Priya Kanungo's recital of songs on the occasion of K.L. Saigal's birth anniversary left listeners asking for more.
Even 64 years after his death, Kundan Lal Saigal's mystique and aura remain intact. The timbre of his voice, flawless diction, feel for words, intuitive meends (glides), superb intonation and perfect tunefulness turned him into a legend during his lifetime. Lata Mangeshkar's only unrealised ambition is that she could never sing before or with Saigal. Nearly two decades ago, she paid her musical tribute to Saigal's genius by singing some of his songs for her album “Shraddhanjali”.
A similar kind of tribute was paid to Saigal this past week at a programme organised by Pran Neville at the India Habitat Centre. Neville is an ardent Saigal fan and has penned a book on him. He showed clips of Saigal songs from Hindi films of the 1930s and '40s, filling the viewers with nostalgia.
This was followed by a musical tribute offered by Priya Kanungo, a senior journalist who has made a mark as a serious practitioner of Hindustani classical music, having learnt from Pandit Amarnath, Shubha Mudgal and Deepak Chatterjee. She mainly chose those songs that had a strong classical base and rendered them so well that the audience was not willing to let her go when she concluded her recital. She had to sing one more song.
Priya began with “Sapt Suran Teen Gram” — a song from the 1943 classic “Tansen”. Khemchand Prakash, another musical genius of the bygone era whose “Mahal” song “Ayega Aanewala” later catapulted Lata Mangeshkar to stardom, had composed its music. Priya rendered the song in her powerful yet mellifluous voice paying due attention to its Dhrupad flavour. She went on to sing another “Tansen” song “Bagh Laga Doon Sajani”, offering glimpses of raga Adana Bahar. After Khemchand Prakash, she turned to Pankaj Mullick and sang “Main Kya Janoon Kya Jadoo Hai” from his 1940 film “Zindagi”, following it up with another Pankaj Mullick number. “Do Naina Matware Tihare” from his 1944 film “My Sister”.
Priya excelled in a non-film thumri in raga Kafi, “Main Jo Dinan Ki Thori” and brought out its explicit eroticism in a restrained manner. This is a song not commonly heard and she tried to interpret it in her own way at places and made a conscious effort to not imitate Saigal in every detail. It was very brave on her part to suddenly switch from such an erotic thumri to a devotional song “Bhajoon Main to Bhav Se” from the 1933 film “Puran Bhagat” whose music was composed by Rai Chand Boral. The change in tempo was also effected effortlessly. She followed it up with a lovely Shankara-based song “Rumjhum Rumjhum Chal Tihari” and the iconic “Diya Jalao” from “Tansen”.
Priya chose another “Puran Bhagat” bhajan, “Avsar Beeto Jaat Prani”, and followed it up with a dazzling rendition of a non-film song, “Jhulna Jhulao”. Based on raga Dev Gandhar, “Julna Jhulao” is generally considered one of the shining examples of Saigal's artistry, and Priya acquitted herself really well. However, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah's Bhairavi lament “Babul Mora Naihar Chhooto Hi Jaye” was truly the pièce de résistance of her performance. She sang it with great feeling and in the typical Saigal mode.
Because of the difference in the pitch of the male and female voice, it is not easy for female singers to imitate male singers. In the case of Saigal who had such a deep voice and sang mainly in the lower register, it becomes even more difficult. It was heartening to see that Priya Kanungo was able to overcome these hurdles with ease and finesse.
Keywords: Priya Kanungo