K.L. Saigal – Naushad Collaboration
Saigal sang 6 songs [1 duet, 5 solos] for Naushad. They came together for first and last time in Shah Jehan in 1946, which was one of the last films in which Saigal acted. Shah Jehan also marked the debut of lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri.
Naushad on K.L. Saigal
Saigal was a legend to me from the day I saw his film “Pooran Bhagat” (1933). He had attracted me with the haze and glamour of heroes. More so, as he was a singing star, singing in “sur”. His songs and acting in the films of New Theatres carved a niche in my mind.
It was around 1946 I had a chance to meet him. Saigal was at the height of his popularity. D. N. Madhok and I were discussing a point of a picture at Kardar Studios. A tall bald headed figure with thick rimmed spectacles entered the room. Mr. Madhok began to talk with him informally and I receded in the background. As conversation progressed, Madhok saw that I was kept aloof and asked me if I knew the gentleman with whom he was talking. I told him I did not. Madhok looked at me with surprise and asked me, “Why you don’t know Saigal”? I jumped up. Saigal was smiling at me. i offered my apology saying that his bald head and thick rimmed spectacles were far from the boyish idea I had of the great Saigal. There was a heavy laughter from him in reply. That first meeting with Saigal left a lasting impression on me.
Saigal’s mannerisms were just plain. He had no affected accents or no studied poses. He was just a plain gentleman from Punjab. His soul was transparent just as his melodious voice. He hardly ever acted: either on or off the screen. He always went about with his roles just as he would in real life. His singing, too, was marked with the ease of this very naturalness. And that was, indeed, great about his singing.
When an occasion arose to work with him for the film “Shah Jehan” my joy knew no bounds. It was an honor. Before every formal occasion of singing, Saigal made it a point to pray. This I discovered during one of the recordings of “Shah Jehan”. As the time for the “takes” approached, he had a special mattress spread out for him, (he never sang standing or sitting on a chair) and squatting, he was muttering some prayer with a “mala” rhythmically moving between his fingers. A few minutes skipped by and his personal assistant took away the “mala”. Mr. Saigal looked at me to know if everything was all right. I nodded approval. He turned aside and called: Driver, get me ‘kaalee paanch’. Promptly his driver appeared as if from nowhere with a bottle of whisky which he casually poured out into a large glass and offered it to his boss. Saigal emptied it with a certain ease and began singing in the “sur”. He was coming to shape.
An honest appraisal of Saigal, should, of course, mention that he was a victim of alcohol. There is no irreverence about it. It was a fact. He was no less religious a man for that matter.
I went recording “take” after “take” to get the finest from the great artiste. But I noticed, too, that with every take he was having fresh “Kalee paanch”. As “takes” began to mount upon one another, Saigal’s sobriety began to dwindle. He could no more count the bars meant for interlude. He would come in singing either too early or too late. He would admit his fault every time. He was not conscious of his unconsciousness. At last I approached him and suggested that he needed rest and that we would record the song again the next day. That was the end of “kalee paanch” that night.
Saigal loved precious stones. He used to wear rings made with them. He loved “panna” stones in particular. He was fond of displaying his “panna” rings to everyone.
Saigal was a great artiste, no doubt. But he was a great man also. It was this greatness that had attracted Dr. Latiff from Kolkata to become his closest friend and personal physician. Dr. Latiff had left his wife and children, closed down his dispensary and had thrown his lot with Saigal. He literally moved along with Saigal. The doctor-friend always remained with him in the same room, carried his medical kit day and night from set to set and theatre to theatre. I had the chance once to witness the complete dedication this man had for Saigal. Once on a set the cry was heard, “Saigal Sahab has fainted, Saigal Sahab has fainted, Saigal Sahab has fainted”. I reached the spot and found that Dr. Latiff was giving him an emergency injection. After that he threw himself on the ground by Saigal’s side to comfort him.
Once I had the chance to speak to Dr. Latiff. I made it a point to inquire what made him love Saigal so much. I knew that Dr. Latiff had no liking for music or film or acting. His reply was unique: “Saigal is a good man. He is a great friend and he needs understanding”.
