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India: Lata Mangeshkar, the Voice of India, the Soundtrack of Our Lives, Is No More

Monday 7 February 2022, by siawi3


Lata Mangeshkar, the Voice of India, the Soundtrack of Our Lives, Is No More

A link with the Golden past of India has gone, but her songs will live on in the hearts of every one of us.

Lata Mangeshkar. Photo: Instagram/Lata Mangeshkar

Sidharth Bhatia

6.02.22 14 hours ago

It is difficult to really explain what Lata Mangeshkar meant to India. She was a constant presence in the lives of several generations, she sang tens of thousands of songs, she voiced female stars across the decades – all these are undoubtedly important and put her in a stratosphere, perhaps beyond the reach of ordinary mortals.

But Lata – we can only call her that, she was so much a part of our lives – was much more than that. She was the Voice of India, representing the newly independent country’s hopes, aspirations, dreams but also, at various stages, its emotions. When anyone fell in love, Lata gave it expression, when her heart broke, and life seemed full of despair, again Lata was at hand, singing about the pathos of loss. She was the soundtrack of our lives. It was the time of the greats – Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Manna De, Asha Bhosle and most of all, Lata Mangeshkar.

In that, Lata was like Umm Kulthum of Egypt or Noorjehan of Pakistan; much more than a singer – she was a symbol, a totem of the best that India had to offer. No one else, even if they had the longevity, will ever replace that status – she was unique, one of a kind. And that is why the cliché ‘the end of an era’ truly applies to her.

Lata Mangeshkar was born in Indore, then part of the Central India Agency, in 1929. Her father Deenanath Mangeshkar was a classical singer and theatre actor, and her mother Shevanti was also a singer The family later adopted the surname Mangeshkar because they were originally from Mangeshi, Goa, where the Mangeshi temple still exists.

More siblings followed – Asha, Usha, Meena and their brother Hridaynath. All of them learnt music and have sung in films, though it is Asha Bhosle who is the most successful of them all.

Their father Dinanath died in 1942 and the 13-year-old Lata had no option but to work. A family friend, Master Vinayak, a successful film actor, took the young Lata around and got her work – she began singing almost immediately and acted as a child artist in a few films too. The family moved to Bombay where she began learning classical music under Ustad Aman Ali Khan of the Bhendi Bazar gharana.

Also read: Memories of Longing and Lata Mangeshkar

Music director Ghulam Haider took her under his wing and showed her around, predicting great things for her in the face of much skepticism. The field was dominated by singing stars like Noorjehan and Suraiya or others like Zohrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai Karnataki, Shamshad Begum and Geeta Dutt – there was not much chance for a newcomer to break in, except sing a few songs here and there.

But then, a new country was born. Noorjehan left for Pakistan, and the field was wide open. In 1949, Lata scored four big hits under four music directors – Ek The Ladki (Vinod), with the hugely popular Lara Lappa, Barsaat (Shankar Jaikishan), the pathos filled ‘Uthaye ja unke sitam‘ in Andaz (Naushad) and finally, what was to become her signature song, ‘Aayega koi aanewala‘ (Khemchand Prakash) in the Gothic film Mahal. She later recalled that Prakash told her to sing each of the opening lines by moving closer to the mike slowly. The effect is mesmerising.

A 20-year-old Lata Mangeshkar had arrived. Now no one could ignore her. The world would indeed fall at her feet, as Ghulam Haider had predicted.

There has been speculation, especially among Pakistanis, whether she could have reached those heights had Noorjehan not left. But this guesswork is futile and on balance, one can say she would have. Noorjehan and others had ‘Muslim voices’ – voices replete with a rich and heavy texture – which may not have suited the actresses who were to come in the 1950s and after. Mubarak Begum, who came much after Noorjehan et all, found that her style of singing did not suit the typical Indian on-screen actress – pure and virginal – which Lata had and cultivated.

Lata Mangeshkar’s voice was in that sense ‘neutral’, that any actress, even if we played a tomboy and modern miss, could lip-sync to, without losing her essential ‘Indianness’. For years Lata did not sing any cabaret or a ‘drunken’ song, preferring to leave it to Asha Bhosle, who, always with a twinkle in her eye, brought great seductive charm to such renditions. Only once, in Intequam (1969), she playbacked for Sadhana, who tipsily song, ‘Kaise rahoon chup’ complete with lurching and hiccups.

But though she proved adept at this too, her range was too vast and her fans loved her for it. Whether it was a bhajan like ‘Allah tero naam‘ or a sad song such as ‘Jaa re ud jaa re panchi‘ or a breezy number like ‘Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai”, giving expression to Rosy’s (Waheeda Rehman in Guide) sense of freedom after leaving a loveless marriage.

Lata was already popular but she rose to become a national icon on Republic Day, 1963, when in front of an audience with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sitting in front, she sang ‘Ae mere vatan ke logo’ written specially for the occasion by Pradeep. The mood was sombre – the year before India had lost the war with China – and the song, reminding people of the sacrifice of the solders who had lost their lives, reflected the national mood perfectly. It was a time of reflection, not the kind of bogus and rousing nationalism we see today. Nehru reportedly had tears in his eyes, and so did the rest of the country.

The Golden Years of Hindi songs from the 1940s till the end of the 1960s continued and Lata was very much at the centre of it. The very next year she sang one of her greatest songs under the baton of her favourite music director Madan Mohan.

Her life was not without controversy. She fought with many of her colleagues such as Mohammed Rafi and also music directors such as S.D. Burman and Shankar Jaikishan. But in the end they all went back to her – there was no choice. Only O.P. Nayyar, who swore he would never work with her, stuck to his word and preferred Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhosle.

