This article is taken from the book "Great Goans" which would
have been a leading contender for World's Thinnest Book if
the authors had done the right thing and excluded non-Goans
like Ms. Mangeshkar from consideration.
Please enjoy the article responsibly.
Thanks for the lead, Dr. Nerurkar.
>This article is taken from the book "Great Goans" which would
>have been a leading contender for World's Thinnest Book if
>the authors had done the right thing and excluded non-Goans
>like Ms. Mangeshkar from consideration.
Typically Maharashtrian! It is supposed to be the first of a
>Please enjoy the article responsibly.
Looks like it is a set of articles by more than one author.
Many parts are interesting (the second article--about the
history of Kalavant community--is too distant from the topic,
albeit of independent interest; informative, but appears to
be careless, e.g., the author treats Sardesai and Desai as
The article "The Shruti of Lata" is quite good (including a
reference to a rare Roshan song, from 'Raagrang':
karate hai.n ishaare falak se chaand taare"). The author is
spot on about many judgements, including "rasik balamaa".
The last article "Lata's Classics" by one VS Kumar is terrible.
Equally disgusting are the outpourings of another author who is
quoted in the earlier parts, one AS Raman. Looks like these
bozos--along with Raju Bharatan who is mercifully absent here--
constitute a bunch of Insfferable Madrasi Journalists.
Here's most of the stuff. But do check out the site, folks.
There are a few photographs that are not run of the mill,
especially one where Asha is arranging lata's hair.
Antecedents & Achievements
A Remarkable Clan*
Her Father’s Daughter
The 1984 edition of the Guinness Book of World Record
Interesting questions and answers
THE SRUTI OF LATA
*Most parts of this article deleted.
Antecedents & Achievements
Lata Mangeshkar. She is the Melody Queen whose voice and singing have
thrilled millions and millions of Indians and people of other nationalities
who enjoy Indian movies. She started her career in the movies as an actress,
playing a role in ‘Pabuli Mangala Gaur’. Only later she took the role of a
playback singer. The first film record she cut was for the film ‘Apki Seva
Mein’. Fame came to her first as a singer in ‘Majboor’.
Lata was born in Pune in 1928. Her parents : Marathi stage personality
Dinanath Mangeshkar and Narmada Lad from Indore. With these few words of
introduction, Sruti offers below a slightly edited text of a chapter on Lata
in Volume I (1985) of an ongoing series entitled Great Goans. (NNAP
Publishers, Piedade, Goa 403 403. Price Rs. 90). The authors of the profile
are MARIO CARBAL E SA & LOURDES BRAVO DA COSTA RODRIGUES. The chapter is
reproduced with the kind permission of Mario Carbal e Sa who holds the
copyright for the Great Goans series.
A Remarkable Clan
It is well-known in Goan cultural circles that all attempts, some of them
well meaning, to get Lata Mangeshkar to perform in Goa have ended in failure.
A case of ‘patere qaum ipse fecisti legem’ (suffer ye the effects of your own
laws) ? Is Lata Mangeshkar rebuking fellow Goans with her persistent refusal
to perform in Goa ?
If yes, and if for the reason that Goans behaved most callously towards her
father, the prodigious singer Master Dinanath, then she is certainly
justified in her utter contempt for her native place. For indeed, Goa and
Goans betrayed Dinanath most gallingly when he most needed their friendship
Master Dinanath was born in the environs of the famous Mangesh temple, in
Ponda taluka on December 29, 1900. Those were the days when the devdasi-s of
Goa were struggling to shed the disgrace forced upon them by a feudal and
<Chopped: Informative detour into antecedents of the clan>
Her Father’s Daughter
Speaking of her father and her initiation into her professional world, Lata
Mangeshkar has said in an interview published in the Illustrated Weekly of
India (30 April 1967) : "He died when we were all very young. I, the eldest
of his children, was barely twelve at the time. But I remember him distinctly.
He was always so full of music that we all naturally got interested in it. He
also taught me music, although only for a little while.
"I hardly ever heard him on the stage, though. He was orthodox in his ideas.
He would not let us, his daughters, watch a play, and he was absolutely
opposed to the idea of my acting in one. He was terribly annoyed when I once
acted in a play behind his back. He did not mind our learning music, though.
