Saturday, October 4, 2003
M A I N   F E A T U R E

The girl with the golden voice, at 75

Lata sounds the sweetest under Laxmikant-Pyarelal. Her voice is haunting under Roshan, pleasant under Shankar-Jaikishan and Kalyanji-Anandji, deliciously complex under Salil Choudhary and mesmerising under Naushad, says M.L. Dhawan, quoting the singer on her association with various music directors.

Lata MangeshkarLATA Mangeshkar, the doyen of film music who turned 75 recently, has aptly been described by Pandit Jasraj as a confluence of talent and voice that comes only once in a century. Lata’s voice, during her 60-year-long career which saw her recording as many as 10,000 songs, has permeated the conscience of film song lovers to such an extent that most other singers seem like pale copies of her.

It is said that Lata is a godsend for music composers. Her vocal artistry is such that even the most complex of compositions are within her easy reach.

It is no wonder, therefore, that most of the memorable songs in Hindi films have been sung by her.


Lata, in her own inimitable style and humility, gives all the credit to her music directors. She feels beholden to the late Ghulam Haider and Khemchand Prakash who, among others, fought for her when she was a young girl in pigtails with a reed-thin voice.

Her first Hindi film song Paon lagoon kar jori was recorded in 1947 for film Aap Ki Seva Mein. But it was in 1948 that she blossomed as a singer with numbers such as Ghulam Haider’s Bedard tere dard ko (Padmini), Sham Sundar’s Sun lo sajan dil ki baat (Lahore) and Anil Biswas’ Mere liye woh gham-e-intezaar chod gaye (Anokha Pyar).

Lata remembers that Nargis, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar were present at the recording of Andaaz number Uthayeja unke sitam aur jiye ja`85. "After the recording, Raj Kapoor sent for me. A fair and handsome young man came to my house to convey the message. Seeing him, I remarked to my sister, ‘Just look at him Meena, even a messenger boy looks like a hero these days — looks like the staffers at RK studio are as handsome as their owner’." When Lata went to Raj Kapoor’s Chembur office to meet him, she was introduced to the handsome messenger. He was Barsaat’s composer Jaikishan. Shankar-Jaikishan, Lata says, had a ring of freshness to them. They lacked the classical touch of Anil Biswas and Naushad, but they knew their beat, were masters of rhythm and introduced a whole new style of orchestration.

In 1949, she had to her credit chartbusters from films like Barsaat, Andaaz, Badi Bahen, Bazar and Lahore. The recording of the Mahal number Aayega aanewala aayega aayega, according to her, was done in a huge studio. "I was made to stand in a corner of a hall with the mike placed in the centre. As I inched my way to the mike singing the prelude Khamosh hai zamaana chup chaap hain sitare..., the song sounded as though some one was walking while singing."

With all humility, Lata admits that Anil Biswas taught her when to breathe in and breathe out and when to pause while singing. He also made her aware of the correct exposition of the taal and kaal, in songs Aankhon sey door jakey, Jana na dil sey door, Kahan tak hum uthayen gham, Mera naram karejwa dol gaya, etc.

She acknowledges the contribution of Sajjad Hussain in chiselling her voice. He was a die-hard perfectionist. He taught her how to render the alaap in a subdued voice.

This woman with the golden voice acknowledges that Sachin Dev Burman had a deep and vast knowledge of folk music. He was particular about understanding the situation for which a song was being composed. Since he himself was a good singer, he could advise and guide Lata as to how he wanted a song to be rendered. "After Phailee huyee hain sapno ki bahen aaja chal dein kahin door for House No 44, he was so pleased with the recording and the rendition that he gave me a paan."

Jaidev had a deep knowledge of classical music as he had been an assistant to S.D. Burman for a long time. He became independent with Hum Dono. Since Lata had a tiff with him, she refused to sing for him. But Dev Anand told her that if she did not sing for Hum Dono, Jaidev could lose the assignment. The bhajans that Lata recorded for Jaidev — Allah tero naam, eshwar tero naam followed by Prabhu tero naam jo dhaaye phal paaye — have till date remained matchless.

Madan Mohan, according to Lata, was the most difficult to please. She recounts an episode during the recording of Naino mein badra chhaye: "I was rehearsing before the mike. Madan bhaiyya was angry at some of the musicians who were playing off key. There was a door in between them. He sprang lividly towards the musicians and instead of opening it, he hit the glass with his hand. He was bleeding profusely but went on to say, ‘Besure bajatey ho. Sur ke saath baimani karte ho. Sharam nahin aati tumko.’" She regrets that filmmakers did not recognise his greatness as a composer in his lifetime as he did not cultivate any group.

Lata recounts an amusing incident about Chitragupta. Once while she was recording a song with him, she observed that his chappal was broken. When she pointed it out to him, he said that he did not want to discard it because he considered it lucky for his recording. Lata asked him, "Kyon Chitragupta ji, aapko apni chappal pe itna vishwas hai, hamare gaane pe nahin?"

Roshan and Lata shared a close bond. When Roshan came to Bombay, he lived in a garage near Lata’s home. Roshan’s son Rakesh Roshan was born in the garage. Roshan’s compositions such as Ae re main to prem diwani mera dard na jane koye, Rahen na rehen hum and Rahte thhe kabhi jinke dil mein hum jaan sey bhi pyaron ki taraha are her favourites.

The very mention of Laxmikant-Pyarelal makes Lata nostalgic. When they went to her for the first song, they brought along a cheque for Rs 101. The song, she says, was so good that she would have sung it even if they had given her just Re 1.

R.D. Burman made his presence felt in a big way in Nasir Hussain’s Baharon ke sapne. He introduced the idea of having overlapping tracks. "He recorded my voice with musicians and sent them away. He then made me hear the song on my headphone and sing the overlapping version. He always experimented like this throughout his career."

Ghazal maestro Khayyam, says Lata, has a specific style. "His songs have an individuality. He is a perfectionist to the core."

Music lovers feel that it is with Laxmikant-Pyarelal that Lata offered the largest variety of memorable numbers. From the soulful Maa mujhe apne aanchal mein chhupa le to Helen’s raunchy cabaret number Aa jane-e-jaan’ in Intequam, she displayed her versatility. She sounded the most sweet with them, and to a lesser extent with Madan Mohan. She is haunting under Roshan, pleasant under Shankar-Jaikishan and Kalyanji-Anandji, deliciously complex under Salil Choudhary, unusual under the then nascent R.D.Burman, captivating under Ravi and mesmerising under Naushad.

About Naushad, Lata says that he always insists on rehearsing a song for 10 to 15 days. Even after that he takes several retakes. Naushad remembers that at the recording of the song Tere sadke balam na kar koi gham from Amar, many takes had to be taken as he tried to get one murki of the song right. 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 singing the song to get the desired level of perfection.

Ghulam Mohammed, says Lata, was yet another name whose music will continue to reverberate in the world of of music. Ghulam was a great innovator and his compositions represented a fusion of the classical and the folk style of music. Ghulam’s Pakeeza created a sensation when it was released and still continues to haunt with its tunes.

The emergence of young composers like A.R.Rehman, Vishal Bhardwaj and Sandeep Chowta have also used Lata’s voice innovatively by designing songs which suit the present condition of her voice. Despite her age, Lata’s magic lives on. It is one magic that will never cease to amaze.