Lata was also accused of sabotaging – often in tandem with her sister – any competition, styling the careers of rising singers such as Suman Kalyanpur and even Vani Jairam, who came only in the 1970s.

These stories remained unverified, but Lata’s greatest strength, apart from the quality of her voice, was her perfection, both in training and practice. When, early in her career, Dilip Kumar reportedly said her voice was too ‘vegetarian’ – it had the ‘boo of dal chaval (the smell of rice and dal)’ were supposed to be his exact words he used – and therefore she could not sing in Urdu or even Hindustani, the lingua franca of Bombay films, she diligently learnt the language, as this song from Mughal-e-Azam shows. She was no slouch at difficult classical numbers either, matching Mohammad Rafi at every step.

Also read: The Songs That Made Lata Mangeshkar a Legend

She continued well into the 1970s, ‘80s, ‘90s and the 21st century. In the 1990s, she sang for Madhuri Dixit, Raveena Tandon and Sridevi – each song became popular. She is reported to have sung in over 30 languages, and many listeners couldn’t find any imperfection in her pronunciation or inflexion.

The strain had begun to show in her voice towards the end of the decade and she took less and less assignments. Newer voices were emerging and younger filmmakers often preferred them. She was gracefully withdrawing from the field – she had after all been part of the era when songs had meaning and melody. The Hindi film song was fading away and now films and OTT shows rarely use songs, certainly not in the way earlier filmmakers did.

Lata was passionately fond of cricket, and often landed up in England to watch India playing, She also loved photography and travel. She has won Filmfare awards, national awards, the Dadasaheb Phalke award and all the Padmas, finally culminating with the Bharat Ratna in 2001, a title that suits her perfectly.

‘Kambhakt kabhi besuri nahin hoti (She just never is out of tune)’ is the reported comment of the great Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. He was right. She just went on and on, and now she is no more, and another link with that glorious past has gone – a past that represented the values of another India. But while Lata Mangeshkar may have left us, the song lives on, on the internet, in various digital and analogue forms, and most of all, in our hearts and memories.



An artist born but once in centuries’: Politicians, Bollywood actors pay tribute to Lata Mangeshkar

“I am anguished beyond words," says Indian PM Narendra Modi.

Reuters Published 6.02.22 about 6 hours ago

Top Bollywood personalities and politicians paid tribute to Lata Mangeshkar, the singer who embodied music and melody for generations of Indians and who died on Sunday aged 92.

Ram Nath Kovind, president of India
“Lata ji’s demise is heart breaking for me, as it is for millions the world over. In her vast range of songs, rendering the essence and beauty of India, generations found expression of their inner-most emotions. A Bharat Ratna, Lata ji’s accomplishments will remain incomparable.
“An artist born but once in centuries, [she] was an exceptional human being, full of warmth, as I found whenever I met her. The divine voice has gone quiet forever but her melodies will remain immortal, echoing in eternity. My condolences to her family and admirers everywhere.”

Narendra Modi, prime minister of India
“I am anguished beyond words. The kind and caring Lata has left us. She leaves a void in our nation that cannot be filled. The coming generations will remember her as a stalwart of Indian culture, whose melodious voice had an unparalleled ability to mesmerise people.
“Her songs brought out a variety of emotions. She closely witnessed the transitions of the Indian film world for decades. Beyond films, she was always passionate about India’s growth. She always wanted to see a strong and developed India.
“I consider it my honour that I have always received immense affection from Lata Didi. My interactions with her will remain unforgettable. I grieve with my fellow Indians on the passing away of Lata Didi.”

Imran Khan, prime minister of Pakistan
“With the death of Lata Mangeshkar, the subcontinent has lost one of the truly great singers the world has known. Listening to her songs has given so much pleasure to so many people all over the world.”

Hamid Karzai, former president of Afghanistan
“With her voice, Lata Mangeshkar filled millions of hearts with joy. Her melodies are universal and forever. My profound condolence to her family and the people of India. May the nightingale of India rest in peace.”

Rahul Gandhi, member of parliament, India
“She remained the most beloved voice of India for many decades. Her golden voice is immortal and will continue to echo in the hearts of her fans. My condolences to her family, friends and fans.”

Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood actor
“She has left us ... The voice of a million centuries has left us ... her voice resounds now in the Heavens! Prayers for calm and peace.”

Anil Kapoor, actor
“Heartbroken, but blessed to have known and loved this incredible soul ... Lata ji holds a place in our hearts that will never be taken by anyone else. That’s how profoundly she has impacted our lives with her music. May she rest in peace and light up the heavens with her brightness.”

Salman Khan, actor
“(You) will be missed our nightingale. But (your) voice shall live with us forever.”

Karan Johar, filmmaker
“Today heaven truly gained the voice of an angel. I grew up listening to Lata ji’s song and as I mourn her loss today - I know with absolute confidence ... she has left an indelible mark on our Indian culture for many generations to come.
“Thank you for making an entire nation swoon with your pure voice. RIP.”

Board of Control for Cricket in India
“The Indian Cricket Team is wearing black armbands today to pay their respects to Bharat Ratna Lata Mangeshkar-ji who left for her heavenly abode on Sunday morning. The queen of melody, Lata Didi loved cricket, always supported the game and backed Team India.”

Virat Kohli, Indian cricketer
“Deeply saddened to hear about the demise of Lata ji. Her melodious songs touched millions of people around the world. Thank you for all the music and the memories. My deepest condolences to the family and the loved ones.”

Farhan Akhtar, actor and director
“So this is what it feels like to lose a part of a nations source of collective pride and joy. It hurts and leaves an indelible void. Sad, sad day. RIP Lata ji.”

Photo: People pay tribute in front of a portrait of Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar, in Kolkata on February 6. — AFP