In fact, he encouraged it.
"Those were hard times. We were very poor and desperately in need of money.
I had, therefore, to work without respite. I remember occasions when I worked
without food and sleep for two days and more. And then there were prejudices
to be overcome. It used to be said disparagingly in those days that songs
sung by Maharashtrians smelt of dal and rice. I had to disprove it and
cultivate a fine Hindustani accent as well. There was so much else to learn,
too, and I had to do it mostly by myself.
Born at Manguesh on December 24, 1900, Dinanath sought his fortunes when he
was hardly 13, at the ‘Kirloskar Company’, an intinerant theatre group in the
style of the times. His debut in Marathi theatre followed the classical style
of the times. His mother Esubai was not sure whether the theatre would be the
right medium to develop her son’s many talents. Left to herself, she would
rather have not accepted the offer made by the Kirloskar Dramatic Co. But her
acquaintances insisted that she grab the chance, and she reluctantly agreed
to consult the oracles. The ‘prasad’ predicted a favourable theatre career.
Achutrao Kothatkar, who directed Dinanath in a play titled Sundopsund, was so
impressed with his performances that he gave him top billing as ‘Master
Dinanath’, then just sixteen. The nom de plume soon became legend. His
performance in Ekach Pyala (Just One More Cup) is still remembered by theatre
lovers fortunate to have seen him on stage. It was a play which had profound
similarities with Dinanath's personal crisis.
In the series of female roles he was called to perform, he excelled at
Padmavati in Ugramangal, Tejashvini in Ranadundhubi, and Sulochana in
Saunyasta Khadga. But he also played Dhairyadhar in Manapaman, Gautam in
Brahamnia Kumari and proved himself as an artist of great talent in quite a
few other male roles.
At the zenith of his professional career he launched his own theatre company,
the Balvant Natak Mandali. Then, suddenly, disaster struck.
Word of mouth accounts are replete with anecdotes and details of the goings
on at the marathon sessions of song and music held by him and in his honour
by his numerous admirers. Sadly, a time came when liquor displaced music as
the prime motivation of the gatherings. Finally, his health failed, the
number of his admirers thinned down, and his friends forgot him.
Lata’s grouse seems to be that her father’s Goan friends abandoned him when
he most needed their affection and help. Whatever the reason, he seems to
have taken to a way of life which was least advisable - drinking more than
was good either for his health or for his voice, his only asset.
Lata’s father was her closest friend. When she visited Mangueshi she was not
allowed to approach the deity by members of the devasthan because of her
father’s antecedents. Deeply offended by the ostracisation, she has since
refused to return to Goa or give any performances there.
Dharmanand Golatkar, who wrote a fascicle on Dinanath brought out by the Goa
Cultural and Social Centre, claimed, somewhat pretentiously, to ‘inside’
information that Master Dinanath’s personal property included 24 acres of
land in Khandesh, one extensive garden of mango, jackfruit and cashewnuts in
Goa, a building in Sangli and a house in Pune. The Sangli house is described
as "a thirteen room double - storeyed house with a long balcony." The street
has since been renamed --- and most justifiably so as ‘Dinanath Rasta’.
In Golatkar’s assessment, "there were insurance policies, investments and
gifts amounting to over a lakh." Golatkar’s sketchy memoir would have us
believe that towards the end - and a premature end it was, for Master
Dinanath died when he was 41 years old -- he was a lonely and melancholic
man. In Golatkar’s version, Master Dinanath’s last conscious action was to
summon his daughter, Lata, then 11 years old, to his bedside and tell her :
"The tambura in that corner, the book of notations under my pillow and the
blessings of Shri Mangesh (their kuldevata or family deity) are the only
things you have. Make what you can of them."
He died on 24 April 1942, at the Sassoon Hospital in Pune after what Golatkar
described as "some sickness of profuse bleeding though the ears." He died
before he could project himself on the national scene as a magnificent singer
of devotionals, through he did make his mark in Maharashtra as a singer and
theatre artist, specializing in feminine roles during an age when no respec
table woman would take to stagecraft.
