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  The Rediff Special

'Lata Mangeshkar is made for playback singing'

Vishal Bharadwaj

It was always my desire, unexpressed of course, that Lata Mangeshkar should sing at least one composition for me. I used to always wonder if it would ever happen.

Lata Mangeshkar She is made for playback singing -- she's not made for private singing. If she had been born today, it might have been difficult for her because today's singer also has to perform.

The heroine who has to essay the role does not ask what age she is playing, but Lataji never fails to ask which age she is giving playback for. So, in her way, she is contributing to the film because she's trying to be the character and then the singer. Which is what is unique about her. Other singers may only ask about the character and the situation.

Before I worked with her, I was afraid that, by the time I reached a status where I could have her sing for me, she might have stopped singing. I used to wonder when my career would take off so she could sing at least one song for me.

After she did, I was saturated as far as singers are concerned. Now I don't care who sings for me. I care more about my composition. I never feel any excitement about any singer; I only feel excited about my composition. She was the ultimate for me.

She stunned me by the way she rendered Paani paani re (from Maachis). I was surprised because I had a certain concept, but the way she sang it went beyond even my idea of what a perfect rendering for that number would be. Such a thing always comes as a pleasant, if rare, surprise for composer, a creator.

I could see that the number would come to life in a certain way when she sang it, but she went beyond that! And that she should have understood it more than the creator and then translate it -- that is very rare. Normally only the creator knows what he has envisaged and he sees to it that the singer reaches that point. So Paani paani re was a real surprise for me. I never thought I'd get so much depth in that song.

Lataji has a very unique way of complimenting you. She never says anything but, when she comes for a rehearsal, she smiles when she reaches a point which she appreciates -- she'll smile as she sings or fumble at a particular place and that means that this is a good vocal phrase in the song. And that communication reaches you directly. I always look for her smile during a rehearsal.

My first ever song with her was Ai hawa kuch to bata. I had sent her the song in a tape and she'd said she'd hear it and see if she liked it and then tell me if she'd like to sing it. I was nothing at that time and I wondered whether she'd like it. Within one hour, I received a call from her. She said, "Hello, main Lata bol rahi hoon." All I wanted to say was that I had been waiting to listen to her voice for the past 30 years. "Aapne bahut accha gaana banaya hai." I was on top of the world.

The recording followed. During it, we were like zombies. We didn't know what was happening. It was only eight to 10 hours after she'd left that we came out of our euphoria and realised what she'd sung. And what magic she'd created. It would hit us after three-four pegs at night and then we'd realise what a wonderful job she'd done.

We are fortunate that we are born in the same century as her. Earlier, I was too young or too immature to appreciate the finer points (of her singing). But, after I turned composer. I can see what she's all about.

Vishal Bharadwaj spoke to Lata Khubchandani.

Also read:

'She is God's chosen one!' - Padmini Kolhapure

'Beauty is Lata in that small recording room with her headphones on' - Vijay Anand

'She conveys so much through her songs' - Javed Akhtar

When Nazia rattled Lata

Earlier Lata Mangeshkar special!

The Lata photo gallery

Hear Lata!