Hearty Greetings to Lata Mageshkar on her 91st Birthday (28 September)
Lata Mangeshkar: The Real Nightingale of India
Elevating the tunes to soaring musical heights, evoking a gamut of emotions and encompassing practically every genre of Indian music, Lata Mangeshkar has captivated the listeners from all walks of life and became the most glittering star of Hindi film music. Her voice, like Mahatma Gandhi's loin cloth and Rabindranath Tagore's beard, has become a part of India's collective unconscious. She has elevated playback singing from its surrogate status to that of a highly valued component of the country's burgeoning entertainment industry. She has had an uncanny knack for conveying very succinctly the feel behind the lyrics of a song. Restraint in externalization of emotions is the beauty of Lata's singing. She is no Goddess but her prime era voice was plain divine. She is not flesh and bone but a personification of music. She has become an integral part of musical sensitivity, cinematic history and social fabric of India. Rightfully, she earned the sobriquet of ‘The Nightingale of India’ and even won the highest national honour Bharat Ratna.
The story of Lata Mangeshkar, reads like a powerful feminist script: the single woman's search for identity in a male-dominated society, her eventual triumph and the dramatic turn of fortune. From the heavy, mushy, melodramatic rendition patterns of 1930-1940s, she brought a rare finesse, softness and subtlety of expression into film-songs. Madhubala's stunning beauty and the young Lata's mesmerizing voice created history with ‘Aayega Aanewala..’ (Mahal). She bargained with the producers to jack up the remuneration to five-figure for every song and share a part of the colossal royalty paid by the record manufacturing companies.
Her choice of songs and her expressive style of rendition brought a never before dignity and decorum in film music. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan called her ‘Ustaadon Ki Ustaad’ and commented “Kambakht, kabhi besuri hi nahi hoti.” Kumar Gandharva complimented that ‘What Lata achieves in a film song lasting three minutes is equivalent to what a great classical singer might achieve in a three hour long mehfil. She is not only the voice of the dreamy romantic love she is also the voice of a sharing wife, caring mother, doting sister and innocent child of the family. Her emotional rendition of the patriotic song ‘Ae Mere Watan Ke Logo’ after the Chinese aggression had even moved the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to tears.
Lata Mangeshkar's early life is a Dickensian saga of nightmarish poverty and drudgery. She was born as Hema on September 28, 1929 in Indore, but later rechristened as Lata. Her father, Dinanath Mangeshkar, was a classical singer and owned an itinerant dramatic troupe. An attack of smallpox, when she was two years old, left indelible marks on her face. She had no schooling as she started singing and acting in her father’s musical plays at the age of five. In 1942, her father died of pleurisy and Lata only 13, put on full war paint to act and sing in Master Vinayak’s “Pahili Manglagaur” (Marathi film). Lata played the heroine's sister and had three songs. A month earlier she had recorded her first song in a Marathi movie Kiti Hasaal (1942). But the song ‘Naachu Yaa Gade Khelu Saari’ was chopped off at the editor's table. Master Vinayak enrolled her as staff artiste on monthly salary of Rs 60.
She became disciple of Aman Ali Khan Bhindi bazarwala to learn classical music. When Aman Ali left for Pakistan, she found a new guru in Amanat Ali. She made entry into the Hindi film arena with ‘Paa Laagun Kar Jori.. (Aap Ki Seva Mein-1947). She happened to meet Master Ghulam Haider, who was struck by the range and sweetness of the young girl's voice. He took Lata to Subodh Mukherjee of Filmistan, who rejected her saying that the ‘poor little thing’ had a "squeaky" voice. Masterji then told him “The day is not far off when producers would queue up to sign the singer you are rejecting today.” How prophetic his words proved to be!!!
While waiting for a local train, Haider asked Lata to sing ‘Bulbulo Mat Ro...’. She sang and Haider kept tapping a tin of 555 cigarettes. The trains whistled in and out but he was immersed in the song. An hour later, Lata was singing the same song for the film ‘Majboor’ at Bombay Talkies. A whole battery of music directors were present at the rehearsal room of Bombay Talkies to listen to Haider's "discovery". She was flooded with singing assignments and the first was Naushad, who signed her for ‘Andaaz’. Then came Barsaat where she sang ‘Jiya Bekaraar Hai..’, a song whose popularity is undiminished even today.
Kamal Amrohi, composer Khemchand Prakash and Lata brought much inventiveness to give the song ‘Aayega Aanewala..’ (Mahal) a ghostly feel. She stood in a corner of the studio, with the microphone at the centre. She walked towards the microphone singing the opening verse from ‘Khamosh Hai Zamana...’ to ‘Is Aas Key Sahare’ and when she got close to the mike, she sang the refrain ‘Aayega, Aayega..’. This proved a smashing hit and she became one of the most sought-after voices of Hindi cinema.
The first half of her career is beyond compare. Lata’s voice had all the intrinsic qualities: sweet and soft, serene and soothing, sentimental and spiritual to perfectly suit that era’s idealistic Indian woman’s clean-cut virginal screen image. The maestros like Anil Biswas, Naushad, Shankar-Jaikishan, C. Ramchandra, S. D. Burman, Madan Mohan, Roshan, Salil Choudhary, Hemant Kumar and Vasant Desai etc. composed exquisite tunes and Lata added her own magical virtuosity to create unforgettable songs. The peerless composers of this era no doubt played their part in creation of ‘The Lata Legend’.
