The Tribune - Spectrum

, September 22, 2002
Lead Article

In the spotlight
Meri aawaaz hi pehchaan hai...

In a glowing tribute to living legend Lata Mangeshkar on her 73rd birthday, which falls on September 28, M. L. Dhawan says that her voice has not lost its appeal with age and time.

The unrivalled queen of cadence: Lata Mangeshkar
The unrivalled queen of cadence: Lata Mangeshkar

LATA Mangeshkar was born on September 28, 1929. Her father, Master Dinanath Mangeshkar, was a well-known Marathi stage artiste and singer. Lata’s voice was, no doubt, a God-given gift, but it was tempered and groomed by her doting father. "If you sing for films, I won’t let you enter my house," he had warned the tiny Lata. After he died prematurely in 1942, bringing up her family seemed a herculean task for Lata. Lata had to act in a Marathi film Pahili Mangalgaur just eight days after the demise of her father. Her first attempt as a singer went unnoticed in Hindi film Aap Ki Sewa Mein in 1947.

When Lata entered the music world, it was not roses all the way for her. S. Mukherjee refused to let her do playback for Kamini Kaushal in Shaheed, saying that her voice was too thin and shrill. Even Dilip Kumar questioned her Urdu pronunciation. Lata faced the daunting task of proving her detractors wrong. Lata started her career with the dedication of a workaholic and pursued her dream of carving a niche in film music with singleminded devotion. Her voice had an innocence. With the songs of Andaaz and Barsaat, her voice acquired density, sweetness, malleability and tonal purity. Madhubala, who was immortalised as the ‘ghost’ crooning Aayega aane wala in Mahal, thereafter insisted on incorporating a condition in her film contracts that only Lata Mangeshkar would sing for her. Soon heroines like Nargis, Nutan, Geeta Bali, Nalini Jaywant, Bina Rai, Nimmi, etc. considered Lata as the oral stamp of success for the way she could express the emotions of the protagonists through her mesmerising vocals. Heroines looked more beautiful and expressive when Lata did their playback. With an avalanche of songs that followed Mahal, Andaaz and Barsaat, Lata emerged as a singer with her own distinct style. She heralded the golden era of music.


From the very beginning of her career, Lata aimed at perfection. She had such a high level of creative commitment that she never settled for anything but the best. Each song that she records is rehearsed 15/20 times with the composer. Being such a seasoned singer, Lata still insists on one last rehearsal before the final take. Naushad remembers her at the film Amar’s recording, repeatedly trying to get right one particular murki of the song Tere sadke balam, na kar koi ghum. After 18 takes, Lata fainted in the recording room. On regaining consciousness, the first thing she wanted to do was to make another attempt at the song to get the desired level perfection.

Lata has rendered over 50,000 songs in her ethereal voice. She manages to convey a vast continuum of emotions, whether it is the pining of a lover in Yara sili sili birha ki raat ka jalna, religious fervour in Allah tero naam, Ishwar tero naam, a mother’s love in the lullaby Dheere se aaja ree ankhiyan mein nindya aa ree aaja or intense patriotism in Aye mere watan ke logo, zara aankh mein bhar lo pani.

She infuses a thousand shades of despair and heartache into her sad songs and ghazals. During the early days of struggle, Lata walked barefoot for miles, from one studio to another, to record just one song for a pittance to support her family. It is perhaps the pain of those blisters that resounds in her sad songs. Lata achieved the heights of creativity with Tum na jane kis jahan mein kho gaye, Tum kya jano tumhari yaad mein hum kitna roye, Guzra hua zamana aata nahin dobara, Chand madham hai aasman chup hai, Badi barbadian lekar meri duniyan mein pyar aaya and Hum pyar mein jalne walo ko chain kahan...

Each song of hers is carefully sculpted and supported by instruments and lyrics. Her voice casts a magic spell that is hard to describe. Even if the song is over, its echo lingers.

Lata finds singing lyrically rich and sentimental songs highly satisfying. Decent lyrics are her pre-requisite for doing a song. She never compromises on this score even if it means losing a film. She did not sing Ang lag ja balma for Mera Naam Joker as she did not feel comfortable with its lyrics. Time and again, Lata has been pleading against vulgarity and obscenity in choreography, dialogues and lyrics. She has been consistently deploring unhealthy elements in music and has more than compensated music lovers by endowing her songs in maar dhar films with an appeal that nullifies their violent effect.

She has maintained the sanctity of her songs. She never records a song with her shoes on. For her, singing is a form of worship. She has created a halo of divinity around her. When she is recording a song, people pass by the recording room as though it were the doorway to a temple. It is for all this that Lata commands not only praise but also veneration.

Since the days of Aap ki sewa mein, Lata has done nothing but sewa to the saat sur. She is a benchmark for every singer to come, a complete textbook of music — for the present and future.

Unfortunately, every stomach ailment that comes to Mumbai does the rare honour of calling on Lata first. It is a weak stomach that has been a constant botheration to her. But stomach ailment, sinusitis or hypertension have not been able to dampen her enthusiasm to sing a good song. Lata takes all possible precautions to preserve the quality of her voice. The Midas touch in her vocals is still intact. Men and women age with years, but Lata’s voice is ageless, infact it grows younger with every passing year. No music lover can fault the ageing songstress’s playback for Kajol, Karisma, Preity Zinta, Madhuri Dixit, etc.

Every artiste in showbiz had known failure along with success, but Lata is the only singer who has encountered only ups and no downs in her career spanning over five decades. If any artiste from the performing arts has attained a stature unparalleled in the world, it is the queen of cadence — Lata Mangeshkar.