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Recreating the Saigal magic

THE LEGENDARY K.L.Saigal has been categorised as the first Indian crooner.

His effortless rendering and mellifluous voice brought him choice roles in some of the classic films of yesteryear such as `Devdas', `Tansen', `Bhakt Surdas', `Shah Jahan', `President' and so on. At a recent function held in Mattancherry in honour of the maestro, one of the participants was Mr.Ninan Koshi of New Delhi. This former Director General (Road Development) and Additional Secretary (Retd), Government of India, has a rich baritone voice and is a singer of some repute. In this exclusive interview, he talks to PRATIMA ASHER about his involvement with music.

Q. What turned you into a singer?

Right from childhood I have been singing. I have a natural voice and listening to Saigal and singers of that era made me turn to it. It was the golden era of Hindi film music. They produced some brilliant music.

Q. Have you been trained in music?

Yes. I have been trained in Hindustani classical music. We are a Syrian Christian family and we don't go in for this kind of music training but when I went over to Delhi, I did get trained at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya there for four years. I have also passed some of their exams.

Q. Have you given many public performances?

Yes. I have also sung solo but I have done a lot of work with the choir at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. You see now there is this new concept of using classical Indian ragas in the choir. We went abroad. We have sung at the International Choral Festival in Manila and Hungary.

Q. What made you choose Saigal in particular? Is he the only singer whose songs you sing?

It is the beauty of his music. He was not a trained singer, but he sang from the heart. He was an emotional singer who sang emotional music. In 1942 or so, we used to hear him in Bangalore, Punjab, all over India. His music was universally liked.

Q. How do you divide your time between a hectic public career and a career as a singer?

These days I don't often get the time. I have been a Director General of Road Development and an Additional Secretary to the Government of India.

Today I am on many advisory committees connected with roads. But yes, I sing.

I also sing Rabindra Sangeet and have performed publicly a couple of times in Calcutta. There have been as many as 2000 people at the performance and they have been very appreciative. I am often asked how I sing Rabindra Sangeet so well when I am not a Bengali.

Q. How did you get to come here to sing?

Oh, there was an Asianet programme some time ago where they had interviewed me. I am considered an authority on Saigal and have all kinds of information about him. I have a very big collection of music of that period, even on 78 RPM records, music by Pankaj Mullick, Krishna Chandra Dey, Kannan Devi, Juthika Roy. During that programme I was asked to sing something from Saigal and people heard that and asked me to participate in this programme.

I had planned to sing with a harmonium accompaniment but they provided me with an orchestra.

Q. What according to you is the essence of Saigal's music. Have you been able to incorporate these elements into your own?

His pronunciation, his notes, his very crisp notes. He will not waver in the notes. I am just a pale imitation. You have to get the pitch right. In some songs, he laughs. Nobody can imitate that laugh. Nobody can imitate that laugh in that particular pitch. He was a master.

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