Dinanath and his compatriots were fortunate in one respect. In his early
childhood he had absorbed the beauty and musicality of his immediate environs.
At the Manguesh temple, where he was born, the day began with the keertan-s
sung by the bhakti-s, just as they emerged from their mandatory morning bath
and, still in wet clothes, offered the deities fresh garlands of mariglod and
mogra. The nights ended, as inspiringly, with bhajan-s. There were the
‘palanquin nights’ when the dasi-s led the procession with the most exquisite
clay lanterns on their heads ; they danced for the gods and performed aarti-s,
while a dozen small percussionists at the rear beat out the most exotic
rhythms from a wide variety of drums and bells.
Then there were the ‘patron’s nights’, and the males, young and old, played
the flute, the harmonium, the shehnai, and the women sang and danced for all
manner of wealthy men, eager to buy happiness, whatever the price. Dinanath
created a similar ambience of beauty and music in his home. As Lata would
later say : "He was always so full of music that we got naturally interested
And so blossomed Lata Mangeshkar, ‘Melody Queen’ of India.
The 1984 edition of the Guinness Book of World Record had this entry :
"Miss Lata Mangeshkar (b. 1928) has reportedly recorded between 1948 and 1974
not less than 25,000 solo, duet and chorus-backed songs in 20 Indian
languages. She frequently has five sessions in a day and has ‘backed’ 1000
films upto 1974 "
(The entry was repeated in subsequent editions. Correct, up-to date figures
are not a available, but Lata has surely added hundreds of more songs to the
earlier tally. And she has added one more language to her repertoire. The
song in English was for a Western audience in Albert Hall in London.)
However, Lata Mangeshkar’s contribution to contemporary India’s cultural
scene and to music in particular cannot be measured merely in terms of her
statistical achievements. It is not the quantity but the quality of her
singing which sets her apart as a modern phenomenon.
Gossip columnists of the film media often make the charge that Lata and her
younger sister, Asha, manipulate the industry in such a way that they have a
virtual monopoly, much to the detriment of new voices. We shall not go into
the charge for the simple reason that we have no data to either counter or
corroborate it. But it may be mentioned in passing that film star Sulakshana
Pandit told this writer, during a location stint, that her career as a singer
had been spiked by the Mangeshkar sisters and she had to turn to acting as a
last resort --- words of despair indeed.
How does Lata maintain her voice ? How does she ensure that her incredible
schedule of five recording sessions per day does not strain her vocal chords?
In a relatively simple way, apparently. She told the Goan press that all she
does is avoid eating refrigerated food and drinking ice-cold beverages. But
she readily confessed her weakness for Goan food and claimed she ate, most
liberally, pickles and papads and all manner of spicy foods.
Gossip columnists have also time and again projected the bizarre, in
preference to the serious --- or they would not be the gossip pedlars they
are …. Half a dozen Pomeranian and a hefty Alsatian to guard her menage, her
lack of interest in Western forms of music or in the prima donna of the
Western operatic scene, have been emphasized once too often as evidence of
the artificiality of her style and the shallowness of her professional
A.S.Raman writing in the Illustrated Weekly of India in connection with the
silver jubilee celebration of Lata’s entry into India’s film world as a
playback singer of ‘situation songs’, insinuated with unconcealed derision
that the only Western singer Lata was aware of (and liked ) was Nat King Cole,
adding for effect this mischievous footnote : "A patron once told Cole ---
mistaking the timbre of his voice for chronic laryngitis - ‘You want to go
and see a doctor about it, kid?‘"
Raman’s statement was preceded by a list of ‘greater and lesser Westerners’
whose names were reeled off to Lata and she is supposed to have confessed
that she had never heard of them before : Sutherland, Callas, Flag stadt,
Berganza, Strauss, Verdi, Rossini. She had allegedly stated that there was
nothing ‘regional’ or European’ about Mozart, Beethoven and Liszt whose
music, anyway, had been pilfered, whole passages of it, by Indian film music
But derision and mischief are no doubt misplaced, and wholly uncharitable in
an assessment of Lata Mangeshkar’s oeuvre. For Lata, then hardly twelve, had
been pushed into a singing career to keep the wolf away from the suddenly
impoverished family’s door, and she had not time to study esoteric music,
which, in any case, would have mattered little in her career as a professional
playback singer. What mattered was the skill to be a successful and popular
In Lata’s view, classical and film music are two ‘quite different’ forms. To
her mind, film music requires a voice that "has a certain delicacy and a
capacity to express emotion in all its richness and variety." It is possible
that long sessions of rigorous training in the classical style could deprive
a voice of these qualities. So she is very careful to avoid over-exerting her
voice. And that is one of the reasons why she cannot (further) train herself
in the classical style, although she would love to do so.
