The Rediff Special

When Nazia rattled Lata

Raju Bharatan

ON September 28, 2000, Lata Mangeshkar turns 71. And says she feels as young as those two digits reversed!

Lata Mangeshkar 'Going-on-17' is how ace composer Chitalkar Ramchandra viewed Lata when sweet on her. Lata was 26 when Chitalkar (Maze mohabbat ke aa rahen hain) Ramchandra envisioned her as sweet 16.

"You know what I found most rewarding in the way Lata came over in Aa jaa re pardesee?" Salil (Madhumati) Chowdhury (himself stuck on this supersinger) soliloquised in front of me.

"It was C Ramchandra seeking me out to congratulate me upon the fashioning of Aa jaa re pardesee. He was driving along when this melody fell upon his ears in a way that made him pull up short. 'I got the feeling that a 16-year-old was singing - and singing extra sweetly!' noted C Ramchandra."

"I have, in Aa jaa re pardesee," explained Salil to me, "used the seventh chord as basic melody, the chord of incompletion, symptomatic of 'desire unfulfilled' -- on Vyjayanthimala playing the apparition in Madhumati.

"The antaraa here was Lata's own suggestion. 'Pancham se shuru karte hain('We start from pancham), Lata said."

"Lata's integrity as a singer lay in the fact that she never ever suggested a single change of note when I composed for her," observed Salil. "But where it came to doing Aa jaa re pardesee, for the first and last time in my case, Lata made a suggestion - that we start from pancham.

"And it was a great suggestion, too. It made all the difference to the unfolding, on the screen, of Aa jaa re pardesee."

"As a tune, Aa jaa re pardesee, if you must know," added Salil, "has its unfolding origin in that piece of background music, composed by me to go with the sequence in Jagte Raho. In which Raj Kapoor, playing the vagrant, is very thirsty and asks for water."

HOW can we forget the Salilian Bhairav strains of Lata's Jaago Mohan pyaare stunner, accompanying the climax of that very sequence!

By the time Jagte Raho(1956) and Madumati hit the screen, Lata Mangeshkar had peaked as the unputdownable nightingale of the cinema in India.

Salil's Aa jaa re pardesee, in fact, was to win, for Lata Mangeshkar, the Filmfare Best Singer award (no separate honours, then, for female and male performer) -- in the year in which the citation was introduced -- 1958.

In less than a decade after that, the Padma Bhushan had been bestowed upon Lata Mangeshkar at the very young (for those times) age of 39. Today, at 71, Lata is the diva nonpareil.

WERE there, then, no serious challenges to Lata Mangeshkar in her long singing career? There were and there weren't.

In India, Lata just swept away all opposition. Runa Laila -- tele-emerging, blazing vividness, from Pakistan, on her 'packback' to Bangladesh -- did give Lata a fright. But our composers were too scared a tribe, then, to commission a 'foreigner' to mount a challenge to Lata's suzerainty.

Yet there was a happening in Lata's life and times that made a mere teenager a near despair for her. That teenybopper was Nazia Hasan.

AS I was with the Hasans in their suite in Mumbai's Taj Mahal Hotel (facing the Gateway of India), along came a wedding band playing the song that was the rage at the time: Aap jaisa koi meree zindagee mein aaye, to baat ban jaaye, baat ban jaaye.

"Mummy, my song, my song, they're playing my song!" exclaimed, ecstatic, the 13-year-old Nazia, as she rushed to the balcony for a glimpse.

That is how naive Nazia was -- when she made waves all over the subcontinent -- as the Baat Ban Jaaye Girl. In fact, as a daisy-fresh beauty did Nazia come (at the Old Lady of Boribunder) into the editor's cabin at The Illustrated Weekly Of India.

M V Kamath, at the time (1981), was the magazine's editor. And even the sepoys at The Weekly (Manohar and Jaywant among them) insisted upon being in the editor's cabin, as Nazia delighted us with a spot rendition of Aap jaisa koi.

Nazi she was to her friends - but she was no Hitler. So it was no threat at all that Nazia posed to Lata at her zenith.

But facts are facts.

