Acknowledgement-Sonar Daag // Rangalaye Banganati by Amit Maitra
Shrimati Jayati Gangopadhyay
Angurbala was born on the seventh day of Sravan in the Bengalee year 1313 which should be around July, 1896. According to some she was born in the village of Indas of Burdwan district of undivided Bengal while some others say that her place of birth was in the Cossipore area of Calcutta. There appears to be some confusion also regarding the name of her father who was an army officer. Some say it is Bijoli Bhushan Banerjee but some others give the name as Sudhir Kumar Banerjee. Her mother's name was Harimati. Her real name was Prabhabati while Nera was the name by which her mother called her. She received primary education in her village with scholarship showing that apart from singing and acting talents, she was also a good student as well. Nevertheless she had to quit formal education and had to join the stage and took to singing professionally at an early age for reasons of poverty. Her first training in music was from Mr. Amulya Majumder, who was a friend of her father. Later on she was given music lessons by Ustad Jeet Prasad. Khayal and Thumri lessons were provided by Ustad Ram Prasad Mishra. Ustad Jamiruddin Khan also taught her Thumris. Dance master Lalit Mohan Goswami took the little girl to Star Theatre where she could earn some money to support her family. At the same time the name of Angurbala was given to her by Lalit Goswami for the stage and in this name she went ahead in her career as a performing artiste on the stage, on the screen and last but not the least music. Her first encounter with the stage was when she was about eight under the guidance of dramatist Nripendra Chandra Basu in minor roles. Her services on the stage was necessitated in 1912 when in the Cornwallis Theatre a play Muktar Mukti failed to draw the audience in spite of Miss Kusum Kumari in the leading role. Dramatist Manilal Ganguly came to the rescue of the theatre with the idea that songs by a well trained singer could bring back the public to the stage. Thus Angurbala was cast in a singing role in the play and as anticipated there were large crowds to see her live on the stage. The song was Bhorer Pakhir Sure Sure Mathay Baje Bina Benu in raag Bharavi tuned by none other than Manilal Ganguly. Thereafter Angurbala became a regular artiste on the stage and performed in plays like Ratneswarer Mandir 1922 at the Cornwallis and Baruna 1923, Atmadarshan 1925, Satyabhama 1925, Tulsidas 1926, Byapika Biday 1926, Jug Mahatmo 1926, Nartaki 1927, Satyer Sandhane 1928 and Jatichyuta 1928 each at Minerva Theatre. At Manomohan Theatre she took part in Jahangir 1929, Shree 1929, rangapakhi 1930, Desher Dak 1930, Abhijaat 1931, Kalir Samudramanthan 1931, Bamanabataar 1933 and Shiba Shakti 1935. Angurbala also appeared in different plays at the star Theatre, Rangmahal, Kalika and other stages in Calcutta. The Gramophone Company of India started to record her songs and Kaala Tor Tarey Kadamtolay Cheye Thaki and Bandho Na Torikhani Amar E Nadikuley were her first two songs to be published as records. The record number was P 4721. Thereafter she became a regular artiste of HMV cutting innumerable discs. Many of her stage songs were also recorded by her for HMV. She also recorded a poem of Tagore tuned by an unknown person. This song Tomari Grihe Palichho Snehe has never been recognized as a Tagore song by Bishwa Bharati. 1923 was the year when her first film, a silent one Indrasabha was released. Her first talkie was Jamuna Puliney (1933) in which she played the role of Brindey. Incidentally this film also had Indubala and Kamala Jharia included in the cast. Soon she made her presence felt in singing roles in films like Radha Krishna (1933), Char Darvesh (1933), Naseeb Ka Chakkar (1936), Maa Ki Mamta (1936), Abartan (1936), Indira (1937), Devjani (1939) and several others in many different Indian languages like Urdu, Tamil and Telugu. As a record artiste her popularity hit the sky and she was specially invited by The Nizam of Hyderabad to sing in court. In one of the discs during this period, her photo was printed on one side of a record with the photo of Hyderabad's Nizam on the other. That was the extent she impressed the Nizam with her songs and earned his respect. Her stage performances continued at the same time and her songs were a source of major attraction for all those who queued up for tickets of the plays. For the radio she started to sing from the very first day broadcasting was started. Her first song over the radio was Nithura Nagara Shyam. Her association with Najrul Islam broadened her field and she recorded several songs of Nazrul gradually achieving not only the status of a major exponent of such songs but also an authority in the subject. She quit acting long back but never lost touch with music which was her first love. Apart from a Gold disc from HMV, she was given the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academy Award from Delhi and honorary D.Litt from Kalyani University. Angurbala was popularly known as Sangeet Samragyee or empress of the Music World along with contemporary artiste Miss Indubala, who was also her close personal friend. A documentary film, titled Teen Kanya featuring her along with two other artistes namely Indubala and Kamala Jharia_ was made in 1972. She was appointed Nazrul music trainer by HMV and trained artistes like Manabendra Mukherjee and others in Nazrul songs. Even in advanced age she participated in music functions and gave public performances. Angurbala had a younger sister who looked after her in her old age. Her name for the stage was Bedanabala. Angurbala had two houses in Calcutta. One of them, bought when she was at the height of her career was named Drakhshakunja by dramatist Amrita Lal Bose. This house still stands at Durga Charan Mitra Street of North Calcutta. About eighteen months before her death she suffered from a stroke that caused loss of memory. The end came on the seventh day of January, 1984. Her foster son Mr Amal Banerjee and his wife were present when she breathed her last.