An excerpt form one of her interviews, (published in the Illustrated Weekly
of India), offers interesting insights. Said Lata :
"One has to have and develop a number of qualities in order to succeed as a
singer in films. A film song is sung to express a mood, an emotion. The
singer must have the ability to grasp the mood and express it through music.
Unlike in classical music, words matter a great deal in film music.
The singer has to pronounce them with clarity and in a manner that brings out
all the emotion they carry. The singer also needs a correct understanding of
what a mike does to one’s voice. And, above all, the voice has to be trained
to do a lot of things with ease and grace and a compelling appeal."
The interviewer (Gangadhar Gadgil) asked her : "But didn’t you have any model
before you ? Didn’t you, at any time, say to yourself that you would like to
sing like somebody - like say, Saigal ?"
Lata replied : "Yes, of course. I loved Saigal’s wonderful songs. The songs
had no frills. There was no attempt in them to display musical virtuosity. He
used to sing them simply, from the bottom of his heart. That is what I wanted to do.
That is what I tried to learn from him. That is what I have been striving to do all
The interviewer’s subsequent suggestion was that there was a certain
passionate urgency in her tone ; and he asked her if she had accomplished
what she had set out to do. She replied quite simply : "God has been very
The interviewer then articulated her own ideas : "Any singer who casts such a
tremendous spell (like Lata) on the people must have something more than a
sweet voice and a capacity to express emotion through her music. She must
somehow touch the very soul of the people. Their deepest yearnings, the very
core of their being has to find expression in that singer’s songs to a
degree. Saigal did this and so have you."
The interviewer continued : "There is a difference between the two of you,
though. Saigal always sounded like an angel that had fallen. His voice had a
flawed spirituality ; and, because it was flawed, it had a special appeal.
Your voice expresses something pure, unblemished and yet lonely and sad. In
any case, the songs of both of you move people deeply."
Lata answered : "I remember an occasion when I was in Calcutta. An old man
saw me and suddenly rushed forward and fell at my feet. He was not an
illiterate man ; he seemed to belong to the educated middle class. I was so
moved by what he did that I started crying. I cried all the way home, and I
cried for a long time after wards." The interviewer recorded that Lata then
laughed, deprecatingly, as if to suggest that it was rather silly of her to
have been so deeply moved.
The following sequence of (additional) questions and answers makes
Q - "You have been in the world of film music for the last many years. What
are the changes in popular taste that you have noticed ? Has it changed for
the better or for the worse ?"
A - "There has been a considerable change in musical taste and it has not
all been for the better. I would not really blame the eople for the
vulgarisation of taste. It is the music directors who are responsible for it.
They are the makers of popular taste."
Q - "Do you think that the influence of Western music on our film music has
been healthy ?"
A - "I would not say that such an influence is inherently bad. There had
always been a lot of give and take in the world of music. Our classical
music itself is a blend of many influences ; and the Western pop singers
have borrowed a great deal from Africa and elsewhere. I do not, therefore
mind it if our music absorbs foreign influences. What I do mind is
indiscriminate borrowing which creates the kind of hybrid, hotchpotch music
we have today."
Q - "Can’t something be done about it ?"
A - "Oh, yes, something can be done, and efforts have been made in that
direction. But it is so difficult to change things in the film industry.
