Lata Mangeshkar The Nightingale
Do legends make history, or does history create legends? In death, or while still alive? In the ever changing wheel of life many legends assume the form of mythical proportions, while others get lost in an ever-expanding haze; get swept aside by invading dust storms, and even reduced to a footnote in the records of their times buried, and dug out for reference. Some transcend definitions, go beyond the elements of myths and become part of a living folklore. Lata Mangeshkar belongs to the later category. She definitely belongs to those who become legends in their own life time…and stay that way. Even at ripe 82, she continues to lend voice to young starlets, and enthrall audiences across the globe. She stands taller than anyone else in the field of Indian music, classical or popular.
There have been at least three definite attempts to document her glorious career. While the earlier two have been forgotten, Nasreen Muni Kabir has sought to somewhat differently and authentically tried to set the record straight through updated conversations till about two years ago. This long distance dialogue, sometimes in English and mostly in Hindi (and not Marathi), was instantly translated and ‘typed’ on a ‘laptop’ (to avoid any lapses) has thus become part of “living history”. Since one of the professed aims of the book was “to try and separate truth and fact from rumour and fabulous myth” the author and the subject went through the truth with a comb and “gently correcting and elaborating”. The memories, however, pertain to professional while much of the personal continues to remain between folded bed sheets. Even interactions with family and contemporaries, younger or older, are restricted to “singing abilities”.
Nasreen feels her subject is “a brilliant actress, and though unseen, her voice adds hugely to the scene’s drama and intensity. An actress lives with the character, she is playing for many months and so comes to understand how to deliver dialogue and judge the pitch of performance. Lataji is able to grasp in an instant the psychology and emotional map of a character. In her voice there is total identification and empathy with the character’s depth of feelings.”
It is widely believed that Lata has always given more import to the lyrics; the meaning of the words contained in a song and preferred to lend her voice to those that expressed the character’s feelings, emotions, and outbursts in a given situation. There were, reportedly, occasions when she refused to sing if she found words in a lyric uncharacteristic. She always asked the music director to explain details about the character, the scene or the situation in the film to gauge the extent of the pitch to which she had to heighten or subdue her melodious voice. Although more unsaid than said comes through the conversation, at times pedestrian and boring, it does bring forth some facts. Only a handful of the 135 photographs, randomly placed, add any novelty.
Some revelations: not singing for Raj Kapoor, for instance. “We did have a falling out in the late ’70s when Satyam Shivam Sundaram was being made. Raj Kapoor came to Hridaynath and offered him the film. I had to leave for the US and Mukesh Bhaiya was with me. When we were there he said ‘Hridaynath won’t be composing music for Satyam Shivam Sundaram’… . I returned to Bombay (from US) when the tour was over and discovered Raj Kapoor had indeed changed his mind and gone to Laxmikant Pyarelal.”
She turns 81 on September 28. Named Hridaya at birth, she started to learn singing when just six from her famous father, Deenanath Mangeshkar
in Sangli (Maharashtra) and bought her first radio set in 1947 only to return it to the shopkeeper because the moment she switched it on January 18, 1947 it conveyed the news of KL Saigal’s death. In the pre-playback era, after her father’s premature death, she acted and sang in Marathi films like Rahili Mangalagaur, Chimukla Sansar, Maaze Baal, Gajabhau; and subsequently in equal number of Hindi films Badi Maa, Jeevan Yatra, Subdadra and Mandir. She lent her voice to a Hindi film song hindustan ke logon ab to mujh ko pehachano when barely 13, and got first break as a singer for composer Ghulam Haider in Bombay Talkies’s Majboor.
It is often said that Lata’s big break came from Naushad which is not true. Naushad cleverly auditioned her for Andaaz but she actually rendered a duet for the composer in Chandni Raat which was eventually edited out from the film. Since then she has sung 28,000 songs in 36 languages, including Dutch, Russian, Fijian, Swahili, and English—but majorly in Hindi and Marathi. She has received Bengal Film Journalists’ Association ten times; three National Awards; six Filmfare Trophies, including Life Time Achievement and a special one for Hum Aap Ke Hain Kaun (she had opted out of popular awards race from in 1969). As many as nine Indian and one Canadian university have conferred honoris causa. Besides, Padma Bhushan (1969), Dadasaheb Phalke Award (89), Padma Vibhushan (99), Bharat Ratna (2001) and a Life Time Award in the 60th year of Independence (08).
Now what goes on behind the making and unmaking of an immortal song. Take, for instance, Aayega, aanewala, aayega from Mahal and the music director Khemchand, who had major differences about its composition with the producer, died before it became an evergreen chartbuster. Ghulam Mohammed did not realise that his compositions for Pakeezah would become such a big rage. Commenting on the singer, Waheeda Rehman recounts an incident behind Aaj phir jeene ki tamana hai from Guide. It was initially rejected by producer Dev Anand who felt it was ‘dreadful’ but had been persuaded by Goldie to wait till it had been picturised.
Asked why she did not attempt her autobiography, the legendary singer said: “It is life. Marriage is predestined. You have no control on three things: birth, death and marriage. It’s all in His hands. God decides. Perhaps if I had married, my life would have been completely different….because I believe you have to be totally honest when you write. And it would hurt too many people. What’s the point in hurting people? My life and my experiences are so personal to me. Why write? It’s all so personal. There’s no need to tell the world.”
That’s, perhaps, why there is hardly any reference to her huge crush on the much-married composer C Ramachandra, or the later day alliance with the blue-blooded Raj Singh Dhungarpur. And weren’t there some fill-in gaps between these two?
By Suresh Kohli