Lata Mangeshkar

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Lata Mangeshkar

Dinesh Raheja

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On September 28, as Lata Mangeshkar celebrates her 73rd birthday, it underlines the fact that she has now spent over 50 years inhabiting the topmost echelons of her art.

To be a great influential force for five decades is a distinction achieved by few male artistes and definitely no other female artiste in the Hindi film industry.

Opinion is cacophonously divided about the current timbre of the nightingale's fabled voice today when it is heard in Mujhse Dosti Karoge, but there is no denying the sheer listening pleasure that Lata's sharp, sweet voice has imparted to her audience over thousands of songs, from Ghar aaya mera pardesi (Awara) in 1951 to the contemporaneous Didi tera devar (Hum Aapke Hai Koun...!) in 1994 or Humko hami se chura lo (Mohabbatein) in 1995.

The white sari clad playback singer has given her voice and expression to myriad emotions. Her vocal range has been as dazzling as her diamonds.

It is not just Lata's three-octave spanning voice but sheer determination that got her to this position of eminence.

Lata Mangeshkar's Famous Songs
Song Film Music Director
 Jab pyar kiya  to darna kya  Mughal-e-Azam  Naushad
 Yeh zindagi  ussi ki hai  Anarkali  C Ramchandra
 Ayega  aanewala  Mahal  Khemchand  Prakash
 Seene mein  sulagte hai  armaan  Taraana  Anil Biswas
 Pyar hua iqrar  hua hai  Shri 420  Shanker  Jaikishen
 Aaj phir jeene  ki tamanna  hai  Guide  S D Burman
 Man dole  mera tan dole  Nagin  Hemant  Kumar
 Aajare pardesi  Madhumati  Salil  Chowdhary
 Naina barse  rimjhim  Woh Kaun Thi  Madan  Mohan
 Gairon pe  karam  Aankhen  Ravi
 Jo vaada kiya  Taj Mahal  Roshan
 Aye maalik  tere bande  Do Aankhen Barah  Haath  Vasant Desai
 Mausam hai  aashiqana  Pakeezah  Ghulam  Mohammed
 Main toh  bhool chali  babul  Saraswatichandra  Kalyanji  Anandji
 Bindiya  chamkegi  Do Raaste  Laxmikant  Pyarelal
 Raina beeti  jaaye  Amar Prem  R D Burman
 Bhool gaya  sab kuch  Julie  Rajesh  Roshan
 Tujhe dekha  toh  Dilwale Dulhaniya  Le Jayenge  Jatin Lalit
 Jiya jale jaan  jale  Dil Se  A R Rahman

The peals of girlish giggles, still a characteristic, were present when Lata was a playful tomboy studying music from her father Master Dinanath Mangeshkar. Unfortunately for young Lata, her father passed away when she had barely reached adolescence. It was incumbent upon her to be the breadwinner for her mother and four younger siblings. Beginning with Pahili Manglagaur (1942), Lata acted in as many as eight Hindi and Marathi films in the 1940s while simultaneously struggling to establish herself as a playback singer.

Travelling by Mumbai's local trains, the scrawny but determined struggler who would always be accompanied by a sister, finally won her first break as a playback singer with Aap Ki Sewa Mein (1947). With established singers like Amirbai Karnataki, Shamshad Begum and Rajkumari around, Lata's thin voice strained to be heard. However, leading composer Ghulam Haider reposed his faith in Lata and gave her songs in Majboor and Padmini (Bedard tere pyar ko), that brought her some attention.

But the true efflorescence of Lata's talent was witnessed in 1949 when she unleashed a fusillade of superhit songs in three musical blockbusters: Naushad's Andaaz (Uthaye ja unke sitam and four other songs), Shanker-Jaikishan's Barsaat (Hawa mein udta jaaye and eight other hits) and Khemchand Prakash's Mahal (Aayega aanewala).

Lata may have still had traces of her idol Noorjehan in her singing but several composers had spotted the uncut diamond and done their best to burnish it with diction lessons and umpteen rehearsals. At 20, Lata had decidedly arrived as she sang for topline composers of the day like Naushad, C Ramchandra, Anil Biswas and Husnlal Bhagatram.

The 1950s were a fortuitous time for Lata as, with lightening speed, she became the first choice of most major music directors. She created a seismic shake-up in the playback singing ranks, scoring a major tally of successes with blockbuster numbers in Awara (1951), Baiju Bawra (1952), Anarkali (1953), Nagin (1954), Shri 420 (1955). She soon surpassed Shamshad Begum and Geeta Dutt and became a legend while still in her twenties.

In-between multiple recordings, Lata found time to compose music for the Marathi film Ram Ram Pahuna, under the name Anandghan; she even produced films like Vaadal, Jhanjhar and Kanchan.

When Filmfare announced its Best Playback Singer Award, it was but natural that the first recipient be Lata who won it for Madhumati's dulcet siren song, Aajare pardesi in 1958.

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As the 1960s dawned, Lata went from strength to strength, still unquestionably the numero uno, and formed formidable teams with music directors like Madan Mohan and Roshan. The Nargis-Madhubala-Geeta Bali generation may have been succeeded by a new generation of heroines like Sadhana, Asha Parekh and Sharmila Tagore, but Lata was a constant.

She never made any compromises. With her squeaky clean image, Lata was steadfast about choosing the songs she wanted to sing. If she sang the rare cabaret number like Aa jaane jaan, it was more to explore the limits of her versatility. Further, she dared to disagree with giants like Raj Kapoor, Mohammed Rafi and S D Burman. For a while, they did not record with Lata. That did not affect Lata's career at all. Fortunately for film music, they soon made up with Lata.

Besides her hits, Lata also won critical acclaim for her rendition of maestro Pandit Ravi Shanker's tunes in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anuradha. Then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was famously moved by Lata's rendition of the non-film patriotic number Aye mere watan ke logon, and she was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1969.

In the seventies and early eighties, Lata's position at the top was unshakeable as the three leading music directors of the period, Laxmikant Pyarelal, R D Burman and Kalyanji Anandji, lavished their best on her. Whether it was Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Sholay or Muqaddar Ka Sikander, Lata was a common factor. Lata's Royal Albert Hall concert in London paved the way for other shows.

In the disco era of the mid 1980s, Lata drastically cut down on her workload though she did have the occasional hit like Ram Teri Ganga Maili. The Lata-dominated scores of Chandni and Maine Pyaar Kiya coincided with resurgence of romance at the close of the decade.

Since then, Lata has attached herself to, and worked largely, with quality banners like RK (Henna), Rajshris (Hum Aapke Hain Koun...!) and Yash Chopra (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Dil Toh Pagal Hai). With new music directors like A R Rahman, Lata proved herself equal to still creating something exquisite like Zubeidaa's So gaye hain.

Today, Lata has busied herself with The Master Dinanath Hospital. The diva is fond of watching cricket and is an avid photographer. Lata, who is still single, continues to be devoted to her art. Even today, she removes her chappals before entering the recording room.

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The eternal nightingale Lata Mangeshkar

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