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Indubala Devi – the singing sensation of 1915 Calcutta!

17 January, 2020 21:39:39

Indubala, the mellifluous singer and performer, hailed from the infamous red-light alleys of Rambagan in North Calcutta. But that was no deterrent to her achieving stardom as a brilliant singer, early in her teens. The velvety texture of her voice, amazing pitch range and melodious rendition astounded her listeners. She was trained by a host of renowned classical singers, including the Prima Donna of India, Gauhar Jaan. Apart from music, Indubala also learned etiquette from Gauhar Jaan and developed a close friendship with her. This association provided her with valuable musical knowledge and experience.

By 1915, the elite society of Kolkata became familiar with the multi-faceted talent of Indubala. Her prowess as singer and actor had transcended the native quarters and reached the White European quarters. Indubala always idolized Gauhar Jaan and aspired to be like her. Her mother Rajabala never approved of her daughter’s aspiration and often scoffed at her saying, she could never come close to Gauhar Jaan’s ethereal beauty. However, nothing could deter young Indubala.  In 1915, she went to record her first song. She selected a composition by poet Kumud Ranjan Mullick. The lyrics of the song was, ‘Oray maajhi tori hetha bandhbo na aar.’

In those days, it was a common practice for the recording engineer to announce the name of the artiste at the beginning or end of the performance. Usually, weightage was given to the popularity and fame while making such announcements. Not all artistes had the right to announce their names. However, Gauhar Jaan, Janki Bai Chhappanchhuriwali or Malka Jaan were the crème de la crème of the music industry and belonged to a different league altogether. Indubala’s honey- dipped rendition was so intense that it moved all others present during the recording of the song. The potency of her rendition remained even after she concluded her recital. And then a startling incident occurred.  The English sound engineer announced with great honour, ‘Miss Indubala, Amateur.’  Her very first recording fetched her the respect and admiration of the masses. 

After the record was released, one of its copy was sent to Indubala. There was an advertisement that depicted her profile on the cover of the record. But poor Indubala could not hear her own song because she did not have a gramophone player. In anger and sheer frustration, she broke the record into pieces instantly. When news of this incident reached the gramophone company, the officials arranged to send her a gramophone player and another copy of the record. After the record player was installed at her home, she could finally hear her own recording.

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