There is a sort of formula of success ; and nobody wants to violate it. So
things go on in a groove. A film song must be appropriate to the situation
in which it is sung. It must express the mood, the interplay of emotions,
the element of drama that is inherent in that situation. The words and the
tune have to be apt. The orchestral accompaniment must heighten the effect
of the song and it must fit in with the locale and the situation. But we
don’t seem to bother about it. There is a slavery of latest fashions and
She added : "I would like to elaborate the musical theme myself rather than
leave it to the orchestra. There was a generation of music directors that
used to worry about the appropriateness and unity of their musical
compositions, and I am really grateful to men like Ghulam Haidar, Shyamsunder,
Khemchand Prakash, Naushad and Salil Chowdhury for the music they composed
for me to sing. But those who succeeded them have not worried about the basic
thing. They are very talented men who have introduced a number of innovations. But
they seem to be overlooking something very essential."
Gangadhar Gadgil (subsequently) stated : "To me and, I believe, to every
Indian, Lata Mangeshkar is not so much a person as a voice --- a voice that
soars high and casts a magic spell over the hearts of millions of Indians
from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari. It is a voice that is ageless, pure,
vibrantly alive, untrammelled in its range and flexibility, hauntingly
expressive and enchanting in its sweetness. Above all, it has a certain
ethereal quality, an indefinable something, with a unique appeal for us
"It would have been in a sense appropriate if a voice such as Lata’s had
sung exclusively the ecstatic bhajan-s of Mirabai. For these bhajan-s, apart
from their poetic excellence and haunting melody, are an expression of total
surrender to God. They are a quest which can only be expressed by a voice
such as Lata’s."
But Lata’s voice, which really belongs to a temple or an ashram, has been in
the service of film music for over 47 years now. Film music is inevitably
attuned to the requirements of the box-office ; and the box - office wants
film music with catchy rhythms, swinging sugary tunes, polyphonous and loud
orchestral accompaniment and an abundance of sentimentality.
Another valid point had been made by Gangadhar : "It is at least apparently
incongruous that Lata should have almost exclusively devoted herself to
singing songs for films. It is not a little unusual that, in her case,
musical excellence has attained with the utmost ease a hypnotic popularity.
And it is certainly unprecedented that in the world of films, where fashions
change every couple of years, Lata should have reigned supreme as the best
and the most popular singer for an uninterrupted span of four decades."
Lata’s assessment of herself is however a trifle disconcerting. "I have no
sense of fulfilment and no regrets. The only feeling I have is one of deep
gratitude to God for his infinite kindness."
In her formative years, Lata listened to music whenever she could. But it
was not really the external influences that made her a singer. Music was in
her. She remembers that at school she even "counted things in terms of the
notes in the musical scale." … An she had an amazing memory as well as a
capacity for musical imitation. She remembers tunes heard years ago and
reproduces them exactly.
Perhaps there was more to it than mere intuition or family background. For
one, she underwent rigorous training in classical music ; though initially
taught by her father, she later studied under Amanali Bhendibazarwale and
the late Master Vinayak, the famous film director and producer, insisted on
her having the training and offered to pay 200 rupees a month for it. It was
a very kind offer but it is said Lata was too proud to accept it. In later
years, she trained under Amanatali Devaswale.
The long years of learning has made it easy for her to understand and
execute what a music director wants. It has given her voice a consistency
and flexibility which singers of film songs often lack. She also thinks that
the training has helped her voice retain its musical qualities all these
years. She once remarked : "Voices of playback singers do not generally last
Lata has often made the point that had she an option she would gladly devote
more time to classical music. She has admired musicians like Bhimsen Joshi,
Pandit Omkarnath, D. V. Paluskar, and sees no reason why the modern
generation should not evolve a classical idiom of music suited to the times.
It is one endeavour she would wholeheartedly embark on, only if she had the
time for it --- an unlikely prospect for an artist as busy as she.
THE SRUTI OF LATA
Over the years, tons of praise have been heaped on Lata. She deserves most of
it. Though facts have been fudged a little, and an occasional bouquet which
should have fallen to others’ lot did come Lata’s way. For instance, the
celebrated song, Ai mere watan ke logon, which brought tears to Pandit
Jawaharlal Nehru’s eyes, eulogising the valour of the Indian jawan, is more
a creation of poet Pradeep (of Door hato ai duniyawalo, ‘Kismet’ fame) and
the once and future prince of film music, composer C. Ramchandra. But it is
undeniable that she sang thousands of songs in and out of film, in many
languages. And that if a roll-call of the most popular songs of the last
four decades is taken, a great majority of them would feature her voice,
either solo or in tandem with other singers.
