One thing I love about exploring the classical Indian singers from the first few decades of the 20th century is that this can also lead to the discovery of some interesting early talkies in which they acted, too. It seems that the crossover between classical singing and acting in the old films was far from uncommon. Begum Akhtar comes to my mind as the most notable such crossover, but there apparently were quite a few others.
One other such singer who also did some film acting was Azambai of Kolhapur. I wish I could say that I knew about Azambai for a long time, but to be honest, I didn’t know about her at all until I looked through my YouTube subscriptions in the first week of August and stumbled upon this captivating khayal (in Raag Bihagra):
The YouTube poster, who (or which) is named ساقی حسن (I do not know how to translate that into English), also wrote a bunch of information about Azambai under the video, but I found some of it a bit difficult to follow, and it mostly consisted of details regarding who trained her and who might have, which pretty much went over my head due to my still-very-limited knowledge of the history of Indian classical music. One thing that did catch my eye, though, was this line:
Owing To Her Immense Fame During Early Days Of Hindi cinema, Over Musical Landscape Of British India, She Gave Voice To & Also Acted For A Few Of The Initial Hindi Flicks . . .
Because, of course, immediately after I read that, I wanted to know what those flicks were! I still don’t know the full answer if there were multiple flicks, but I started to learn about one such movie in the material written by YouTube poster cactus1762 under the next audio clip that I listened to, which was this very pleasing tarana in Raag Gaud Sarang:
I found the information below this clip to be a bit easier to follow than below the prior clip, so I’ll reproduce the whole description here. And, by the way, this information can also be found in a post at the blog Notes and Beats. (It could be that the blogger and the YouTube poster are one and the same person – or else the blogger simply lifted the information from the YouTube post. Unfortunately, that is another mystery that I have yet to solve.)
Azam Bai of Kolhapur (1906-1986) was also known as Azambai Pisal. Very little is known about her but the recordings she left behind testifies that she was a classical vocalist of truly exceptional quality. It is known that she was trained in the Jaipur-Atrauli style of Ustad Alladiya Khan, by one of his sons – either Manjhi Khan or Bhurji Khan during the 1930s. She also starred in a film named Naagaanand (1935) for which Vamanrao Sadolikar composed the music. Azambai of Kolhapur cut at least 15 78 RPM records released by the Odeon Company in 1936-37 – most of which are now only available in the collectors’ archives.
So now I really wanted to find out more about this film labeled here as “Naagaanand” (though I suspected – correctly – that the title did not need to be transliterated with quite so many “a”s). But before I did that, I wanted hear more from her! So I treated myself to another positively splendid piece of music posted by cactus1762 – another khayal, this time in Raag Nand:
And then right after I enjoyed that clip (which had the same exact information below it as the prior one), I went on my search for more information about this film . . . And it did not take me long to discover that this 1935 film called Naganand (which apparently also was spelled sometimes as Nagananda) actually featured a soon-to-be more prominent musical personality as a star – someone, in fact, who would become one of the very best music directors of the Golden Age. I found all this out – and more – via a post about a special screening of the film in Pune that was given on September 9, 2017 by the National Film Archive of India.
At the very top of the NFAI”s description of the film, we are told:
To commemorate the centenary year of renowned music composer C. Ramchandra (1918-1982), a special screening of the Marathi talkie “Naganand” (1935) has been organized on Saturday, 9th September 2017, 6pm at NFAI, Pune. C Ramchandra was the lead actor in this film. “Naganand” was the first talkie he worked on, at age 17.
And in the next paragraph, we get a good idea that the film was not very good – via quotes from an interview with Chitalkar, himself:
C. Ramchandra writes in his autobiography “Majhya Jeevanachi Sargam” (The Tune of My Life), “I have never seen a film featuring myself on the screen. When I called up the theatre where the film premiered, I was told that it has flopped, and that the 10 odd people in the audience had also walked out in the intermission. The theatre cancelled the showing of the second half. It was probably the biggest flop in history!” He said in an interview that since the failure of “Naganand,” he decided to stop pursuing acting and focus on music.
Though, of course, this does not mean that I wouldn’t want to see this film, because, as the NFAI points out (somewhat stating the obvious):
Despite its failure back then, a film such as this nevertheless remains an important part of our film history, and that is good enough reason to not miss this rare opportunity offered by NFAI.
But since I did miss that showing two years ago – and there was no way I could have traveled to Pune, India at that time anyway (nor can I go there now) – I definitely would love to find a copy of the film. That is especially true, given the notice that I saw at the end of this description:
The film will be screened with English subtitles.
Can anyone tell me how I could get a copy of Naganand (1935), starring Chitalkar (aka C. Ramchandra) and Azambai of Kolhapur, with English subtitles? Or is there a chance that anybody has it and can post it on YouTube? If your answer to either of those questions is “Yes,” please let me know right away!
In the meantime, I am going to explore some more of these early-20th-century Indian classical singers, because now I know that there is a lot of potential in such searches for very surprising discoveries in both music and films.