The Nightingale’s Everlasting Melodies
It is amazing how Lata Mangeshkar has for more than 70 years maintained her tremendous musical capabilities, right from 1942 till today
Flashback to 1962. India’s melody queen Lata Mangeshkar had fallen seriously ill with the doctors predicting that the nightingale may never be able to sing again.
Undaunted, Latabai returned to silence her critics with the immortal Kahin deep jale kahin dil in Bees Saal Baad.
Singer-music composer Hemant Kumar composed this very high-pitched song for Lata having full faith in her god-gifted voice.
The story goes that Hemant Kumar recorded Lataji’s voice during the rehearsal itself and okayed it as the final take. Such was her devotion and dedication to music that she never compromised on her riyaz and practice and had the courage of conviction to rise above all odds.
Glad to have made her comeback with this classic song, Lata Mangeshkar, fondly known as ‘Lataji’ said once, “Fortunately the recording went off very well. Hemant Kumar was of a very quiet temperament. He knew exactly what to compose for me.” The song fetched her one of her many Filmfare awards. From 1958 to 1966, no other female artist could win the Filmfare award prompting the generous playback singer to withdraw from the awards in 1969.
Recently, Hindustan Times’ Brunch listed Lataji’s own handpicked 20 favorite songs from her mammoth repertoire. Interestingly, out of the 20 songs, 4 compositions are by Madan Mohan, 3 by Salil Chowdhury, 2 each by RD Burman, Khayyam and Shankar Jaikishan. The other music directors whose compositions find place in her list are Hemant Kumar (O beqarar dil – Kohra, 1964), Roshan (Rahe na rahe hum – Mamta, 1966), Khemchand Prakash (Aayega aanewala – Mahal, 1949), Jaidev (Allah tero naam – Hum Dono, 1961), Ghulam Mohammad (Thaare rahiyo – Pakeezah, 1972) and Shiv Kumar Sharma – Hari Prasad Chaurasia (Yeh kahaan aa gaye hum – Silsila, 1981).
The list also noted Lataji’s own reasons for liking each of the songs. For ‘O sajna, barkha bahaar aayi’ (Parakh 1960), for which Salil Chowdhury composed the music and Shailendra penned the lyrics, Lataji says, “I’m in love with this song. Salilda composed it beautifully and blended it with the lyrics by Shailendraji, while Bimal Roy’s camera-work (pictured on Sadhana), with close-ups of the rain, were outstanding. This melody is also unforgettable because of the contributions of people like Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan, who provided the accompanying instrumentation with the sitar beautifully.”
Having started her career in playback singing seven decades ago in 1942, Lataji has witnessed each transition and milestone of the Hindi film music industry, effortlessly attuning her voice, style and rendition with every change and progression in the industry.
Her voice shows no signs of the more than three quarters of the century she has passed. Age hasn’t changed her looks either and Lata still exudes the same fragile, two-plaited, white-sari clad charm with her shy smile and soft velvety speech. Once in a concert, when asked her age, Lataji quipped, “I am 71, but you can put the 1 before 7!”
One can never cease to be amazed at how Lata Mangeshkar has for more than 70 years maintained her tremendous musical capabilities, right from 1942 when the adolescent 12-year-old girl took to acting and playback singing in Marathi films to support her younger siblings after her father’s untimely death.
Her first Hindi song, interestingly, was in a Marathi film Gajabhau (1943) which fetched her a job as a staff artist on a princely monthly salary of Rs. 60 which was increased later to Rs. 350. However, it was music composer Ghulam Haider who predicted that the girl whose voice was rejected by a producer as “bahut patli” (too shrill) was destined to be a star. Haider’s Majboor marked a turning point and Lata was soon getting work from leading music directors like Hussein Lal Bhagatram, Anil Biswas, Naushad and Khemchand Prakash. One after the other, Andaaz, Badi Bahen, Barsaat turned to be big hits.
But it was Aayega Aanewala in Mahal (1949) composed by Khemchand Prakash and penned by Nakhshab Jaaravchi that catapulted Lata to the top although ironically, the song was credited to “Kamini”, the character Madhubala plays in the film and reportedly, Lataji was never paid for the song!
