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'Lataji was sakshaat Saraswati'

February 08, 2022 09:40 IST
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'I tell the next generation of singers to take a leaf out of Lataji's book.'
'Be it Kavita or Alka, every time I give a song to a singer, I tell them, 'Dhyaan se suno, listen attentively, phir socho, Lataji isse kaise gaati'.'

IMAGE: Subhash Ghai and his daughter Meghna take a hand print of Lata Mangeshkar. Photograph: Kind courtesy Subhash Ghai/Instagram

Subhash Ghai had recorded the first song of his directorial debut, Kalicharan, with Lata Mangeshkar. She went on to lend her voice to many of his heroines, from Reena Roy and Tina Munim to Madhuri Dixit.

Ghai tells Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, "When she sang, she connected with God. With universal energy. She was a pure soul and this reflected in her music."

Kalicharan was my first film as a director. Though the 1976 film, with Shatrughan Sinha in a double role of a cop and a lookalike criminal, was an action drama, one of its songs is still playing almost 50 years later.

Just last week, I heard Jaa Re Jaa O Harjaee at a party and during a TV show.

That's the power of music.

That's the magic of Lata Mangeshkar.

IMAGE: Reena Roy in the song Jaa Re Jaa Harjaee from Kalicharan.

It was my life's first song recording.

Lataji was at the studio, sipping tea and chatting with the composer, Kalyanji-Anandji.

Anandji introduced us, and smiling sweetly, she inquired after my heroine and told me to outline the song situation to her.

I was baffled, wondering why someone who had sung for every top heroine, from Nargis and Madhubala to Vyjayathimala and Hema Malini, would ask after my leading lady.

To be honest, I was worried because Reena Roy was still a relatively new actress at the time.

However, with Kalyanji urging me not to be nervous, I answered all her queries to her satisfaction.

It was only later, after I heard the song, that I realised that the seemingly casual questions had helped Lataji place the song in the narrative and put a face to her voice and in doing so, she had taken it to a different dimension, made Jaa Re Jaa Harjaee evergreen.

IMAGE: Rishi Kapoor and Tina Munim in the song Main Solah Baras Ki from Karz.

For me, Lataji was sakshaat Saraswati. She spoke softly, but there was so much shraddha (respect) and pyaar (love) in her eyes that I greeted her with a pranam every time we met.

It made me happy to know that she considered me a good director and had seen Karz several times.

'Every time I see the film, I like it even more. You have a good music sense,' she would tell me.

I will treasure the compliment all my life.

When I had gone to her with Main Solah Baras Ki, she had again asked about the heroine.

This time, I was prepared and told her that it was a young girl called Tina Munim. She sang the song with the joie de vivre and innocence of a 16 year old.

IMAGE: Madhuri Dixit in the song O Ramji from Ram Lakhan.

Lataji was a master of playback singing which is why, when Laxmikant-Pyarelal came up with O Ramji Bada Dukh Dina for Ram Lakhan, I immediately pointed out that none of the upcoming singers, be it Alka Yagnik, Kavita Krishnamurthy or Anuradha Paudwal, would be able to do justice to this song.

We needed a singer who would need to crest the highs of sur, dhun, gaykee. A singer who was pitch perfect.

"We need Lataji," I asserted.

Laxmiji agreed, but pointed out that she was very busy. Waiting for her would delaying the recording and the film.

I went to the studio where she was recording and told her that while I was aware that she had a packed diary, there was this song in my film that only she could sing.

The heroine was another new girl, Madhuri Dixit.

"If you don't do it, I won't record it. I'll change the situation," I told her frankly.

She was moved by my words, touched that I had come to meet her personally. She agreed to record the song.

O Ramji is considered a classic today. I'm sure it will remain unforgettable for the next 100 years.

That was the stature and talent of Lata Mangeshkar.

No other singer came anywhere close to her. Yet, the lady herself was modest, always encouraging new talent.

IMAGE: Subhash Ghai, his wife Rehana, daughters Meghna and Muskaan meet Lata Mangeshkar. Photograph: Kind courtesy Subhash Ghai/Titter

She left me with a treasure trove of her songs.

My only regret is that I could not get her down to my film and music school, Whistling Woods. But we have instituted a scholarship in her name at the Whistling Woods Music School and since, 2019, every year, a deserving talent, be it a singer or a musician, is bestowed with this honour.

I had driven down to her home with my wife Rehana, my daughters, Meghna and Muskaan, and three of my students, to ask for permission to use her name to institute the Lata Mangeshkar Scholarship.

Lataji was very moved and told us she would have liked to visit the school, but because she lived far away in town and wasn't keeping well, it was too long a drive.

Meghna was in touch with her and during our last meeting, we took her handprint. It has been immortalised in the School's Hall of Fame.

For me, Lataji was the symbol of love.

Everyone who met her fell in love with her... and her songs.

That's because when she sang, she connected with God. With universal energy.

She was a pure soul and this reflected in her music.

She didn't sell it in the bazaar, she revered it, and that made her a living goddess.

Today's singers, thanks to technology, record a song in fragments, in one-two lines. They don't want to do riyaaz. After a few hits, they start doing shows to make money.

I've seen Lataji sing a five-six-minute song in one breath, without a break.

She would come to the studio, listen to the song once and talk to the composer, rehearse it once, then record the whole song in one go.

I tell the next generation of singers to take a leaf out of her book.

Be it Kavita or Alka, every time I give a song to a singer, I tell them, "Dhyaan se suno, listen attentively, phir socho, Lataji isse kaise gaati."

And as soon as they remember Lata Mangeshkar, they are able to take the song and their singing to a different dimension.

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