True, too, is that the most ethereal, evergreen and fragile melodies of the
Hindi film, the warp and woof of most contemporary dreams and all nostalgia,
have used her voice in an irreplaceable manner. Tum kya jano tumhari yadmen,
Ayega anewala, Barsat men, Uthaye ja unke sitam and Ye zindagi usiki hai,
the one melody that depicts the surge of Anarkali’s happiness and the dirge
for Salim’s lost love, cannot be auralised in any other voice. In such songs,
surely Lata’s voice is as inseparable from their greatness as the word and note are.
What then is her greatness ? Classical training? Though stories surface of
her classical training under her father, the late Dinanath Mangeshkar who
died when she was hardly 12, and of continuing visits with some classical
vocalist till a decade ago, it is quite clear that the instruction she
received, if any, was not the kind imparted to and imbibed by classical
vocalists. Her voice shows no trace of that kind of riyaz, a restricted kind
of flowering. In the earlier decades, Saraswathi Rane, Begum Akhtar (nee
Akhtari Bai Fyzabadi), Manik Verma and in the recent past, Shobha Gurtu,
classical vocalists all, with meticulous training and an impeccable feel for
music, have sung for films. Their voices had the force and timbre of the
Ganges. Whereas Lata’s, as required by the infinitely more filigree demands
of a film song, tinkles by as a mountain brook.
Her alignment with the key ? This indeed is her strong-point, but so many
other singers of her time also sang true. The sweetness ? This is a debatable
point. There are many who thought that in their heyday, 1947 to 1957, Geeta
Roy-Dutt had a silkier, shinier edge over Lata. Today, there are hordes who
feel that Asha sizzles better, simmers insinuatingly, with more versatility.
And of course, in turning a brazen call into a velvety invitation, Zohrabai
of Ambala, Rajkumari and Shamshad were all incomparable in their day.
Then was it Lata’s ability to soar high which made her score high ? Rasik
balma might have notched up a virtuosic climb but to most sensitive ears it
was a screech that went beyond the pale of pleasantness. The same composer’s
(Shankar-Jaikishan) Tu kyun mujh ko pukare, S. D. Burman’s Chand phir nikla
and of course Ramchandra’s Alvida, also rambling around Olympian heights,
were easier on the ear, longer in the heart. But such heights were traversed
by other singers too.
Correctly understood, it was the ‘neutrality’ of her voice that made Lata so
frequently used and universally accepted. And last into the fifth decade of
Lata’s natural voice sat easily on teenager Dimple in ‘Bobby’ when Lata must
have been in her mid-forties. And on fortyish Nargis. And twelvish Baby
Tabassum. On Meera. On vamps. On dancers, street and cabaret. On Geeta Bali
to Vyjayanthimala. It could go well in any situation that was found in the
Hindi film. A patriotic call to march against the foreign rule, as stunningly
phrased by Hemant Kumar, Vande mataram. A seductive, Goanese mando as created
by S. D. Burman, chori chori meri gali. The pristinely classical as dreamed
up by C. Ramchandra, Balma bada nadan. The cocotte as drawn by Anil Biswas,
Balma ja. The purely cinematic romance slung together by Roshan, O falakse
chandtare. The pathos rent from a pulsing heart by Naushad, Hamare dil se.
After her father’s death in 1942, which left her family itatters, Lata had
to became the bread-winner. For a little while, she continued doing juvenile,
singing roles in Marathi and Hindi films. But her heart was not in it.
Neither her face, her fortune. Her voice was. Though Ghulam Haider is
credited with having spotted it and, when Filmistan refused to allow his
choice, taking Lata to Bombay Talkies to sing Hai re, it was Datta Davjekar
who gave her her first playback break, Pav lagoon (‘Aap ki seva men’, 1947).
She had formidable competition. By then the era of singing stars had given
way to the age of the playback. Shamshad, Rajkumari, Zohra Bai, Amirbai,
Geeta Roy and Lalita Dewoolkar were the other contenders. And Lata was only
a promise, till the late forties. Fulfilment came later.
