LATA MANGESHKAR – Legendary Playback Singers In India – Volume – 1

28th September. On this day a legend was born. It is the voice that is broadcasted every second from radio stations all over the world. Even today, in the age of Youtube, Saavn, Gaana etc it is the voice most often heard. It is the voice of Lata Mangeshkar !!

How difficult it is to write about Lata Mangeshkar!! What can one say that has not been said before? She is truly a legend, one who has straddled generations with seeming ease. The past seven decades have seen her sing for countless heroines. Sadhana once said that heroines felt they had ‘arrived’ when Lata Mangeshkar lent them her voice.  At her best, she was peerless.

It is not that there weren’t good singers before her, or after. It is just that when she burst on the scene and found her bearings, there was no one who could match the purity of her voice or her control over pitch. “Kambakth kabhi besuri nahin hoti” is what Bade Ghulam Alisaab  had to say after listening to her sing Ye zindagi usi ki hai. What is more, she made it seem effortless.

Perhaps being able to hold pitch at an impossible octave was also her weakness. It certainly made music directors give her compositions that were pitched higher and higher. She once complained to Shankar-Jaikishen that they were making life difficult for her by only giving her songs in the higher octaves.

From Madhubala to Kajol, she sang for all. Heroines made it explicit in the contract that their songs will be sung by Lata. From Bharat Ratna to the highest French Civilian Award Legion D’Honour, she’s received them all. She stopped accepting Filmfare awards after a bagful. She has an award named after her for the best composer! She even has a perfume named after her!! In the advertisement for the perfume, she wrote, “Rahe na rahe hum mehka karenge. . . . .!!”

Lata was also a composer in her own right. “Ram Ram Pavhana” was the only film for which she yielded the baton in her own name. The other four films she composed as Anandghan.

It is difficult, or well nigh impossible to choose her ‘best’ songs or even my ‘favourite’ songs from her oeuvre. I have ‘favourites’ that run into hundreds. I have no idea then how to categorise this selection – By heroine? By music director? By mood?  I do not know.

Out of the many, many songs that I love, here, I have picked a few solos, in no particular order, which will always be close to my heart. They display her amazing range, and a gamut of emotions. (Lata Mangeshkar was known to ask about the character’s age, her background, and the situation,  before recording the song.)

Aayega Aanewala 
Mahal (1949)
Music: Khemchand Prakash
Lyrics: Nakhshab

Full of hope and longing for a lover who will come one day, the singer wonders Tadpega koi kab tak be-aas be-sahaare, then reassures herself, Lekin yeh keh rehe hain dil ke  mere ishaare – aayega aayega aanewala – he will definitely come.

This is definitely the Lata song, the number that catapulted her into the top league. She was 20. From its haunting beginning –Khamosh hai zamana, chhup-chhaap hai sitaarein – she had it under perfect control, each note ringing true and pure. Exquisite!

Producers Ashok Kumar and Savak Vachha, and music director Khemchand Prakash had a difference of opinion about the song, but the latter stood firm, so sure was he of his composition. Eventually, the veteran music director’s opinion prevailed, and they recorded the song.

Director Kamal Amrohi had a vision of how to evoke the mood and atmosphere that he was looking for through this song. In order to create the effect of the song coming from far away, Lata stood in the corner of the studio, far away from the mike. She began singing the alaap, walking towards the mike as she did so, and then sang the refrain ‘aayega aanewala’ as she reached the mike. They repeated this process many times to finally record the song. It took them a whole day.

Even after the recording, producer Vacha remained unconvinced. However, upon release, the song justified its music director’s belief. Unfortunately, Khemchand Prakash passed away not knowing of its success. In those days, the singer’s name was not credited on the music disc. Therefore, when the song was released, it was credited to ‘Kamini’, the name of Madhubala’s character in Mahal.

O Sajna Barkha Bahaar Aayi

Parakh (1960)
Music: Salil Chowdhury
Lyrics: Shailendra

This is one song that will rank among my all-time favourites. I love the cheery pitter-patter of the rain, the sheer exuberance (albeit quiet) of

love, the notes that trill and ebb with such ease – the music, the lyrics, the singing, the picturisation where a luminous Sadhana, in love with the village school master, is enjoying the rains, its music echoing the beats of her heart – this is one song where they all meld into that harmonious romantic whole. It never ceases to make me smile.

