Queen of cadence

Lata Mangeshkar’s inimitable voice reigns supreme conveying a wide and varied range of emotions. So much so that music lovers look for it in every female playback singer,
writes M. L. Dhawan as Lata turns 77 on September 28

During the days of struggle, Lata walked barefoot for miles, from one studio to another
During the days of struggle, Lata walked barefoot for miles, from one studio to another
Lata’s songs mix substance and popular appeal
Lata’s songs mix substance and popular appeal

Lata Mangeshkar is not just a name; she has become an institution. Connoisseurs of music point out that Goddess Saraswati sings through her voice. Since Paa lagoon kar jori from Aap Ki Sewa Mein (1947), she has done nothing but sewa to the seven notes. Even at 77, she continues to enthral when she barely records 10 songs a year.

The haunting strains of Aayega aayega aanewala (Mahal) marked the emergence of a voice that was to enchant music lovers all over the world. With a variety of songs that followed in Barsaat and Andaaz, etc, Lata defined the form and course of Hindi film music, stamping it with her indelible identity.

Over the years Lata Mangeshkar perfected the art of feminine expression in film music. Her voice sat so perfectly on heroines—it seemed to suit them all. While singing, Lata’s emotions are never underdone or overdone. In Aisi bhee batein hoti hain in Anupama, Sharmila Tagore’s innocence and vulnerability is portrayed touchingly. In Jaa jaa jaa mere bachpan kahin jaa ke chhup nadaan (Junglee), Saira Banu’s innocence and impish romance is effectively brought out.

Lata’s hypnotic songs, picturised on Beena Rai in AnarkaliYeh zindagi usi ki hai, Mohabbat aisi dharkan hai, Zamana yeh samjha keh hum pee ke aaye—drove the public crazy. Vyjyanthimala undulating in Nagin singing Tan dole mora man dole, Mera dil yeh pukare aaja, mesmerised the masses.

During the days of her struggle, Lata walked barefoot for miles, from one studio to another, to record songs for a pittance to support her family. It was the pain of those years that resounded in Tum kya jano tumhari yaad mein hum kitna roye, Tum na jane kis jahan mein kho gaye, Woh to chaley gaye ae dil yaad se unki pyar kar, etc. These songs stir your soul profoundly.

Lata’s songs mix substance and popular appeal, never letting one thrive at the expense of the other. She pioneered a genre of music that was totally different from what the music lovers had been used to. She conveyed a vast spectrum of emotions in her songs. Rasik balma dil kyon lagaya conveyed the pining of a lover; Guzra hua zamana aata nahin dobaara was plaintive and full of pathos. Her voice is timeless as are the emotions she croons in Rahen na rahen hum, mehka karenge ban ke kali banke saba bagh-e-wafa mein.

She captures a lifetime of pain and agony in Rote rote guzar gayee raat re. O Ganga maiyya paar lage de more sapnon ki naiyya—Lata sings this lullaby with such a welter of feelings that makes one wonder how she has infused caressing maternal feelings in her v oice. Her songs touch the heart even decades after they were recorded. Their freshness is eternal and their appeal remains undiminished by time.

It is her ability to imbibe the lyrics, capture the mood, skilfully balance changing cadences that makes each of her song a milestone. With Ae mere watan ke logo, she brought tears into the eyes of many. While singing Allah tero naam, Eshwar tero naam, her singing mirrored the rapture of a devotee who had seen God. Whether it is an intricate classical number, Dukhiyare naina dhoonden piya ko, or a bhajan, Ae ree main to prem deewani mera dard na jane koy, or a geet, Jogiya se preet kiye dukh hoy or a ghazal, Hum hain mataye-e-koocha-o-bazar ki tarah or a lyrical gem, Yoon hi koyee mil gaya tha, she sings them with equal ease.

Think of the wide-eyed, child-woman appeal of Dimple Kapadia in Bobby singing Hum tum ik kamre main band hon and then remember the mature, sensitive Dimple as Reeva in Lekin yearning for salvation on the sand dunes of Rajasthan singing Yara sili sili birha ki raat ka jalna. The Midas touch in her voice is intact as she sings Hum to bhayee jaise hain waise rehenge in Veer-Zaara for Preity Zinta. Her voice conveys the same blend of innocence, vulnerability and silkiness as it had when she sang Abhi to main jawan hoon in Afsaanaa in 1951 under the baton of Husnlal-Bhagatram.

In the annals of Hindi film music, Lata has become a legend in her own lifetime. Her inimitable voice has so much become a part of the music lovers’ lives that they look for it in every female singer.