In the early fifties, after she had been firmly established by Khemchand
Prakash (‘Mahal"), C.Ramchandra (‘Anarkali’), Naushad (‘Andaz’) and Shankar-
Jaikishan (‘Barsat’), all composers rushed to her. With one lone exception.
O.P.Nayyar. The nature of the feud between them has only been surmised and
never disclosed by either of them. Possible Lata took umbrage at the fact
that the phenomenal popularity of Nayyar had him replacing stalwarts who had
a good working relationship with Lata, Roshan, et al.
Lata had her feuds with others too. All for personal reasons. These skirmishes
do not diminish her as a singer. Allegations have been darted at her. That
she has sabotaged the careers of budding singers. That she has forced her
brother, Hridaynath, as a composer on producers. That she has played
favourites. That she didn’t speak to sister Asha because of the latter’s
long-time liaison with Nayyar. Some are clearly old-wives’ tales.
Some, the result of frustrated talents not strong enough to fight
Where are these thwarted singers now ? Nowhere on the Hindi screen, whereas
those that came later are enlarging their toeholds into foot-rests. How many
films has Hridaynath done ? They can be counted on the fingers of one hand,
with fingers left over. Lata being at loggerheads with Asha, how has this
affected the listener ? Or the rumour linking Lata with a prominent cricket
What she does with her personal life is her pleasure. If she did walk over
certain weak-kneed composers, or recording - engineers, or the notoriously
East India Company-minded institution into ignoring certain singers, it is
more a compliment to her steely will and virtual indispensability (as felt
by the weak-kneed).
For four decades, Lata has imitated no one. Thousands imitate her. Today,
she picks and chooses her assignments. If even these cannot live up to her
voice, or as some carp, if her voice’s shine has tarnished somewhat, blame
the master-robber Time. Surely, she can’t be expected to do at sixty what
she did at thirty !
Briefly, and for Marathi films only, she turned composer under the pseudonym
Anandghan; and reaped rich awards. She took budding composers --- from
Laxmikant-Pyarelal to their little known brother Ganesh, to even less known
Pardesi--- under her wing at one time and promoted them. She did not groom
them for composing but she encouraged them by merely agreeing to sing for
No one knows what she does with her money. She does not Swiss and tell,
evidently. But she does go on international jaunts now and then, consorting
with the chosen. Sometimes they are performing tours, sometimes not. But she
is taking it easy and resting on her laurels. After a Padmabhushan, after
being made a fellow of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, and a court-performer of
the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanam, and after becoming a legend in her
lifetime---the Govt. of Madhya Pradesh has instituted an annual, one
lakh-rupee award in her name---she deserves a little respite, from adulation
and media-mongered scandal. Let her be. We have her melody at out finger-tips.
In this article V.S. KUMAR, after expressing appreciation of Lata’s music
over the years, and listing songs which evolved from classical raga-s, goes
on to suggest that it’s time the Melody Queen retires.
It does not require adjectives to sing the praise of probably the greatest
playback singer in films. In fact adjectives will not be enough and will at
best be cliches. A mere listing of the very great songs Lata has sung, and
of her other memorable achievements in the world of films, would be
sufficient to understand the towering musical pesonality we are talking
about. We could therefore start with Aayega aanewala and go right down to
Main maike chali jaoongi and hopefully soar to the dizzy heights of musical
pleasure in this short article that spans twenty-five years.
The haunting melody of Aayega aanewala in ‘Mahal’, the unmistakable yearning
(nayaki bhava ?) in Barsaat mein humse mile tum sajan (‘Barsaat’) and the
deep, deep sadness in the patriotic Ai mere watan ke logon are the early
masterpieces one recalls first, when talking of Lata. In these first years
came the classic (and classical) Baiju Bawra and her Mohe bhool gaye
sawariyaa which gave you the raga Bhairav (Mayamalavagoula) on a platter ;
Ye zindagi usi ki hai (‘Anarkali’) and the immortal ‘Mughal-e-azam’ and its
Pyar kiya to darna kya plus a host of lovely tunes. Other classics of this
period include Jago mohan Pyare (‘Jagte Raho’) and three great songs in
‘Anuradha’ which Lata sang under the music direction of Ravi Shankar, of
which Sanware sanware stood out for its authentic Bhairavi (Sindhubhairavi
in the Carnatic idiom).