AND the unvarnished truth is that Nazia Hasan's Aap jaisa koi meree zindagee mein aaye stayed put, in the top slot of Ameen Sayani's Binaca Geetmala, for (believe it or not) 14 weeks running!

There was no way even the velvet voice of Lata could scale down Nazia during that spell. Not since Lata herself had occupied an enviable slot in the same Binaca Geetmala for one full year before the film's release, with her Mera salaam le jaa charmer from Naushad's Uran Khatola (1955), had we witnessed a Binaca phenomenon like Nazia.

HOW Nazia Hasan's Aap jaisa koi took shape, in tune with her petite physique, is a story in itself.

Feroz Khan, as the maker-director of Qurbani (1980), and as a family friend, encountered Nazia, suddenly, in London and took an instant fancy for her voice.

The music directors of Qurbani were Kalyanji-Anandji. Without as much as a by-your-leave in the case of that top-selling duo, Feroz Khan got unknown Coorgi Biddu to tune (without any final wording) the song in London.

Next, the spool-tape cassette of the number was quietly sent to lyricist Indivar in Bombay -- with instructions to 'write to tune'!

Indivar was a pastmaster in the art. He came up with words that sat pat on Biddu's tune -- as Aap jaisa koi meree zindagee mein aaye.

Kalyanji-Anandji did not like it but had to lump it, as the song -- swiftly released well before the advent of Qurbani -- proceeded to make unprecedented waves in Ameen Sayani's Binaca Geetmala.

I met Ameen at the time it all happened and asked him about what ranked as the most spectacular Binaca breakthrough, in a long, long time, by a fresher-singer.

Aap jaisa koi had topped the Geetmala four times by then. Ameen (as the one who got Pak stripling Nazia Hasan, as easy on the eye as the ear, to 'hit parade' her talent) said to me:

"It's perhaps not so much a breakthrough as a fluke -- Aap jaisa koi. Either it's a fluke," went on Ameen, "or it's the harbinger of a new trend. Nothing else can explain the fact that a Pak girl, who's totally unknown in India, should achieve such super success."

What Ameen Sayani, for all his seasoning, momentarily forgot is that a popular voice knows no nationality.

Ameen, therefore, was nearer the mark when he went on to wonder if the Aap jaisa koi disco number "is perhaps the first Hindi film song the essence of which is Western, not Indian."

Following the runaway success of the number even before Qurbani's release, Nazia Hasan became a star overnight in London (where she was still schooling).

SHE was invited by the BBC to feature in radio and TV programmes like Naya Jeevan; and being asked out in Birmingham, Southall and other Asian pockets in England "to sing Aap jaisa koi in person".

This Polydor disc, we were then warned, "might have been pressed afresh by an illegal company, in Singapore, and from there found its way to Pakistan, where Nazia has become a household name on its strength".

THE fact that this was the first stereophonic recording to emerge on the Geetmala scene also clearly counted. In fact, the number came to Indivar already trendily orchestrated by Biddu -- with dummy words!

And how Nazia hit the high spots with the Indivar catchline, Aap jaisa koi meree zindagee mein aaye - the punch in the song-lyric lying in: Baat ban jaaye, baat ban jaaye.

Something so patently Western, in form and content, had not been heard on Binaca before.

A parallel was drawn with Priti Sagar's all-time Julie hit, My heart is beating, as scored by Rajesh Roshan. But, then, My heart is beating had made it to the top, in the Geetmala, but twice.

With just one hep disco number, Nazia Hasan had thus overtaken Runa Laila, too, in the Geetmala!

Runa's Kalyanji-Anandji-scored Ek se badhkar ek had finished just twice at the very top in the Geetmala.

Runa had gone one better as she dueted with Bhupendra in Jaidev's Gharaonda in a mood of: Do deewane shehar mein. This one had made it thrice to Binaca Top - ultimately a full '11 Top Notches' behind 14-times number-one: Aap jaisa koi.

WHERE, then, does Lata Mangeshkar come into all this? Well, Lata's film Aasha heart-stealer, picturised on Mohsin Khan's wife-to-be, Reena Roy, Sheesha ho ya dil ho aakhir toot jaata hai, just could not catch up with Nazia's Aap jaisa koi for 14 weeks running, hard as it tried!

