Lata Mangeshkar, who has enjoyed an unparalleled half-century at the top of her profession, turned 89 on September 28. I have interviewed the A to Z of the film industry, from Dilip Kumar to Katrina Kaif, but somehow the opportunity to interview the legendary crooner has never presented itself. I regret not pursuing it earlier, and now she heads my bucket list as an interviewee.
Lata has become such a cultural Megaforce that my interviews are often peppered with her references. My music teacher, Tridib Roy Chowdhury, always ticks me off when I feel overconfident with: “Kyun, you think you have become Rafi Saab?” and he unfailingly reminds me that Lata still does riyaaz every day. Tridib’s all-time favourite composer is Laxmikant Pyarelal and he often extolls the LP-Lata collaboration, particularly his favourites like Chalo Sajna Jahan Tak ghata chale from ‘Mere Humdum Mere Dost’ and the title song of Satyam Shivam Sundaram in which Lata scales the lofty notes with breath-taking effect.
Moushumi Chatterjee, whose music director father-in-law Hemant Kumar gave Lata one of her biggest chartbusters in Nagin’s Man dole mera tan dole, once told me, “To achieve the fame of Lata Mangeshkar’s calibre, you have to make sacrifices of her calibre. She has pursued her career with single-minded devotion and yet been an ideal sister to her brother and younger sisters. From the many songs she has sung for my father-in-law, my favourite number is Humne dekhi Hain un aankhon ki mehekti khushboo from Khamoshi. It has been sung with a lot of feeling, composed melodiously and penned beautifully by Gulzar.” I would like to add the romantic O beqaraar dil from ‘Kohraa’ and the haunting, Kahin deep jale Kahin dil from ‘Bees Saal Baad’ to the list.
Not only the connoisseurs of singing but even established playback singers are huge fans of Lata. Alka Yagnik shared, “Whenever I would go to Kalyanji Anandji’s house to practise singing, as soon as the taxi would approach their house, I would strain my neck out to get a fleeting glimpse of their neighbour and my idol, Lata Mangeshkar. I can never forget the day Kalyanji Anandji took me along for the recording of their song, Main tujhse milne aayee mandir jaane ke bahane (Heera) because I got a chance to meet Lataji in person.” From the rich Kalyanji Anandji-Lata repertoire, the entire score of Saraswati Chandra is a perennial favourite and so are Yeh sama, sama hai Pyaar ka, Hum the jinke sahaare and Salaam-e-Ishq meri Jaan.
With veteran composer Naushad, Lata’s songs have achieved legendary status. The composer has made Lata sing peerless numbers that have stood the test of time. In Mughal-e-Azam (1960) he showcased Lata’s range to the extreme. From the mellifluous Mohe panghat pe, to the defiant Jab Pyar Kiya toh Darna kya to the pathos-laden, Beqas pe Karam kee jiye, Sarkar-e-Medina and the lively qawwali, Teri mehfil mein kismet aazma kar hum bhi dekhenge. Raving over her talent and dedication, Naushad had said, “While recording the Amar song Tere sadqe Balam, Lata couldn’t get one antara perfect over 17 takes. Finally, she fainted. When she regained her consciousness, the first thing she wanted to do was sing the antra once more. She had tremendous jazbaa and lagan.”
The Madan Mohan-composed song Lag jaa gale from ‘Woh Kaun Thi’ has garnered a staggering 108 million viewers on YouTube and is surprisingly a huge hit with the youth. My niece Priyanka loves it. The face of the song, actress Sadhana, had told me, “Lataji has sung some of her best songs under the music direction of Madan Mohan. I can’t forget the songs of Woh Kaun Thi (Naina barse rimjhim rimjhim, Jo humne dastaan apni sunayee) and Mera Saaya (Mera saaya saath hoga, Nainon mein badra chhaye).” An incident related by Sadhana to me about Lata and Madan Mohan makes me smile even today. They were shooting Naina barse rimjhim rimjhim, in Simla but only the scratch version of the song, recorded in Madan Mohan’s own voice, was available as Lata had not dubbed for it as yet. So director Raj Khosla made Sadhana emote and give lip sync to Madan Mohan’s gravelly voice!
Despite being a singing superstar, Lata’s humility was worth emulating according to her colleague, the late Mahendra Kapoor. He had divulged to me, “While recording my first song with Lataji, Tere pyar ka aasra chahta hoon for ‘Dhool Ka Phool’ (1959), I was very nervous. But she floored me by asking, ‘Mahendrabhai, meri aawaz theek lag rahi hain na?”
Lataji, my birthday wish for you is: May the ‘Nightingale’ (a befitting sobriquet) sing forever. I hope you read this article and give me an appointment for an interview. I need to tick this one on my bucket list.
Dinesh Raheja is an Indian author, columnist, TV scriptwriter, and film historian. In 2017 he initiated The Dinesh Raheja Workshop in which he teaches Bollywood aspirants everything related to the media.