The sixties were undoubtedly the greatest period of Lata’s career. From ’60
to ’70 one can savour many, many songs each of which was unique. The Raj
Kapoor - Shanker-Jaikishan group was responsible for quite a few : O mere
sanam (‘Sangam’), O basanti (‘Jis desh mein Ganga bahthi hai’), Rasik balma
(‘Chori Chori’) and songs of ‘Awara’ and ‘Anari’, which no doubt are more
memorable for Mukesh. Greats that will be evergreen from this period, apart
from Raj Kapoor films, are ‘Milan’, ‘Mamta’, ‘Guide’ and ‘Taj Mahal’ to name
a few. In ‘Taj Mahal’ while Jo wada kiya wo nibhana padega will be fondly
recalled for the soft silk of Rafi’s voice, there was a connoisseur’s number
which was Lata’s solo. Zulm-e-ulfat ke harmein log sazaa dete hain. Among
the ‘musts’ to be numbered in this bunch is Kuhu kuhu bole koya-liyaan, the
Adi Narayana Rao master-piece for ‘Swarna Sundari’, depicting the four
seasons in the raga-s Sohini, Bahar, Jhonpuri and Yaman with the unbeatable
As the sixties wore on we had the musically-minded J. Om Prakash (at least
he was then) and his ‘A’ movies, ‘Arzoo’ to begin with. Lata had a memorable
song or two in each of these. Lata practically ‘made’ the duo Laxmikant-
Pyarelal : who can forget her love songs in ‘Shagird’ and her sizzling
cabaret numbers for ‘Intakam’ Till ‘Intakam’ cabaret songs were reserved for
her sister Asha Bhonsle. But Lata went back to serious heroine-playback
after the brief sizzler : her all-time great songs for ‘Pakeeza’ came only
after. If ‘Pakeeza’ is remembered for Meena Kumari (since it was her last
film and she died when it has just been released), that is remembered for
Meena Kumari (since it had just been released), that is purely historical.
In future it will be remembered reverentially for the four epic songs of
Lata under the music direction of Ghulam Mohammed.
In the late sixties and early seventies, the other musical achievements of
Lata included three great ‘Dastak’ songs and the commanding ease with which
she adjusted to Kishore Kumar as her singing partner when Rafi was on the
wane. We had ‘Aradhana’ and ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ and ‘Sharmilee’ for instance,
giving some great melodies like Kora kagaz tha ye man mera, Jeevan ki
baghiya and Megha chhaye aadhi raat.
In the sixties, at least two discs cut by Lata of the non-filmi variety are
collector’s items, : the Meera bhajan-s and the ‘Koli’ geet. The former,
sung with direction by her brother Hridayanath Mangeshkar, sends one into
raptures any time one hears them-especially the Vaman piece Main to khelun
sang holi and the Lalit piece Nand nandan. The latter, again composed by
Hridayanath, is a record of folk tunes of the fishermen and brings out the
light touch Lata was capable of.
‘Was capable of ? You might say --- hey, she’s still singing. At least this
writer cannot hear any song by Lata after ‘Bobby’ and ‘Kabhi kabhi’ without
wincing. The softness is gone, and in its place is the metallic timbre that
jars rudely. There must be some reason she still sings for sixteen-years-old
heroines and under baton-wielders like Bhappi Lahiri and the younger Roshan,
but what could the reason be ? The sruti is sacrificed and the songs are
crass and commonplace, and why Lata should persist with Hindi film playback
of such variety is a mystery. Even the small bit in Mile surmera tumhara
that she has sung is but an apology and she has not added to the charm of
this great piece. It is puzzling that she should go on singing with no
musical pleasure, either to the listeners or herself.
But Lata has always been a puzzle and her career was chequered with such
questions even earlier : why did the great O.P Nayyar (music composer) have
nothing to do with her ? Did she drive out younger, talented hopefuls like
Suman Kalyanpur and Vani Jairam ? Did she influence film-makers to hire
‘her’ music composers ? And so on.
One can only say now : All will be forgotten and forgiven if she could
gracefully announce her retirement.