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The joy of a musical past

ROMESH CHANDER

The play on K.L. Saigal will go down as one of the landmark in Hindi musicals.



SAME OLD JOY: Uday Chandra brought alive the spirit of K.L. Saigal.

"K.L. Saigal", a musical play written and directed by the husband and wife team of M. Sayeed Alam and Niti Sayeed, presented by Pierrot's Troupe was premiered recently at Sri Ram Centre. And if the response of a completely sold out house is any indication, the presentation will go down as one of the landmarks in Hindi musicals. A good deal is known about Saigal's life in Kolkata or Mumbai but we hardly know of his early days in Jammu, Moradabad, Kanpur, Ghaziabad or Delhi. The play opens, as it were, a new chapter in his early life. The directors use an old man (Tom Alter) as a narrator-cum-commentator throughout the play to tell us of Saigal's life. He takes us to his school in Moradabad where Ustad Abdul Karim Khan was to sing. "The pandal is full and among the audience is also the English Station Master and his wife. After two days or so Imtiaz Ahmed, the sarangi accompanist, happened to go to the railway station and saw a young boy whom he had noticed in the concert singing the same song `Piya Bin Nahin Awat Chain'. Taken aback with the young Saigal's control over his voice he takes the young lad home where we once again hear the young lad sing. Saigal at that time was just 18."

The old man tells us that the young lad had run away to Kanpur after he had failed in his exams. In Kanpur we hear him sing in a bazaar to collect money for a needy man to buy a ticket to Kolkata. The song we hear is Saigal's favourite `Lay gai chot Kalejawa mai hai Rama'. The boy collected Rs.80 in his first ever public performance. We are told of another incident when the young boy used to regularly visit the red light district not for pleasure but to learn from a well-known Bai who observed parda from him lest he recognised her if he ever met her outside the street. From Kanpur Saigal went straight to Moradabad to become a time-keeper at a railway station. The job did not suit him and so he went to Ghaziabad. It was time he took music as a profession. But to earn a living he joined a typewriter company as a salesman and we have yet another beautiful ghazal "Nukhta Chi hai gham-e-dil uska suna na bane".

The second act

And so it goes on till we reach the second act. The scene opens in New Theatre's studios. The old man tells us of Saigal's life in Kolkata. He gives us an interesting account of how with just one bhajan and one ghazal Saigal won over the doyens of the music world in the company. As we go along the playwrights take us back in time when Saigal was nine years and his mother took him to Peer Salman Yusaf for he was no good in his studies. After some years the mother and son are once again back as Saigal's voice had cracked. The Peer blessed him and advised him to do regular riaz. As we move close to the end the old man takes us to a music conference in Allahabad where any one who mattered in the world was present. Saigal sang for two hours and there were requests even from the greats like Ustad Fayaz Khan. Uday Chandra playing as Saigal delights us with `Dukh ke din'. After the song is over Saigal comes down to the audience and escorts his mother to the stage and says, "Ladies and gentlemen, one who deserves all this is my mother" and the audience breaks into a thunderous applause.

The cast as a whole plays well and outstanding among them is Uday Chandra as Saigal and Tom Alter as the old man. Incidentally Dr. Sayeed Alam in his search for some one who could train Uday Chandra in Saigal's gayaki discovered Sardar Ajit Singh who runs a furniture shop in Delhi and at the age of 80 is a master of Saigal's gayaki. He agreed to train Uday Chandra for more than three months for four-five hours every day. Ajit Singh was invited on the stage and the house gave him a standing ovation. A wonderful end to a beautiful presentation that must be kept alive.

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