Indubala's mother was Rajabala, who along with sister Matibala and brother Tinkary worked in Motilal Bose's The Great Bengal Circus, also known as Bose's Circus or Professor Bose's Circus. Harimati was the eldest sister of Rajabala and had a different life. Rajabala performed mainly as a trapeze artiste and got married to Motilal Bose at a temple in Ujjain, India. At the time he was then in his forties while Rajabala was still a teenager. The marriage was never accepted as legal by Motilal's family. Motilal Bose's first wife was Mrs. Annadamohini Devi.
Indubala was born in Novenber, 1999 at Amritsar, where the circus party had gone for performance. Indu was born premature and Dr. Bidhumukhi Basu was taken to Amritsar from Calcutta to attend to Rajabala. Such was the affection and concern of the husband for his young wife. Motilal's interest in Rajabala dwindled later, supposedly because Rajabala showed no interest in going back to the circus after Indu's birth and soon she was left to fend for herself. She came to Calcutta with her daughter and was given shelter by a Jiban Krishna Ghosh, who remained loyal to her till his death and also played a major role in establishing Indubala in her life as a performer. Once in Calcutta, Rajabala trained herself as a singer and Indubala's first training in music was from her mother. The initial plan was to train Indu as a nurse and she was admitted as a trainee in a hospital in the Pataldanga locality of Calcutta. Indu did not take fancy in the job and ran away from the hospital, much to the disappointment of her mother, who never wanted her only daughter to be forced into a life of indignity. After this incident Indubala's musical training started. Although her father ignored wife Rajabala completely, he remained fond of his daughter and kept in touch with her and often invited her to his ancestral home where he lived during his brief visits to Calcutta and sent her a monthly pocket money of Rupees twenty till his death.
Indubala's first performance was at a gathering of distinguished guests where her mother was the chief entertainer. Each one of the guests appreciated Indu's singing and thus began her formal training from Gouri Shankar Mishraji. Indu was only about twelve then. This also marked the entry of Indubala into the red light world. Amongst her trainers were Kali Prasad Mishra, Elaahi Bux and Miss Gauhar Jaan. Apart from music, Miss Gauhar Jaan, credited as Prima Donna of India, Indu also learnt etiquette from the elder artiste and developed a close friendship with her. This association provided Indu with valuable musical knowledge and experience.
In later years she took training from Girin Chakraborty, Kamal Dasgupta, Subal Dasgupta, Jamiruddin Khan and Kazi Nazrul Islam. In time she came to be one of the major exponents of Nazrul songs and her songs along with those of Miss Angurbala and Kamala Jharia are still referred to for authenticity of lyrics and tunes of Nazrul songs. In 1916, Indubala recorded her first songs. She was brought into the record circle by Bhagabati Charan Bhattacharya and Mr. Manindra Nath Ghosh, alias Mantababu, himself a gramophone singer of repute. The first songs published as records were Asha Phuraye Gelo-Sindhu Khambaj and Aar Mukhe Bole Ki Hobey-Kedara The record number was P 4306. In the beginning she did not take any money from the Gramophone Company and as such was credited in the records as Miss Indubala (Amateur). She was not the first amateur artiste of the company but enjoyed the privilege of announcing her name at the end of each song saying "My name is Indubala". The amateur status continued for a fairly long period. Later on she received Rupees two hundred per record and also received a royalty of five per cent over the sales. Her first songs of Nazrul on the disc were "Cheyona Sunayana" and "Rumjhum Rumjhum Ke Eley Nupur Paye". The record number was P 11661. To Indubala also goes the credit of being the first Bengali artiste to record Hindustani songs for the Gramophone Company. For the Indian State Broadcasting Center, later named All India Radio, Indubala first sang on the second day of the radio company's broadcasting in 1927 in Calcutta and went on singing in this medium for nearly fifty years. Over the radio, Indubala sang not only from Calcutta but from several other stations by special invitation all over India.
