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The First Superstar of Indian Films- Kundan Lal Saigal

Kundan Lal Saigal was the first ever superstar who ruled the hearts of British India, which included Current Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Burma. Saigal’s stardom was more genuine and much deeper compared to the later media savvy stars like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, and current stars like Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan.

In those days Indian film industry was based in Tollygunge area of Kolkata, hence was called Tollywood.

K. L. Saigal

The First Superstar of Indian Films- Kundan Lal Saigal

(11 April 1904 – 18 January 1947)

In the early 1930s, classical musician and music director Harishchandra Bali brought K.L. Saigal to Calcutta and introduced him to R. C. Boral, who took an instant liking to Saigal’s talents. Saigal was hired by 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 (Manna Dey’s uncle) and Pahari Sanyal and a solid foundation of Indian Film Industry was laid.

1932 onwards Saigal’s films started releasing one after other. Please remember that in those days, there was no playback singing technology. Audio recording and film shooting was done simultaneously on the spot and the actors were singing live. As a youngster, Lata Mangeshkar is alleged to have said that she wanted to marry K.L. Saigal after seeing his performance in Chandidas (1934).

With Devdas (1936) Saigal hit an unprecedented Stardom. His popularity was next only to Mahatma Gandhi.

Balam aaye baso – Devdas

Dukh kea ab din – Devdas

Saigal picked up Bengali very well and acted in seven Bengali films, produced by New Theatres. Gurdev 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.

1934 onwards playback recording had started but Saigal continued shooting live in the conventional way. As late in 1938, Saigal sang live shooting his immortal song Babul Mora for the film Street Singer:
Babul Mora – Street Singer (1937)

In December 1941, Saigal moved to Mumbai to work with Ranjit Movietone. Somehow Saigal seemed to have lost that magical touch in the Bollywood milieu. Many of his films flopped at the Box Office. Depression and alcoholism too better of him and Saigal died on 18th January 1947.

Some selected immortal gems from Saigal’s priceless treasure:

Song Movie Youtube link
Nuktaacheen (Ghalib) Yahudi Ki Ladki (1933) Watch Now
Andhe ki laathi Dhoop Chhaon (1935) Watch Now
Ek bangala bane President (1937) Watch Now
Karun kya aas Dushman (1939) Watch Now
Main kya janu Zindagi (1940) Watch Now
So ja Rajkmari Zindagi (1940) Watch Now
Sapta suran Tansen (1943) Watch Now
Nain hin ko raah Bhakt Surdas (1943) Watch Now
Mahukar Shyam Bhakt Surdas (1943) Watch Now
Do naina matware My Sister (1944) Watch Now
Ae qaatib e taqdeer My Sister (1944) Watch Now
Duniya mein hun Private Album Watch Now
Gam diye mushtaqil Shahjehan (1946) Watch Now
Jab dil hi tut gaya Shahjehan (1946) Watch Now


[Excerpts from the E-Novella ‘Cinemaghar’ written by Atul S. Merchant ‘Jataayu’]

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