An accomplished singer and actor, Kantilal was born on 18 April 1907 in Surat, Gujarat as Kantilal Chhaganlal Pachchigar in a family of Goldsmiths. Kantinlal was inclined towards music from an early age. He got his classical music training from Pundit Onkarnath when he was in school. While in school, he also participated actively in theatre. Kantilal moved to Bombay after completing his college education to try his luck as a singer.
He got his first break as an actor with the film Bulbul-e-Paristan (1934) directed by Dhirubhai Desai under Vishnu Cinetone. Kantilal not only acted but also sang two songs, Duniya ek musafirkhana hai and Ae khudavande ta-allah, under the direction of music composer Kikubhai Yagnik. Then in 1935, he acted and sang 6 songs in the film Preet Ki Reet. He also composed music for the films Preet Ki Reet, Punjab Ka Sinh (1936), and Gul Badan (1937). In 1937 he joined Ranjit Movietone and from 1937 to 1941, he acted and sang in 16 films like Toofani Toli (1937), Ban Ki Chidiya (1938), Billi (1938), Gorakh Aaya (1938), Nadi Kinare (1939), Aaj Ka Hindustan (1940), Diwali (1940), Holi (1940), Musafir (1940), Pardesi (1941), Sasural (1941) and Ummeed (1941), working with the likes of Jayant Desai, Chaturbhuj Doshi and A R Kardar in the process. Out of these, music for 6 films was composed by Khemchand Prakash and for the other 10 was composed by Gyan Dutt. Kantilal sang 40 songs under these music composers.
He also worked in Supreme Pictures’ Gazi Salahuddin (1939), Holiday in Bombay (1941), and Kanchan (1941) and Bombay Talkies’ Kangan (1939). In Gazi Salahuddin, he sang the melodic Woh mujhko jam door se dikhla ke pi gaya. Gazi Salahuddin also marked the debut of composer Khemchand Prakash. In Kangan (1939) he sang Maran re tu hi mero shyam samaan, which was based on a Bangla song written by Rabindranath Tagore under composer Ramchandra Pal.
Kantilal sang 60 songs in 24 films under five music composers. It is known that Kantilal was inspired by K C Dey and incorporated his style in many of his songs like Murakh kya karta manmaani (Toofani Toli), Man bhaye ri more man bhaye (Ban Ki Chidiya), and Aaram kahan dil jo pada gairon ke paale (Nadi Kinare).
In 1943 he got married to Ushaben. In the later part of his career, Kantilal occupied himself in theatre. He also acted in a few Gujarati films.
A singer of excellent repute and also an actor, Kantilal passed away on 17 June 1971 after a prolonged illness.
Anil Bhargav. Swaron Ki Yatra: Hindi Film Gayaki Ka Safar (1931-2010). pp. 66-68
Image courtesy: Film India (1941) - Kantilal with Noor Jehan in stills from Sasural