Hindi cinema's first women music composer, Saraswati Devi, was in fact a Parsi lady whose real name was Khorsheed Minocher Homji. She was very talented since her childhood, but films and music were not considered as a good thing in her Parsi community in those times. As a result she was not allowed to indulge in her musical activities. She also had a sister named Maneck who was a playback singer in films. Bombay Talkies' boss Himanshu Rai was so impressed with the talent of Khorsheed that he fought for her and to bring up a solution to pacify her community, he changed Khorsheed's name to Saraswati Devi. This was probably enough for the Parsi community to cover the so called defamation to their community. Himanshu Rai also changed Maneck's name to Chandraprabha. This was the begining of a new talent for the musical world of Indian films.
Saraswati Devi was born in 1912. She studied music from the famous Pandit Bhatkhande at Marris College in Lucknow. After receivng the honours she went on to teach at the same prestigious college. Later still, she set out for Bombay for a career in film world and met with Himansu Rai
, the illustrious foreign-returned filmmaker who was setting up a huge professional studio, with German technicians and all. Saraswati devi also brought with her another gifted musician S N Tripathi
, her student at Lucknow. Tripathi assisted her in making music in many Bombay Talkies
movies. He also played the only violin in her small repertoire of five.
At Bombay Talkies
, Himanshu Rai
gave her a free hand to compose music. She went on to made songs for many Bombay Talkies
' productions such as: Jawani Ki Hawa, Achhut Kanya, Jeewan Prabhat, Bhabhi, Kangan, Bandhan and Jhoola among others. After the untimely death of Himanshu Rai
in 1940, studio controlchanged to his wife, Devika Rani
. But the cohesiveness the studio has experienced during the years of Himanhu Rai
, was disappearing. Groupism took over and smidst the goings on, Sarwaswati Devi's days at Bombay Talkies
came to an end. After that she went on to score tunes in films outside that studio but clearly her best was behind her.
Sarwaswati Devi composed some of the very lovely songs! Consider these: 'Na Jaane Kidhar Aaj meri Naao Chali Re (Jhoola)', 'Sooni Padi Re Sitar (Kangan)', 'Radha Radha Pyari Radha (Kangan)', ' Jhuki Aayi Re Badariya Saawan Ki (Bhabhi)', ' Main Ban Ki Chidiya Ban Ke (Achhut Kanya)' etc. Sarwaswati devi made simple tunes and many were based on her classical background. But no heavy orchestration for her.
After her film life got over, she would teach singing to anyone who wanted, even if they didn't have the wherewithal to pay her. But she felt very lost and underachieved in her last years. Good times and good tunes had happened to her too quickly and gone away.
The two Homji sisters had not married, and after films they spent their time in some soliyude, shunned as they still were by their community. In July 1980, at the age of 68, Saraswati Devi fell down from a bus and fractured her hip, on her way to a TV interview. She was not prepared for such an eventuality financially. The music lovers around her contributed to the fund for her treatment as a mark of gratitude. But Saraswati Devi had lost her strength and probablty the will to live. On 10th August 1980 she slipped into a coma. She passed away after a few days.
Saraswati Devi composed music for the following films:
1. Jhoola 1941
2. Naya Sansaar 1941
3. Bhakt Raidas
4. Prarthna 1943
5. Dr Kumar 1944
6. Amrapali 1945
7. Maharani Minaldevi 1946
8. Khandani 1947
9. Naqli Heera 1948
10. Usha Haran 1949
Contributed by: Mr. Manek Premchand
Author: Yesterday's Melodies Today's Memories