The second half of her career did not really go well with her rightfully earned title of the ‘Melody queen’. Some composers used her miraculous range to compose unbelievably high-pitched compositions. Shanker-Jaikishan’s Ehsaan Tera Hoga Mujh Par.. (Junglee) and O Mere Shah-e-Khuba (Love In Tokyo) were meant for the male vocal range. Kumar Gandharva voiced that by making Lata sing at abnormally high pitches, the composers were damaging the natural sweetness and flair of her voice. But she marched on relentlessly. The soundtracks like Do Raste, Ek Duje Ke Liye, Love Story, Chandani, Maine Pyar Kiya, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and Dil To Pagal Hai kept on reminding of her Midas touch of belting out hits after hits. An occasional Pakeeza, Aandhi, Kinara, Razia Sultan, Lekin, Rudaali even showed flickering glimpses of her best.
Lata Mangeshkar gave voice to the Indian silver-screen’s glitterati and the well-known actresses of the day wanted her to sing for them. She has lent her voice to four generations of heroines, an unparallel and iconic phenomenon in Hindi cinema. Her voice was best suited for heroines with either honey on their tongues (Nargis, Nutan) or high-decibel shirkers (Asha Parekh, Saira Banu). Jaya Bachchan once said, "No heroine feels she has arrived until Lataji sings for her".
A nostalgia-trip to her melody-land, her most significant songs: ‘Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon..’; ‘Yeh Zindagi Usi Ki Hai.. (Anarkali); ‘Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya.. (Mughal-e-Azam); ‘Kahin Deep Jale Kahi Dil…(Bees Saal Baad); ‘O Sajna Barkha Bahar.. (Parakh); ‘Naina Barse Rimjhim..’ (Woh Kaun Thi); ‘Chalte Chalte.. (Pakeeza); ‘Ek Pyaar Ka Nagma Hai.. (Shor); ‘Didi Tera Devar Deewana.. (Hum Aapke Hain Kaun); and ‘Tere Liye Hum Hain Jiye.. (Veer Zaara) and there are at least a thousand songs left out of the queue.
Her private and professional life has always remained shrouded in controversies: her infamous non-alliance with O.P. Nayyar, tiffs with some senior composers, differences with Rafi and Raj Kapoor over the song-royalty issue, alleged blocking of other singers and quietly acceptance of exaggerated entry in Guinness book of world records. The budding career of Suman Kalyanpur, Sudha Malhotra and Vani Jairam to Anuradha Paudwal was nipped simply because no one dared to question the hegemony. Remaining at top of the profession for more than five decades, she must have stepped on quite a few toes, hurt quite a few souls and bruised quite a few egos. She has weathered all these storms with a dignified stoic silence and has never indulged in mudslinging.
By early 1963, C. Ramchandra-Lata relationship had cooled off as he had come in the way of her wedding with glam boy Jaikishan. Before C Ramchandra, there had been Pt. Husnlal, Shyam Sunder, Sardul Kwatra etc. in her life. She finally got to the point of marrying Kumar Rajsingh of Dungarpur but his father Maharawal Laxmansinhji put his foot down. Her favourite Indian singer was K.L. Saigal and she always put on a tiavaratna ring belonging to Saigal.
She is essentially a secretive person, a lone ranger in a gregarious world of glamour. She has imperceptibly thrown a sort of cordon sanitaire around her. She lives up to the public image of a modern Meera, the single woman in a white sari who visits the Mahalaxmi Temple every week in a white Ambassador car, a white vanity bag dangling from her hand. However, she sheds her inhibitions in America and reportedly losing heavily at casinos in Las Vegas.
She has performed all over the USA, Canada and Europe selling the "voice" to the petro-dollar market with cheering, clapping of Indo-Pakistanis. In 1974, she became the first Indian to have performed in the Royal Albert Hall, London. Many of her non-film albums like Meera Bhajan, Chaala Vaahi Des, Lata Sings Ghalib and Shraddhanjali etc. have carved a musical niche of their own. She acted and also composed music for a few Marathi movies. Lata launched her own music label ‘LM Music’ with an album of bhajans ‘Swami Samarth Maha Mantra’ in 2012. She is crazy about perfumes and a perfume named after her ‘Lata Eau de Parfum’ was launched in 1999. Lata has also designed for ‘Adora’, a few of Swaranjali collections were auctioned at £105,000 and this money was donated to the Kashmir earthquake relief. She attends to the domestic chores and frequently takes off for shopping or even for a late-night coffee session at Taj Intercontinental. She pursued addictive hobby of photography since 1947.
Lata Mangeshkar has recorded songs for more than 1000 Hindi films and in over 36 Indian regional and foreign languages. She is the pride recipient of innumerable National and International Awards and accolades which include: three National Film Awards, four Filmfare Awards, Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Bharat Ratna and France's highest Civil Award “Officer of the Legion of Honour”. Six universities have conferred on her honorary Doctorate degree.
It was a Filmfare Awards night in 1970, just before the winner singers Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar started singing ‘Acchha To Hum Chalte Hain’ as the concluding number, Lata kept her purse hanging on the mike. As the song was near finish, she picked up the purse and stylishly waving it to the audience, walked off the stage singing that famous ‘Tata.. Bye Bye’. Thereafter, it was announced that from next year onwards, she won’t be accepting any more nominations for the award. The entire audience drew a collective gasp. Nobody knew of her decision before and the ‘Daughter of India’ did it in such a great style.
She came She sang and She conquered!!!
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