark his 74th death anniversary, we choose 10 songs in chronological order. While we normally don’t take two songs from the same film, we made an exception this time as some songs just had to be there.
In the 1930s, Rai Chand Boral and Pankaj Mullick were the main music directors, and the Hindi film industry was based in Kolkata. Saigal later moved to Mumbai where he continued his form.
1. Ek Bangla Bane Nyaara – President (1937)
Saigal had been in films for five years, and even appeared in the successful Devdas before this was released. He had some extremely successful songs in the 1937 movie President. Rai Chand Boral gave the music and Kidar Sharma wrote the lines, “Ek bangla bane nyaara, rahe kunba jis mein saara, sone ka bangla, chandan ka jangla”, reflecting the common man’s desire to own a house. The film also had the children’s hit ‘Ek Raje Ka Beta Lekar’.
2. Babul Mora – Street Singer (1938)
This thumri is raag Bhairavi has been sung by many but Saigal sang the first popular version. The lyrics, beginning with “Babul mora naihar chooto hi jaaye”, were written by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh after he was exiled from Lucknow by the British. He compared his situation with that of a bride. Music was by Boral.
3. Karoon Kya Aas Niraas Bhayi – Dushman (1939)
Pankaj Mullick gave the music for this hit, where Saigal was at his melodious best. Arzoo Lucknowi wrote the lyrics, which went, “Karoon kya aas niraas bhayi, diya bujhe phir se jal jaaye, raat andheri jaaye din aaye, mitthi aas jyot akhiyan ki, samajh gayee to gayee, karoon kya aas niraas bhayi”.
4. So Ja Rajkumari – Zindagi (1940)
Often described as the ultimate lullaby, this was beautifully composed in raag Jhinjhoti by Mullick. Saigal’s singing was expressive, and Kidar Sharma wrote, “So ja rajkumari, so ja, so ja main balihari so ja, so ja rajkumari so ja”. Even today, grandmothers sing it.
5. Main Kya Janoon Kya – Zindagi (1940)
A complete contrast to ‘So Ja Rajkumari’, this song showed Saigal’s versatility. After a wonderfully arranged instrumental intro, Mullick used a peppy tune with Kidar Sharma’s lines, “Main kya janoo kya jadoo hai, jadoo hai, jadoo hai, in do matwale naino mein, jadoo hai”.
6. Kahe Ko Raad Machayi – Lagan (1941)
Picturised on Saigal and the beautiful Kanan Devi, this was composed by Boral. Saigal sang D.N. Madhok’s words “Kahe ko raad machayi, chhodo bhi yeh nithurayi”. The film’s music was a big success, with both Saigal and Kanan Devi singing solo songs.
7. Diya Jalao – Tansen (1943)
The song was best known for its use of raag Deepak, with Khemchand Prakash providing the music. The song picked up tempo in the second half with the famous scene when the room is filled with light. Lyricist Pandit Indra’s lines ‘Diya jalao jagmag jagmag” filled the air.
8. Baag Laga Doon Sajni – Tansen (1943)
Khemchand Prakash, who used the dhrupad genre for this film in keeping with the period, composed this in raag Megh Malhar. Saigal appeared on screen with Khurshid Bano. Pandit Indra’s lyrics were, “Baag laga doon sajni, torey nainan maani gehree, sundar sudhar saloni, baag laga doon sajni”.
9. Do Naina Matware – My Sister (1944)
This film starred Saigal and Sumitra Devi, with music by Pankaj Mullick. Lyrics were by Pandit Bhushan, and the main lines were, “Do naina matware tihaare, hum par jurm karein”. The song was recently revived in the TV version of A Suitable Boy.
10. Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya – Shahjehan (1946)
The opening lines “Jab dil hi toot gaya, hum jee ke kya karenge” are considered among the saddest in Hindi film music. Written by Majrooh Sultanpuri, they were set to tune in raag Bhairavi by Naushad. Saigal’s voice was filled with pathos. The film also had the hit song “Gham Diye Mushtaqil”.
Though Saigal had many other hits, these 10 songs are representative of his discography. While they were earlier released on vinyl, cassette and CD, they are now available on the streaming platforms.