Saigal, Manto: The Legends of Bollywood

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By Satish Chopra, Edited By Adam Rizvi, The India observer, TIO, NJ: Today (18 January) is the death anniversaries of two greats of Indian sub-continent viz K.L.Saigal and Saadat Hasan Manto. Saigal, a singer ‘par-excellence’ and Manto, one of the finest Urdu short story writers. They breathed their last in 1947 and 1955 in Jalandhar and Lahore respectively. Undoubtedly, Saigal was the finest male singer of the previous century who sang practically all traits of singing, be it was a ghazal, a bhajan, simple song and or a classical dhrupad. Thus, he was a source of inspiration for practically all the male singers to follow.

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If it was Kishore, Talat, Mukesh, Surender, Mohd Rafi and others. To me, the most imperative aspect of his singing was that he never sang merely the words inscribed in the respective lyrics but the thought. Just to illustrate, I play for you a bhajan of Bhakt Surdas- Nain heen ko raah dikha prabhu and in continuation when he chants Chahun or mere ghor andhera, Here he visualizes to the listeners, as to what blindness is! In continuation I am playing Matwale paney se jo ghata jhoom padi hai, wherein in continuation he recites Chhatee se dhuaan uthaa hai jo boond padee hai- an immortal ghazal of Arzu Lucknavi.

Saadat Hasan Manto 

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Additionally, listen to one of his elementals – Ausar beeto jaat prani tero ausar beeto jaat. Finally, just to illustrate, listen to his ‘Sapt suran teen gram (sang for film ‘Tansen’) which makes a listener spell bound. What better a listener can expect in just three minutes of his classical rendering of most difficult style of dhrupad!
The era of ghazal singing in a way commenced with Saigal and in view of its mass appeal, a large number of singers followed. Some of them earned fame and money.. The genre was religiously extended by another legend- Begum Akhtar. Conclusively, as and when a dispassionate history of ghazal singing comes to be written, the names of Saigal and Begum Akhar will find a prime place, as they were indeed matchless!
Another legend Saadat Hasan Manto breathed his last on this day and the year was 1955.

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On his demise, Mohd Hasan Askari, a renowned scholar aptly stated: “One more Mopassant (well known French fiction writer) is dead.” Needless to say that in the everlasting urdu-hindi fiction- era of Munshi Premchand, one amongst the foremost was Manto, who is best known for his soul-stirring narratives in Toba Tek Singh’, ‘Mozel’, ‘Thanda Gosht’, ‘Kali Salwar’, ‘Boo’, ‘Hattak’, ‘Babu Gopinath’, ‘Khol Do’, ‘Sahay’ – just to name a few. He was at his best, when he expressed the pain of partition. Simply heartbreaking and exhilarating! On his writings, Manto once uttered -“Short-stories are being written by Allah, I merely write the concluding line!” Besides short-stories, Manto wrote the screen play of National Award winning film ‘Mirza Ghalib’ and a number of chapters on film and literature related persona of his time in his widely read book ‘Meena Bazaar’.

Kundan Lal Saigal 1904-1947

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A list of some of these known and unknown luminaries include- Nargis, Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Bari Saheb, Noorjehan, Sitara, Baburao Patel, Ismat Chugtai, Aga Hashr Kashmiri, Rafique Gaznavi- and others. He also wrote the scripts of a number of plays, memoirs and monographs. However scripts for defense for his court cases against him are indeed fascinating, captivating and simply admirable. Last but not the least it is needless to reiterate that as and when a dispassionate history of films, their music and literature of Indian sub-continent comes to be written, the names of Kundan Lal Saigal and Saadat Hasan Manto will find a pride of place in it. My heartfelt gratitude to these two unforgettable legends.

Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

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