K.L. Saigal in 'Street Singer’ (1936)
- Satish Chopra
Wajid Ali Shah, the Nawab of Awadh was banished from his beloved Lucknow by the British during eighteenth century. A true lover of dance and music; he was himself a composer of great merit. He expressed his pain of parting in his lyric-‘Babul mora naihar chhuto jaye’, which was indeed a soulful depiction of the agony of his heart.
Ages have passed and the memory of his spiritual expression through portrayed in these lines by the maestro became a history.
And, there came the film ‘Street Singer’ in the year 1936 and world listened to these immortal lines of ‘Babul Mora’ in the golden voice of one and only -Kundan Lal Saigal, the singer of the century. The music was composed by Rai Chand Boral, who is rightly considered as the father figure amongst cine-music composers.
Phani Majumdar the director of the film, once observed that Saigal was very deeply immersed in the feelings of the lyrics of Babul Mora. Thereby, he wanted to sing the song while acting on the sets. It was a very difficult task to record the song while singing on the road. As during such acting and singing, recording of the instruments played alongwith the golden voice of Saigal was not an easy job for the sound-engineers. But, Saigal did a great job. He was completely immersed in the totality of the song. Everything looked so real. Any other actor could not have done so well. It was certainly in view of the fact that perhaps he rightly understood the anguish of Wajid Ali Shah.
Shambhuji Maharaj of Lucknow , the well known musicologist trained a large number of singers of his time. Notable amongst them was Jagmohan, popularly known as ‘Sursagar’. In one of his interviews Jagmohan recalled a very interesting incident, wherein he narrated that a young man of about 30 years of age came to Shambhuji Maharaj to learn the singing of ‘Babul Mora’. The maestro taught him within three days. At this Jagmohan was upset and little-bit annoyed with his master. Dejected, he asked him as to how he guessed that he (Jagmohan) will take at least six months to learn the singing of this song, as against just three days taken by that young person.
To this Shambhuji Maharaj replied- “You know who was this young man? He was Kundan Lal Saigal.”
That is how the story of ‘Babul Mora’ goes on.
And, the fact remains that for all times to come ‘Babul Mora____’ has proved to be the most popular lyric in the annals of history of music of India, may it be amongst film, light-classical and or classical. In view of such amazing applause of the listeners of Saigal’s ‘Babul Mora’ a galaxy of singers singing ‘Babul Mora’ followed.
Kanan Devi, the golden melodious voice of yester years was amongst the earliest. She sang a sketch of this song in the film for little over a minute’s time. Because of the short duration, no recording of this master-piece was made on a gramophone record and it is only available on the sound track of the film-‘Street Singer’.
The list of luminaries who sang ‘Babul Mora’ includes- Bhim Sen Joshi, Kesarbai Kerkar, Siddheshwari Devi, Rasoolan Bai, Khadim Hussain Khan, Mushatq Hussain Khan, Girija Devi, Kishori Amonkar, Jagmohan, Padma Talwalkar, Shanti Vaidyanathan Sharma, Mahender Chopra (son-in-law of K.L.Saigal) and none other than ghazal queen Begum Akhtar. Ustad Faiyaz Khan as well sang in the year-1932 i.e prior to Kundan Lal Saigal.
Jagjit Singh, the well known ghazal singer came to limelight by ‘Babul Mora’ which he sang along with his wife Chitra Singh in early seventies. He recorded ‘Babul Mora’ yet another time, which was his solo version.
All these renderings of ‘Babul Mora’ sung by these legends in the last three decades have been put together by me in three discs can be termed as a ‘Collectors’ Treasure’. I am obliged and express my heartfelt gratitude to the melody admirers, who provided me these priceless recordings.
I am equally thankful to a large number of music lovers, who encouraged, motivated and appreciated my efforts in collecting these echoes of golden voices, when I offered them these soulful renderings. At this moment, I am remembered what Shelley once observed about music and said- “__soft voices vibrate in the memory”.
It is generally debated as to who sang ‘Babul Mora’, the best? To me, it is a ridiculous subject; similar to the comparison of a Rose flower with Jasmine and Jasmine with Lily.
Once I discussed different versions of ’Babul Mora’ with the music maestro Anil Biswas, on such aspect of comparison. To this his remarks were simply fascinating, when he said- “Betey, Saigal key alawa kisi ka naiher nahin chhuta”.
Anil Biswas is no more; but so casually, what he said, left me speechless.
The fact remains that ‘Babul Mora’ sung by Saigal will be listened by ardent music lovers again and again for ages to come.
About the others, no one can predict. Rest, I leave it to the listeners; let them evaluate.