Monday, August 15th, 2022 20:27:45

Meri aawaz hi pehchaan hai… : Gar yaad rahe

By Nilabh Krishna
Updated: February 14, 2022 7:33 am

The voice of India has gone silent. The daughter of Mata Saraswati surrendered herself to her mother on the auspiscious occasion of Basant Panchami. What better day to go. Everyone, from Prime Minister to beggars from the street, everyone cried when the news of Nightingale of India Lata Mangeshkar’s death broke in the morning of February 6th. The country went silent; no one could believe their ears and started weeping for the departed soul. Such was the charishma of Lata Di. Everyone in the country and world alike, whether they liked the songs of her or not, became deeply saddened by the demise of the national icon. Heartfelt condolences started pouring from world over. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself saw to the arrangements of the last rites of Lata Di. Lata Di and Prime Minister Modi had very affectionate relationship and this was visible when he was at the Shivaji Park in Mumbai where the last rites of Lata di was performed.

Lata Mangeshkar was one of the best singers of the Hindi film industry. She was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most recorded artist in the world. She started her career in 1942 and has spanned over seven decades. Lata Di is said to have recorded songs for over a thousand Hindi films. She also has the credit of having sung in over thirty-six regional Indian languages and foreign languages. Lata Mangeshkar is the elder sister of singers Asha Bhosle, Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Usha Mangeshkar and Meena Mangeshkar. She was honoured with India’s highest award in cinema, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, in 1989. She was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s Highest Civilian Award in 2001.

Lata Mangeshkar was born on September 28, 1929 in Indore, Central Provinces (now Madhya Pradesh). She was the eldest daughter among the five children of Dinanatha and Shevanti Mangeshkar who belonged to a Maharashtrian Brahmin family. Dinanath hailed from the town of Mangeshi in Goa and he changed his last name from Haridkar to Mangeshkar to identify with his hometown. Her father Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar was an accomplished classical singer and stage actor. Lata Di was initially named Hema when she was born, but later her father renamed her as Lata, inspired by a character in one of his plays. All five Mangeshkar siblings learned classical music from their father.

Lata Mangeshkar has had an illustrious career in various roles, better at some than others. A God-gifted voice led her to become the most successful and celebrated female playback singer from the 1940s till 1980s. Starting from Vaijayantimala till Preity Zinta, she has lent her voice to all leading ladies of Bollywood. Her songs had touched the hearts of millions throughout the years and across borders. She also did some acting at the start of her career. Her attempts as a music director were not as successful as her singing career.

Lataji achieved her first recognition in the song ‘Dil Mera Toda, Mujhe Kahin Ka Na Chhora’ in the 1948 movie Majboor. Her first tumultuous hit song came with the song ‘Ayega Anewala’ presented on-screen by actress Madhubala in the film Mahal in 1949.

Her music career took off from there as she started working with all major music directors and playback singers of the time. She did playback singing for celebrated music directors like Sachin Dev Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Sankar Jaikishan, Naushad, Madan Mohan, Kalyanji-Anandji, Khayyam and Pandit Amarnath HusanLal Bhagat Ram. During the 1950s, she worked in successful films like Baiju Bawra (1952), Mother India (1957), Devdas (1955), ChoriChori (1956) and Madhumati (1958). She won her first Filmfare Award for best Female Playback Singer in 1958 for the song ‘Aaja Re Pardesi’ from the film Madhumati with music director Salil Chowdhury.

She collaborated with noted male playback singers like Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar, Mahendra Kapoor and Manna Dey in many projects. She became the unrivaled queen of the playback industryand enjoyed star status. People could not praise her voice enough and every major producer, music director and actor was vying to work with her. Her duets with Kishore Kumar all through the 1970s and 1980s became legends of the Hindi Film Industry and are celebrated till date. Songs like ‘Kora Kagaz’ from film Aradhana (1969), ‘Tere Bina Zindagi Se’ from the 1971 film Andhi, ‘Tere Mere Milan Ki’ from Abhimaan (1973) and ‘Aap Ki Ankhon Me Kuch’ from the film Ghar (1978), are some examples of unforgettable musical magic that this pair created.

During the 1980s Lataji worked on compositions by Rahul Dev Burman, son of Sachin Dev Burman, and Lataji’s would be brother-in-law. R.D., who was known to prefer Asha Bhosle for his versatile compositions, used Lataji’s voice for his more melodious compositions like ‘Kya Yahi Pyar Hai’ in Rocky (1981), ‘Humein Aur Jeene Ki’ in Agar Tum Na Hote (1983), ‘Tujhse Naraaz Nahin’  in Masoom (1983) and ‘Seeli Hawa Chhoo Gayi’ in Libas (1988).

Her collaboration with music director duo Laxmikant Pyarelal produced some of the most superhit songs of the time that are still hummed with equal enthusiasms by Indians. The duo considered Lataji instrumental in their success. ‘Dil Vil Pyar Vyar’ from Shagird (1968), Sheesha Ho YaDil Ho from Asha (1980), Mere Naseeb Mein from Naseeb (1981) and Ye Galiyan Ye Chaubara from Prem Rog (1982) are some of their most popular collaborations. Other acclaimed scoresin the 1980s with include title track from Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985) with music director Ravindra Jain and Dikhayi Diye Yun in Bazaar (1982) with Khayyam.

1990s onwards, Lataji worked with music directors like Anu Malik, Jatin Lalit and A.R. Rahman. Films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Hum aapke Hain Kaun, Dil Se, Rang De Basanti featured acclaimed songs sung by Lataji. She gradually decreased the volume of her work due to health reasons, singing selective compositions. She launched several albums during her musical career including Chala Vahi Des (1979) with Brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Ram Ratan Dhan Payo (1983) and Shraddanjali-My Tribute to the Immortals (1994).

One assesses people’s worth once they are gone. I have done it often, wondering what Dev Anand  meant after he was no more. When Rajesh Khanna died, I came to the conclusion that he was perhaps the best actor of his times, apart from the late Dilip Saab.

Today, there isn’t any hard or nuanced assessment. Something tells me one has never come across a singer like Lata ji in the most encompassing of ways. If we take a combination of training — yes, there have been several classical greats — adaptation, sweetness of voice, consistency over decades, popular accessibility and range. One can think of Rafi Sahab, Kishore Da and Mukesh ji for long, falling for the songs of one or another at different times of life. But today one feel reasonably certain that across genres, across gender and across time, one has come across none who surpasses Lata Mangeshkar as a singer in the most expansive sense of the word.  None at all. She was a rare gem that none can perhaps ever replace.

By Nilabh Krishna

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