As I continued to work with him , I discovered that he was convinced with a false idea about himself. He thought he would never sing in “sur” without whisky. But I had noticed Saigal singing at his best when he was sober, during rehearsals, for instance. One day I took the courage to tell him about this and requested him to have takes without his driver and the bottle. He said he would try but was sure of the poor results. I insisted and he agreed, but on one condition: there must follow a recording session with his driver and the bottle. I agreed.
We had both the sessions. Both went off as I expected. When I played the recordings of both and asked him to choose which he thought the best rendition of the song, he unmistakably picked out the really good recording done without drinks. The song was “Jab dil hi toot gaya”.
That Saigal recorded songs without drinks became the news. It spread like fire among music directors. Khurshid Anwar tried it, too, for “Parwana” and was successful. But hen Dr. Latiff had to be by his side always ready with injections.
I took occasions then to tell him that someone had made a psychological fixation in him about alcohol and his singing. I insisted that it was simply untrue and that he had seen the results himself. He looked a me wistfully and said: “What a pity, Naushad Sahab…This good news is too late to be good to me. Had I met you a little earlier, I might have been a different Kundan altogether…..” By referring to a song line from “Shah Jahan” he said “Chaah barbaad karegi hamen maloom na tha”.
I wonder how many Saigal fans know what he thought about drinking. He regretted it wholeheartedly. There are many among us who like, admire and imitate him even to the point of drinking. But he would never approve of it. I am sure he would say, “We ought to imitate always the good trends in others, not the bad ones”.
He was an artiste through and through. Many incidents are told about this. Once after a night long search, a director was pleasantly surprised to find Saigal in fond embrace with an electric post at Matunga in the early hours of the morning while he was supposed to be on the set. When asked, how come, he said he lost his bearings on the way to the studio and was seeking directions from the lonely electric post.
Another day, Saigal reached home very thirsty. He walked into the kitchen and took some tea from the oven, kept a cup at his feet and poured the contents right down on his feet. The “tea” turned out to be boiling oil, which burnt his feet and hands, canceling his shooting schedule for weeks and keeping Dr. Latiff busy for months.
With the completion of “Shah Jehan” I lost the contacts with this great man. News of his death did not come to me as a surprise. i could imagine his deathbed and Dr. Latiff sitting with his medical kit saying “Mera Kundan…Mera Kundan…..”
During Saigal’s funeral, one of his relatives told me later, the music of “Jab dil hi toot gaya” from the film “Shah Jehan” was played by the band as per his wish.
Every generation has its crop of artistes. Often God replaces disappearing great men with worthy substitutes. No doubt, after Saigal, many singers have arisen in the Hindi film world. Some of them may have overtaken him in some sense, some may not have. But I feel there was none to replace Saigal. He is just….Saigal”.
It should not sound too effusive, if I say in conclusion, that Saigal outdid Tansen in popularity. Mian Tansen was, of course, the beloved of his times. But his voice was, in a way, imprisoned by palace walls and a select upper class audience. Saigal, on the other hand, had the whole nation behind him as he was the singer of the general public. He was, in fact, their Tansen.
Saigal belongs to that category of human beings, who defied death. He is alive even today. We have the proof that he is. His voice, his style, his intonation is amidst us. Saigal is immortal. In that sense he has even surpassed the legendary singer Tansen in popularity.
K.L. Saigal – Naushad Collaboration
|Gham diye mustakil||K.L. Saigal||Shah Jehan||1946||Majrooh Sultanpuri|
|Jab dil hi toot gaya||K.L. Saigal||Shah Jehan||1946||Majrooh Sultanpuri|
|Mere sapno ke rani||K.L. Saigal, Mohd Rafi and Chorus||Shah Jehan||1946||Majrooh Sultanpuri|
|Ae dil e beqaraar jhoom||K.L. Saigal||Shah Jehan||1946||Majrooh Sultanpuri|
|Chaah barbaad karegi||K.L. Saigal||Shah Jehan||1946||Majrooh Sultanpuri|
|Kar-lijiye-chal kar meri jannat ke nazaare||K.L. Saigal||Shah Jehan||1946||Majrooh Sultanpuri|