Apart from discs and the radio, Indubala was well established by the thirties in cultural functions all over India. Frequent invitations used to come from Shahjahanpur, Pakur, Madras, Bangalore, Palanpur, Nagpur, Hyderabad, Oudh, Trivandrum, Vizagapattam, Ajmer, Qoembatore, Dacca and several other places. In 1936 she was appointed court musician to His Highness, The Maharajah of Mysore. She received a monthly salary of Rupees two hundred and fifty and this continued till the time when the native princes faced withdrawal of privy purse. In all Indubala had recorded some two hundred and eighty songs, including about two hundred forty basic songs, the rest being from films.
Indubala's first stage appearance was in The Rambagan Female Kali Theatre, established by her mother Rajabala in 1922. Both mother and daughter took part in the plays and Indubala appeared in about twelve plays in this short lived company which lasted for only two years and in 1924 she joined Calcutta's most prestigious stage, The Star Theatre. She continued to appear on the stage mainly in singing roles and her songs were a major attraction in each of the plays. By rotation she acted in all the public theatres of Calcutta and even took part in the Hindi Parsee Theatre in 1945 and 1946, the plays being Ghar Ki Laaj and Jasoos. Her last appearance in the public stage was in the play Prithviraj in the role of Mehga at Star Theatre in 1950. Thereafter she worked in call shows till almost 1958.
Jamuna Puliney (1933) has been credited as her fist film. This is probably because this was her first film contract although Ankh Ka Tara (1932) released before Jamuna Puliney. In all she acted in about forty eight films in Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Tamil languages. In most of them, she had songs as a major attraction or else did comic roles as in Bengali Indira (1937) and Hindi Deewali (1940) to name a few. She did the role of Dhai Ma in both the versions of Swamsidhha (1947). Thereafter she was not seen on the screen. As a playback singer she lent her voice in films like Alibaba (1937), Chandragupt (1934) in Hindi, Ab E Hayat (1933) in Urdu and Dil Ki Pyaas (1935) also in Urdu. She did not act in these four films.
Indubala did not receive any major award apart from the Gold Disc given on behalf of His Master's Voice. The government of India never considered her name for any award. The Sangeet Natak Academy however honoured her with a lifetime achievement award in 1975. The government of West Bengal, India however did arrange for a pension for which a lot of running about had to be done.
In personal life, Indubala was most humble and polite and bold in her behavior and was never ashamed to admit or discuss her origin. Even when established as a major singing artiste with an all India fame, she refused to move out to a respectable place leaving her residence in Rambagan, a notorious red light area of Calcutta. Indubala was got herself involved in voluntary work for the uplift of fallen women and worked actively for their rights in society through various organizations, which were patronized by top political leaders of the time. She had some interesting hobbies like writing poetry and collecting perfumes. Even at old age all the empty perfume bottles were kept within her view. She was fond of jewellery too and had a great collection, either purchased or gifted by admirers. These valuables vanished when she was too unwell to keep track of them. Her contemporary artiste Miss Angurbala was a close friend with whom she confided and shared the joys and sorrows of life and this friendship lasted till the very end. Indubala adopted a nephew of her mother's friend Jiban Krishna Ghosh. The boy's name was Pranab Ghosh. This foster son did not look after her mother very much when in old age Indubala suffered from conditions like cataract and then paralytic stokes. It was Dr. Badhan Sengupta who made necessary arrangement for her treatment She could not afford nursing homes and therefore was treated at state government hospitals in all occasions of illness. The end came on the thirtieth day of November, 1984 after a prolonged illness during which again Dr. Badhan Sengupta looked after her as his own mother. Perhaps by coincidence her friend Angurbala died the same year.