K L Saigal (1904–1947) is considered as the first superstar of the Hindi film industry. Kundan Lal Saigal was born on 11th April, 1904 at Nawa Shahar in Jammu State. His mother was a deeply religious lady who was very fond of music. She used to take young Kundan to various religious functions where Bhajan, Keertan and Shabad were sung in traditional styles. Kundan Lal often accompanied his father to the interior parts of the State where he would soak into the folk music of Punjab and Kashmir straight from the wandering shepherds.
His formal schooling was brief and uneventful. He started earning by working in the Railways as a timekeeper and later at the Remington Typewriters as a salesman, which allowed him to tour to several places in India. Meanwhile, his passion for singing continued and became more intense with the passage of time. Finally, he landed at Calcutta in early 1930s and met R C Boral, music director of New Theatres. R C Boral took instant liking to his talents and Saigal was employed on a contract basis.
It was in 1933 that his four Bhajans in the film Puran Bhagat created a sensation throughout India. Thereafter, Saigal never looked back. The real breakthrough came soon thereafter with the film Devdas in 1935, which established K L Saigal as the first superstar of the Indian cinema. It created history and the songs of this film were hummed in all corners of India. In 1941, K L Saigal shifted to Bombay where he acted and sang in a number of hit films.
K L Saigal acted in 36 feature films which include 28 Hindi, 7 Bangla and 1 Tamil. In all, K L Saigal rendered 185 songs which include 142 film songs and 43 non-film songs. In the film songs category, there are 110 Hindi, 30 Bangla and 2 Tamil songs. In the non-film category, there are 37 Hindi and 2 each in Bangla, Punjabi and Persian languages. By this time, alcohol had become a predominant factor in K L Saigal’s life. His dependence on alcohol had begun affecting his work and his health. It was said that he could only record a song after being fortified with liquor. He died on 18th January, 1947, at the age of 42. In 1995, The Government of India released a commemorative stamp in K L Saigal’s honour.