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

I owe it all to God and my father
Vimla Patil talks to Lata Mangeshkar on her life, times and her art:

"THE first memory of my childhood is the family home in Sangli, when I was about four years old. In this town, my father — Master Dinanath Mangeshkar — ran a theatre company under the patronage of Raje Patwardhan of that riyasat. My father would teach music to his disciples and I would copy the music, note for note, sitting on the kitchen shelves, singing for the benefit of the cook and other staff. I never sang in the presence of my father and he never knew that I could sing. One day, however, my father left a student to do riyaz in Raag Puriya Dhanashri and went on an errand. I peeped into the riyaz room and saw that the student was going wrong in the notes and corrected the singing. Just then my father returned and he heard me correcting the student.

The beginning of her career:

"From then on, he taught me meticulously and I sang with him for the first time in a play in 1938. At the age of nine, I played the role of Narad in Sangeet Saubhadra, where my father played the role of Arjun. But soon, my father moved on and became a filmmaker in the Kolhapur studios, and this change turned out to be his undoing. He lost money and, soon, our family’s condition deteriorated drastically. My father became ill and my brother Hridaynath, who had a problem with his leg, became seriously ill. Both needed expensive treatment and good doctors."


Mangeshkar family’s dark days:

" In 1942, my father died, leaving a large family of four young daughters and a son—I was the eldest and after me there were Meena, Asha, Usha and Hridaynath. We were orphans in the hands of a mother who did not know how to earn a livelihood. I can’t even remember crying at my father’s funeral, because I had suddenly become the breadwinner of the family at 13. I had to provide money for my sibling’s education and my brother’s treatment. Work was a desperate need. I wanted that my sisters and brothers should become doctors, engineers and get settled in life with good careers. This was not to be. All five of us took to music and became playback singers later in life. I got my first film role in Pahili Mangalagaur, a Marathi film made by Master Vinayak, the father of actress Nanda. I would be in the studios for long hours, often without food. I hated make-up and lights. I constantly prayed that this phase of my life would be over and that I would become a playback singer rather than an actress.

" In 1944, I brought my family to Mumbai and we lived in a one-room tenement in Nana Chowk in Central Mumbai. I waited in studios endlessly to get a chance to sing. My voice was considered too thin for stars of those days like Nargis or Kamini Kaushal. I went around, giving ‘trials’ to many music directors in the hope of getting work. It was Ghulam Hyder who gave me my first opportunity in singing. We were both standing at the deserted Malad suburban station when he hummed a tune he had composed and I sang it right there. This song was used in the film Majboor. From then on, Khemchand Prakash and Anil Biswas gave me work and I settled down to a career.

On her first success:

"The song Ayega Anewala from Mahal began my super-success story. After singing that song, I became nationally known and never looked back again. I learnt Urdu diction and with Naushad, sang one hit after another. I became the favourite of all music directors. RK films, Mehboob, Filmistan, Bombay Talkies, Bimal Roy — all the producers wanted my work. By the mid-fifties, I had arrived on the national film scene. I sang with Mukesh, Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey and every top male singer who came on the scene.

Recording was a ‘different experience’ in the early years: "Recording songs in those early days was a challenging experience. In an orchestra of 100 musicians and a group of chorus singers, if one person made a mistake, we had to repeat the whole song all over again. Since the songs were recorded on film and not on tape or CDs as it is today, any defect in the film would mean re-recording. Often, this took the whole day or several days and I had to sometimes go without food or water.

About her personal life:

"I have carried my familial responsibilities with total dedication. I owe it to God and my father."