She was a fast learner
When Lata Mangeshkar came into the singing world, playback singing had barely started. Before that, we had stars and actors who couldn't sing to save their lives, but were made to do so because nothing else was available. We composers were at our wits' end trying to make non-singers sing.
Lata entered the film world at this time -- it was a refreshing breath of air that wafted to us. Composers felt that here was someone who knew music, who had the technical knowhow to understand what they wanted and deliver what they had composed. At times she even surpassed their compositions. Noorjahan was a wonderful singer, but she was a singing star -- she sang only for her own pictures.
When Lata entered I had already started playback singing in Bombay. It was started earlier in Calcutta by R C Boral and Pankaj Mallick.
The immediate effect of Lata's entry was that composers stopped pulling their hair out trying to compose within the negligible range of the singers. Let's say a composer had made this fabulous tune -- but the singer's voice just couldn't do justice to it -- he had to change it to suit the limitations of the singer.
Now, suddenly there appeared this lady who has such a fine voice and range that composers could actually give vent to their own imaginative creativity. We felt we no longer had to limit ourselves. Composers who wanted to compose better music started doing so. We started thinking, 'now we can stretch ourselves, allow ourselves to add a few higher notes.'
She had so much polish that she could sing for anybody. Music itself changed with her coming. She came, she saw and she conquered. She refined herself so much that she could sing anything and for anybody. I think it is superfluous to say anything about her. She was supreme and she still is. No one has reached her level.
I have been told that my compositions for her were unsurpassed, but that's for listeners to decide. She does acknowledge that I taught her to breathe in and out in a way that no one could make out she was breathing.
When she started, she used to imitate Noorjahan who was very popular. But I told her, 'we have a Noorjahan, you must create your style. Her song for me, Tumhare bulaneko ji chahata hai, was sung in the Noorjahan style, but then she came into her own and moved ahead very swiftly. I told her, 'you have all the qualities needed for a singer, why do you want to imitate anyone else?'
She was one singer for whom you could actually create. It was such a pleasure -- that you could let your imagination have free rein knowing that only she could do justice to your compositions. People of the calibre of Sajjad Hussain, whom I consider an institution, conceived songs with her in mind and couldn't work without her. She has been called nightingale, queen etc. All these epithets are true -- actually what words can one use to describe her?
She was a fast learner and meticulous in her understanding and her grasp of a song. In her technical perfection too, she reached a new height. Earlier, singers, even the good ones, did not give much importance to the pronunciation of a song. So if you hear all the songs prior to Lata's entry, even if the music is attractive you will not be able to decipher the lyrics. She made lyrics clear, pronounced words carefully and made it easier for the listener to understand. This actually added to the popularity of a song.
So her contribution to our music has been immense and manifold.
As told to Lata Khubchandani
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