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When Lataji Didn't Sing For Raj Kapoor

Last updated on: December 15, 2023 08:46 IST

IMAGE: Lata Mangeshkar with Nargis, Raj Kapoor and musician Chakravarty, who played the khol (a two-sided terracotta drum used in northern and eastern India). Photograph: Kind courtesy Lata Mangeshkar... In Her Own Voice by Nasreen Munni Kabir, publishers, Niyogi Books

'Were it not for the voices of Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh, what would my cinema be?' Raj Kapoor had once famously said.

He wasn't being dramatic.

From the time he started his career, Lataji played a pivotal part in his films.

"Not from the start," Lataji once corrected Subhash K Jha.

"I was not part of his first film (as director) Aag. The music for Aag was by Ram Ganguly. But I sang all 10 songs of Barsaat. Woh bhi ek iteffaq tha (that too was by chance)."

"Ram Ganguly was to do the songs, but then Rajsaab suddenly changed his mind and brought Shankar-Jaikishan into the project. Every song in Barsaat was a hit and we became a team: Rajsaab, Mukesh Bhai, Shailendraji, Harsrat Jaipuriji and me."

Raj Kapoor and Lataji met through composer Anil Biswas.

"I think Anil Biswaji told Rajsaab about me," Lata had said.

"He came to one of his recordings with me, heard me out and left quietly. I didn't think it would be the beginning of a professional bonding that would be so rewarding."


IMAGE: Nargis and Raj Kapoor in Barsaat.

After Barsaat came Awaara in 1951 and Shree 420 in 1955.

In both, Lataji sang some imperishable solos and duets.

Raj Kapoor believed she was the soul of his films and wanted to make Satyam Shivam Sundaram with Lataji in the lead. Of course, the film he had in mind with Lataji was entirely different from what it shaped up to be with Zeenat Aman.

IMAGE: Zeeant Aman in Satyam Shivam Sundaram.

Satyam Shivam Sundaram caused the first major rift between Lataji and Rajsaab.

He had promised that the songs would be composed by Lataji's talented brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar. But when she was on a concert tour abroad, she heard that Hridaynath was replaced by Laxmikant-Pyarelal.

To her credit, Lataji didn't hold this against the director for too long.

IMAGE: Raj Kapoor and Vyjayantimala in the song Buddha Mil Gaya from Sangam.

A more serious rift between the duo occurred during the recording of the song Ang Lag Jaa Balma, in Mera Naam Joker when Lataji objected to what she thought were vulgar lyrics.

When it flopped, he attributed it to her chilling absence.

So how did he coax her back? Rajsaab did a clever thing. He signed Laxmikant-Pyarelal, known to be very close to Lataji, for Bobby and tasked them to get her to agree to sing.

The trick worked!

"Hamara aur Rajsaab ka bahot gehra aur atoot bandhan tha. Hum bahot ladte the (we used to fight a lot) but he could make me bend my rules for him. In Sangam, I sang Buddha Mil Gaya which I wasn't comfortable with. I didn't sing for him in Mera Naam Joker, but if you listen carefully to some of the musical pieces in Satyam Shivam Sundaram, you would hear bits of Mera Naam Joker."

That perhaps was the great film-maker's token gesture for making up to his muse.