Salil Chowdhury’s compositions were not easy  to sing. There were so many high notes and low notes that the musicians were often flustered, but Lata Mangeshkar enjoyed singing them. In this song, listen carefully to how the notes rise and fall in the antara – Aisi rhim-jhim mein o sajan, pyaase pyaase mere nayan tere hi khwaab mein kho gaye – and then rise to a crescendo with Saanwli saloni ghata… Beautiful!

(Parakh has another of my favourite numbers – Gira hai kisi ka jhumka, which was Lata’s personal favourite. Salilda was a genius!)

In an interview, Lata once said, “Over the course of my life I have worked with over a hundred music directors. Of these, perhaps only ten understood both music and cinema. And of these ten, Salilda was the foremost.”


O Beqaraar Dil
Kohraa (1964)
Music Director: Hemant Kumar
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi

An exuberance of a different kind. The kind that comes from being so happy that one is now in love with tears – Ho chuka hain mujhko aansuon se pyaar – that one does not want any more happiness – Mujhe tu khushi na de, nai zindagi na de… Waheeda lip-syncs so beautifully to Lata’s voice that you really do not know who is acting and who is singing.

The Hindi version of Hemantda’s Bengali composition, O nodi re, he changed the orchestration, using violins, cellos and the bamboo flute to great effect. Kohra, inspired by Alfred Hichcock’s Rebecca, had some wonderful songs; another favourite from the same film is the haunting Jhoom jhoom dhalti raat.

Lata Mangeshkar was a great fan of Hemant Kumar even before she had met him. The first song she recorded for him (as composer) was for Vande Mataram.


Ye Zindagi Usi Ki Hai
Anarkali (1953)
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishen

This has been a personal favourite even before I watched the film – the doomed love story of a prince and a courtesan had me shedding enough tears, and Lata’s voice held such pathos as Anarkali (a very beautiful Bina Rai on screen) bids farewell to her lover. What if they could not meet in this life? Another awaits –  Do dil yahaan na mil sake, Milenge us jahaan mein, Khilenge hasraton ke phool, Jaake aasmaan mein.

I confess that when she gets to “Ae zindagi ki shaam aa, Tujhe gale lagaoon mein, Tujhii mein doob jaaon mein, Jahaan ko bhool jaaoon mein, Bas ik nazar mere sanam, Alvida alvida…”, I am in tears.

Even now, when I watch its picturisation, I mentally exhort Prince Salim to ride faster so he can get there before they bury her alive. (I also wonder why the heck he couldn’t just break the wall down when he reaches there, instead of just sitting and crying! But then, there wouldn’t be a story, would there?)

C Ramchandra was not the original composer of the film. In fact, composer Basant Prakash (composer Khemchand Prakash’s younger brother) had composed and recorded one song with Geeta Dutt. His untimely death brought in C Ramchandra. He composed the entire score for the film, on condition that Lata sing all the songs. Filmistan, the producers, agreed, but the Geeta Dutt song Aa jaane wafa remained.

What very few people know, is that part of Ye zindagi usi ki hai was composed by Roshan. C Ramchandra did not feel that he was getting the right tune for the verse ‘Sunaayegi ye daastan shama mere mazaar ki, Khizaan mein bhi khili rahi ye kali anaar ki, Ise mazaar mat kaho yeh mahal hai pyaar ka,’ and asked Roshan, who was there in Filmistan at the time, to give it a try. Roshan borrowed the harmonium and composed the tune for that verse on the spot.

Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Ye
Dil Apna aur Preet Parayi  (1960)
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Shailendra

Another song that has been a favourite for as long as I have been listening to Hindi songs. Once again, the lyrics are full of pathos – she is in love with him, now he is married to another. Her love is not selfish; she can only hide her tears and wish him well. Congratulate him, even though, in becoming dear to someone, he has gone far away from her… Mubarake tumhi ke tum, kisi ke noor ho gaye, Kisi ke itne paas ho, ke sabse door ho gaye…

It is a strange story indeed, no one knows where it began, or where it will end (that is strangely prescient), but she will never be able to forget him – Kisi ke pyaar leke tum naya jahaan basaaoge Yeh shaam jab bhi aayegi tum humko yaad aaoge.

Lata’s voice is soft, full of the pain of heartbreak, of seeing one’s hopes and dreams dashed before they have time to bloom. Shankar-Jaikishen imbued the lyrics with just the right dash of music, its lilting melody complementing Lata’s voice in exquisite detail.

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