Lata Mangeshkar: The Inimitable Nightingale
The Nightingale of our times, Lata Mangeshkar has not only been a melodious treat but also a pioneer in resurrecting the public relevance of musicians in the entertainment business, writes Sharad Dutt.
If any performing art was affected by the advent of talkies, it was Parsi Theatre, the most powerful medium of entertainment in that era. It broke the backbone of the owners of theatrical companies which travelled and performed from city to city. One such established actor-singer Pt Dinanath Mangeshkar, too, owned a theatrical company. He invested all his savings to try his fortune in a new venture but suffered heavy losses.
In his heydays, he was blessed with his first-born baby on September 28, 1929. She was named Hema but fondly addressed as Hridya by her father. Hridya was to soon become the legendary Lata Mangeshkar.
Pt Dinanath fell seriously ill and died in Poona at the age of 42. Before dying, he had told Lata, "You are blessed with a gandhar (musical note) in your throat. This is the only wealth I am leaving for the family."
Lata became the sole bread-earner of the family. The tears of a grieving daughter were yet to dry when, within a week, she received an offer to do a cameo in a Marathi film, Pahili Mangla Gaur by Master Vinayak. She was cast in the role of a mischievous teenager. She also sung her first song in another Marathi film, Kiti Hasal, but the song was not included in the film. Now, she moved to Bombay doing bit roles and sang and acted in ten Hindi and Marathi films. Interestingly, Lata recorded her first Hindi song, Mata ek sapoot ki duniya, for a Marathi film, Gaja Bhau, that was picturised on her. Her next Hindi film song was in Badi Maa, playing a child artist, and the much famed Noor Jahan was in the lead. After the roaring success of film Khazanchi, producer DM Pancholi had organised an All India Music Competition to explore new voices. Lata also participated and bagged the first prize. Master Haider, too, heard Lata in this competition and was mightily impressed. The historic year 1947 was both unlucky and lucky for Lata as her mentor Master Vinayak passed away, and she met Master Haider who gave Lata a break in Bombay Talkies' Majboor. She sang Dil mera toda and Piya milne ko aa. Given Master Haider's midas touch, Lata was noticed immediately by Anil Biswas, the ace composer.
Anil Biswas taught Lata the intricacies of music, especially how to control breath while singing, and gave her the platform to sing some immortal songs. She was at her best when she sang, Rooth kar tum, Beimaan tore nainwa, Wo din kahan gaye and Mo se rooth gaya, besides her timeless duet with Talat Mehmood, Seene mein.
Lata sang with all the leading composers with the sole exception of OP Nayyar. Khemchand Prakash was another composer who composed evergreen numbers of Lata in Ziddi, Chanda re ja and Aayega aane wala in Mahal.
Shyam Sunder also composed everlasting hits in Lahore-1949: Baharein phir bhi aayengi and a duet with Karan Diwan, Duniya hamare pyaar ki. Madan Mohan was so impressed with Baharein that he created a composition in Baaghi for Lata, Baharein hum ko dhundengi. Bhatt brothers (Shankar and Vijay Bhatt) of Prakash Pictures told Naushad that the compositions based on pure Indian classic ragas would not be appreciated by the masses. But Naushad knew his craft. He roped in Ustad Amir Khan and Pandit DV Paluskar to give playback for Tansen and Baiju Bawra. Lata had only one classical solo, Mohe bhool gaye saanwariya, and she sang this number with such pathos that Naushad praised her profusely saying, "You have done full justice to my Bhairvi."
After Baiju Bawra, Naushad was all for Lata and she became his first choice. In Amar, Naushad wanted Lata to take a particular murqi (weaving together notes in a fast tempo) in the song, Tere sadke balam, and she had to give 18 takes, but Naushad was still not pleased. She almost fainted while recording. And when she recomposed herself, she gave the desired effect to Naushad's satisfaction.
Mother India and Mughal-e-Azam were magnum opus of their time. Nagri nagri dware dware, Ghunghat nahi kholoon and O mere laal were Lata's solos, as also a chorus with her sisters Meena and Usha, Duniya mein hum aayein hain. These classic numbers are hummed even today.
In Mughal-e-Azam, Lata really got to showcase her talent at its versatile best – be it the traditional devotional number, heartbroken songs, or the most famous qawwali number. SD Burman often said, "I am always safe with Lata," as she sang numerous hits for Burman da.
Soon, Shankar developed some professional differences with Lata but she continued singing for them: Murli bairan bhayee, Mere sapno mein aana, Rasik balma, Ajeeb dastan, Tera jaana and Wo chaand khila.
After the split between Shankar-Jaikishan, Lata sang for Jaikishan: Bedardi balma in Arzoo; Neel gagan ki chhaon mein among others.
Lata had a strong bonding with Madan Mohan as a rakhi bhai and he composed masterpiece ghazals for Lata. C Ramachandra and Lata's combination was as deadly. She sang her famous lullaby, Dhire se aaja re in Albela. Salil Chowdhury considered Lata's Aaja re pardesi in Madhumati (which fetched her the first Filmfare Award) and O sajna barkha bahar aaye in Parakh as his personal favourites. Khayyam Saab's favourites were, Baharon mera jeevan bhi and Aye dil-e-nadan. Lata's own favourite is AR Rehman's Jia jale in Dil Se.
Lata raised serious objection to the song, Budda mil gaya in Sangam. She didn't sing Aaja aaja, but compromised when Laxmikant-Pyarelal asked her to sing the cabaret number Aa jaane ja. Lata sang maximum numbers of songs for Laxmikant Pyarelal right from their first film Parasmani.
RD Burman made his debut in Chhote Nawab. She has faced a series of controversies, given her differences with composers like Anil Biswas, C Ramchandra, Shankar and SD Burman. She stopped singing for them saying that their films were sold in her name. She ceased singing with Rafi due to royalty issues, and refused to sing for Gulzar too.
But, Lata must be given due credit for her enormous effort to have a playback singer's name appear on the records. She also fought for the Filmfare Awards for playback singers.
The Madhya Pradesh Government has constituted a State Award in her name for film music. A recipient of the highest civilian award Bharat Ratna, Lata has other hidden traits – a voracious reader who's also an accomplished photographer and equally fond of cricket. She's now spending her twilight years pursuing these varied hobbies.