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Who Was Lata's Favourite Co-Singer?

By SUBHASH K JHA
September 28, 2022 14:24 IST
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IMAGE: Vyjayanthimala in the song Kaiso Re Paapi Bichua from Madhumati.

Playback singers enjoyed the challenge of being pitched against the finest voice God ever created, but they were also wary of Lata Mangeshkar's endless resourcefulness in rendition.

Manna Dey, with whom Lataji sang some of her most beautiful duets like Yeh Raat Yeh Chandni Phir Kahan and Soch Key Yeh Gagan Jhoome, once told Subhash K Jha, "Lata has a rare talent. I remember I was recording the song Kaiso Re Paapi Bichua with her for Salil Choudhary in Madhumati when during the final take, she came up with a harkat (innovation) that went 'Oye Hoi Hoi Hoi'. We were stunned. Where did that come from?"

There was huge admiration in Manna Dey's voice.

Mukesh too felt a deep sense of gratitude for being able to share the microphone with her.

'I am grateful to be able to sing so many lovely duets with Lata. Woh humein sambhal leti hai (she would support me in our songs).'

Not all co-singers felt benevolent about Lataji's effortless supremacy.

Mohammed Rafi would get very upset when Lataji would introduce a murki or harkat in the final take.

'Yeh kahan se aa gaya? Yeh toh nahin tha (where did this come from? This was not there before),' Rafi would say during the recording, hurt by what he saw as a betrayal.

But excellence was not one of the options for Lataji.

It was her only option.

Many times she confessed to Subhash that she had no idea what she was doing while singing a song, or why the harkat or the alaap would show up unannounced during her final take.

 

IMAGE: Usha Kiran and Dilip Kumar in the song Laagi Naahin Chhute Rama Chahe Jiya Jaye from Musafir.

In 1957, Lataji got a rare opportunity to sing a duet with Dilip Kumar for Hrishikesh Mukherjee's film Musafir.

Salil Chowdhary composed the number Laagi Naahin Chhute Rama Chahe Jiya Jaye.

Dilip Kumar was a perfectionist and practised the duet for months.

Apparently, he requested his choti bahen Lata to keep in mind that that he was not a professional singer while recording.

But he felt she out-sang him and was unhappy about it.

He didn't speak to Lataji for years after their song together.

IMAGE: Hema Malini and Rajesh Khanna in the song Mere Naina Sawan Bhadon from Mehbooba.

Kishore Kumar loved Lata Mangeshkar and openly acknowledged her vocal superiority: 'She knows what I feel about her talent.'

There was a healthy spirit of competitiveness between the two.

He would try to distract her before their duets with his antics and jokes, but she would playfully rebuke him: "Kishoreda, gaana pehle phir masti (let's sing first, then have fun).'

Whenever he sang the solo version of a song which had a female version by Lataji, he would insist that she sing it first. He would then hear her singing and then sing his own version.

R D Burman's Mere Naina Sawan Bhadon in Mehbooba was recorded in this way.

When Kishore Kumar was approached by a video magazine for an interview, he insisted he would do the interview only if Lataji was the interviewer.

She agreed.

It turned out to be the last interview of his life.

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SUBHASH K JHA