The year 1980 in Hindi film music thus belonged to a Pak singer - a slip of a girl who came to India via England to capture subcontinental hearts.

Aap jaisa koi actually set a disco trend that came to be picked up by Usha Iyer, going on Kalpana Iyer, as Hari Om Hari (in Pyaara Dushman).

Feroz Khan's Qurbani came presold on the strength of the spot hit Nazia Hasan had turned out to be. Before that, Qurbani had been just another movie release on the cards -- until Nazia hit the big time.

Nazia's single song-craze ensured that Qurbani came to be proclaimed the box office hit of 1980. As highly disappointing though the vacuous Zeenat Aman might have been viewed to be, ultimately, in the way she enacted the number on the screen.

IN the Binaca Geetmala year's final count, however, Lata's Sheesha ho ya dil ho (from J Om Prakash's Aasha) just about pipped Nazia's Aap jaisa koi at the post.

Laxmikant-Pyarelal, as the composers of Lata's Sheesha ho ya dil ho, held up this happening as the triumph of Tradition over Modernity!

For all that, Hindustani film music was never the same after Nazia, maybe accidentally, invaded it.

Even today, I would like to know, from my dear friend Ameen Sayani, how discreetly he contrived to see that Lata just nosed ahead of Nazia!

I met Nazia and her parents at the same Taj -- after she had become the captive voice in India. Nazia was a year older and lovelier by then.

The Hasans told me that her marriage had been fixed. Was it this marriage that went so tragically wrong?

How keen was Nazia to continue to sing in Indian films! But there was no way either Nazia Hasan or Runa Laila could punch a hole in the wall of the Establishment.

Nazia Hasan, in the circumstances, did something else. She set -- well ahead of its times -- the personal-album trend in India.

"Has the dimension of success you've had with Aap jaisa koi changed you?" was the first query I put to Nazia, as I met up with her in India.

"You have me in front of you as before, sir. Do you see a change?" Nazia asked -- in that husky voice that had fired the imagination of India's eighties' youth.

Until Nazia 'arrived', the pride of place, in Ameen Sayani's Binaca Geetmala, had belonged to Hemlata -- her Aankhiyon ke jharokhon se title-tune having been hailed as the Most Popular Song of The Year 1978.

Of course, Hemlata is Hemlata. Lata is Lata. Nazia is Nazia. It is not a comparison I am attempting -- no way.

I am merely taking timely note of one of the many minor hurdles, encountered by the Melody Queen, in her 53 years at the top.

IS it preposterous to set up a mere 13-year-old against Lata Mangeshkar?

Well, Lata herself never took any challenge, however youthful and distant, anything less than seriously.

After all, Lata Mangeshkar herself had been but 13 years of age when she first sought a career in films. And, by a Pakistani singer, Lata perhaps could remember only one movie number, vying with her innumerable hits, for Binaca Geetmala attention.

My rewind reference is to the latter half of the 1950s, when Pakistan's Iqbal Bano held us spellbound in the Binaca Geetmala -- for weeks on end -- with her resonant rendition of the Qatil Shefai-written solo tuned by Inayat for a film, Qatil.

The solo was: Ulfat kee nayee manzil ko chala, Tu baahen daal ke baahon mein, Dil tod ne waale dekh ke chal/Hum bhee to paden hain raahon mein.

Even this one, from a Pak film (Qatil), could be played by Ameen Sayani, in the Binaca Geetmala, only because its 78-rpm disc had been pressed in India!

THE Nazia disc, by contrast, came to be pressed in London. As a schoolgirl, as Aap jaisa came her way, casually did Nazia Hasan put it over. 'Bowled over' did she have the youth of India with her elfin elegance.

Where else but in a level playing field like films could a mere 13-year-old vie for vocal attention alongside the stupendous Lata Mangeshkar?

The writer is author of Lata Mangeshkar: A Biography;UBSPD; Rs 295

Email Raju Bharatan

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

'Lata Mangeshkar is made for playback singing' - Vishal Bharadwaj

Earlier Lata Mangeshkar special!

The Lata photo gallery

Hear Lata!

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