Lataji never looked back since and this song is not surprisingly, one of her 20 favorites. And though she has sung more songs for music directors Laxmikant Pyarelal (666), Shankar Jaikishen (453) and R D Burman (328), her favorite music composers happen to be Madan Mohan and Salil Chowdhury.
If Madan Mohan rooted his compositions in Indian classical music (who can ever forget the purely classical Baiyyan na dharo (Dastak), the romantic Teri aankhon ke siwa (Chirag), the heart-touching ghazal Woh chup rahein to mere dil ke daag jalte hain (Adalat).
Salil Chowdhury drew richly from western and Indian classical and folk – Aaja re pardesi (Madhumati), Na jiya laage na (Anand), Mila hai kisika jhumka (Parakh), Rajnigandha phool tumhare (Rajnigandha) and Raaton ke saaye ghane and Nisidin nisidin (Annadata).
Among her own handpicked 20 songs for the Brunch magazine are Madan Mohan’s Lag jaa gale ki phir yeh haseen raat ho na ho (Woh Kaun Thi, 1964), Tu jahan jahan chalega (Mera Saaya, 1966) and Woh bhooli dastaan (Sanjog, 1961).
The 3 Salil Chowdhury compositions she loves most are Aaja re pardesi (Madhumati, 1958), Ja re ud jaare panchhi (Maya, 1961) and O sajna, barkha bahaar aayi (Parakh 1960)
From Naushad, S D Burman, Sajjad Hussian, Roshan and Pandit Ravi Shankar in the fifties, sixties and seventies to Shiv Hari, Ram Laxman and A R Rahmaan in the eighties and nineties, music directors have composed songs keeping Lataji in mind.
Whether it is the bhajan Allah tero naam (Hum Dono), again one of her personal favorites, that moved even music maestro Pandit Jasraj to tears or the only cabaret number she sang Aa jaane jaan (Inteqaam), rated one of the best ever, Lata’s voice has never failed to touch the soul of the listener.
About Allah tero naam, Lataji said in the Brunch interview, “Perhaps the most melodious and all-encompassing prayer for humanity. Gandhiji’s philosophy: ‘sabko sanmati de bhagwan,’ appeals to me. The lyrics touch your heart and the enchanting music fills my heart with hope.”
This song is still one of the most popular prayers. With Lata emoting in her songs, it was a challenge for the actresses to do justice to the number on screen, as renowned actress Jaya Bachchan once said. Lata repaid the tribute saying when it was Jaya, she knew her song will be given the right treatment.
How much the singer respects the actors who emote her songs on the screen is evident in her comment in the Brunch interview about the RD Burman composition Tere bina zindagi se koi (Aandhi, 1975), “Stunning picturisation and such appealing lyrics! RD Burman’s music and Sanjeev Kumar’s dialogues add a wonderful dimension to the song. And of course, Kishoreda and I also rendered it with our heart and soul.”Sanjeev Kumar won the Filmfare award for best actor for Aandhi.
The film initially got into a controversy as it was popularly believed that Suchitra Sen’s character Aarti was inspired from the life of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Incidentally, two songs in her list of 20 favorites – Tere bina zindagi se koi (Aandhi) and Rahe na rahe hum (Mamta, 1966), feature the legendary actress Suchitra Sen, known for her amazing screen persona and acting talent.
In fact, after Suchitra Sen passed away, Lata Mangeshkar admitted that she is a great fan of the legendary actress, in an interview to Hindustan Times, “I sang for her in films like Aandhi (1975) and Mamta (1966). She looked so nice in Mamta, and the song Rahen Na Rahen Hum from the film turned out to be a rage. Even now, when I listen to that song, I see her face. I am big fan of her acting. I loved her so much that I sourced the tapes of all her films. I still have those tapes preserved carefully.”
From Madhubala, Nargis, Waheeda Rehman and Meena Kumari to the later years screen goddesses Sharmila Tagore, Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan and Asha Parekh right up to Preity Zinta and Gracy Singh today, Lata’s mellifluous voice has fitted effortlessly with almost everyone.There is hardly a milestone Lata hasn’t crossed in India and overseas.She is the first Indian to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1974 or the only one apart from film maestro Satyajit Ray to have been awarded both the Bharat Ratna and the Dada Saheb Phalke Award
But honors sit lightly on this humble, diminutive singer who still stands barefoot on stage as a mark of respect to the platform.
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