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October - November 2004


Film India: Lata Mangeshkar

by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

Lata Mangeshkar is often described as ‘Nightingale’ of India. But that can not explain her genius. Lata completes 75 years on 23rd September. Here is a look at her illustrious career spanning six decades.

Lata Mangeshkar is the undisputed queen of melody. Her mellifluous voice, her musical talent can’t be described in words. Even before Lata, the Hindi Film Industry was full of female singers, and they were popular too. But when Lata Mangeshkar entered the world of celluloid, the scene changed completely. Her enchanting voice took everyone by surprise. Her voice and her talent posed a challenge to music composers’ genius. The total concept of ‘film music’ changed with the arrival of the phenomena called Lata Mangeshkar.

Times have changed, tastes have changed, style of Hindi film music has undergone a great change, yet one thing remains unchanged; the magic of Lata Mangeshkar’s voice. Despite her unique musical talent and great voice the beginning was difficult for her.

“Her voice is thin like her. How this ‘ghati’ girl would be able to pronounce Hindi and Urdu words with their right intonations?” These were the reactions expressed with reservation when a miracle called Lata Mangeshkar emerged on the horizon of the world of Hindi Film Music. The excellent musical virtuosity of Lata could not prove to be enough compensation for getting the stamp of approval by the then ‘Bujurgs’ easily.

The singer actresses of the early talkies brought the singing styles of ‘Tawaifs’ and ‘Mehfils’ to films. Bibbo, Kajjan, Amirbai Karnataki, Zohra, Munnibai, Khurshid and of course, Begum Akhtar and M. S. Subbalakshmi were the prominent singer-actresses of that period. (But Begum Akhtar and Subbalakshmi diverted their careers shortly afterwards and concentrated only on classical music and have made laudable contributions in their respective fields.)

Because of these singers, somewhat slow and relaxed mood and style of singing prevailed in the film music. Characteristically they sung in an artificial ‘base’ (Kharj) and ‘husky’ voice. Dramatised and nasalised pronunciation of words was much in vogue then. But in this ever-changing and developing film world, this style was soon to be extinct. Instead of a husky base, singers started adopting the style of more open-throated singing, using a little high pitch and singing in natural octave. ‘Dunia, ye Dunia Toofan Mail’ (Jawab), sung by Kananbala (Kanandevi), and ‘Nacho Nacho Pyare Man Ke More’ (Punarmilan), sung by Snehaprabha Pradhan, bear testimony to this change.
Still the influence of Bengali music and Ragdari (a classical style) was very much evident. A singer devoid of gifted voice has the limitation of sticking to a single octave (saptak). So the compositions had to suit their voice and ability. Hence the compositions were very simple.

Around 1940, a somewhat second phase of film music started. New breed of singers - both male and female - had entered the field like Shamshad Begum, Noorjehan and Suraiya. They had acquainted and adjusted themselves to the medium of film and the technique of the microphone. Noorjehan and Suraiya were beautiful actresses too. All of them started singing in normal, middle scale or normal octave.The most forceful, prominent and popular of them all was Noorjehan. Noorjehan was the supreme singer of the day.

Somewhere around this time, the Punjabi style nearly encroached upon film music with ‘Khazanchi’. This proved to be a good turn. Music director Ghulam Haidar introduced full throated singing, fast rhythm and ‘Punjabiness’ of the music. And that became a hit! No one could think of any other name after Noorjehan, Suraiya, Shamshad, Hamida Banoo and Khurshid, since all of them proved to be proficient in this style and form.

At the same time, a legend was taking a concrete shape. A tender girl, still in her childhood, named Lata Mangeshkar was knocking the doors of destiny. She was in fact toiling for days and nights to get some work. In fact, from 1942, Lata’s hard days began. Her father Master Dinanath Mangeshkar, himself one of the great singers and an actor from Marathi stage, died in 1942. Exactly eight days after her father’s demise, destiny had forced Lata to prepare for a role in ‘Pahili Mangalagaur’, a Marathi film by Master Vinayak. Datta Dawjekar was the music director, under whose baton Lata was to sing her first song as a playback singer for the film ‘Aap Ki Seva Me’, in 1947.

While searching for a job or rather any type of work, Lata came across one of the ‘extra suppliers’. He took her to Ghulam Haidar. Though Haidar had heard her once before, he had not thought of her as a playback singer. But then an appointment was fixed.

On the said day, Lata was waiting for hours, for the composer to arrive! Busy in rehearsals and recordings, Ghulam Haidar forgot about the appointment. After coming out of the recording studio, he met this girl and, expressing his regrets, asked her to sing. Lata presented the then top hit song, of course, by Noorjehan,’ Bulbulo Mat Ro Yahan’. Ghulam Haidar was more than happy. But the production controller of Filmistan studios, S. Mukerjee, rejected her, for ‘her voice was too thin.’

“A day will come when this film world will be at her feet and her voice will outclass all other singers. All other singers including Noorjehan shall be forgotten.” Ghulam Haidar warned S. Mukerjee. And his prophecy came true within a couple of years.

Indian Railway has to its credit the birth of Lata’s first ever song from Majboor. It so happened that Lata and Ghulam Haidar were travelling to Bombay Talkies by a suburban train. Listening to the rattling sound of the train, a composition flashed in Haidar’s mind suddenly. He hummed the tune to Lata and after listening to it only once, she reproduced it. After an hour or so, Lata was recording Dil Mera Toda Toone, Kahin Ka Nahin Choda Toone. After not less than 32 takes, this song was finally recorded.With a curiosity to see and hear ‘Masterji’, Haidar’s new find, stalwarts like Khemchand Prakash, Naushad, Anil Biswas, Husnlal and Bhagatram had assembled at Majboor recording, they were simply astonished by Haidar’s new find. ‘After this song, I never looked back’, even Lata admits it. Majboor was followed by Padmini, Andaz, Lahor, Bazaar and of course’ Barsaat’. A musical empire of the empress Lata Mangeshkar was established and till to date she reigns supreme over the hearts of millions of music lovers all over the world.

In the early stage of Lata’s career, one can clearly feel Noorjehan’s influence, over her style of singing. On a few occasions, and those are really a few, this influence tends almost towards an imitation. What could be the reason? Lata has been and still is an ardent fan of Noorjehan. From her childhood Lata has always been listening carefully to Noorjehan. Apart from the sublime voice, Lata has a magnificent musical memory. She unknowingly followed her idol, Noorjehan. Secondly, she had no formal training in either Hindi or Urdu, so she took Noorjehan’s way of pronunciation as an ideal. Not only Lata, but nearly for every other music director, Noorjehan was the last word in film music. To speak in Noorjehan’s style had become a fashion then.

Tunes were being composed to suit Noorjehan’s voice and were offered to Lata. This practice continued for quite sometime. Some of the well-known examples are Sajan Ki Galiyan Chod Chale (Bazaar) and Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi (Lahore) composed by Shyamsunder and Tod Diya Dil Mera and Uthaya Ja Unke Sitam, composed by Naushad.
In spite of having a unique style, capacity and an extraordinary range, Lata was forced to sing in the style of Noorjehan. But this turned out to be a very short phase.

A Musical Challenge
Very soon, composers like C. Ramchandra, Anil Biswas, Naushad, Shyamsunder, Sajjad Husain, Khemchand Prakash and Husnlal Bhagatram, started composing exclusively for her and she emerged as Lata Mangeshkar, the Nightingale of India. A rainbow of versatility and eternal beauty, and melody in her voice, made film music aglow with its forceful stream!
Previously, all music directors were conditioned to compose their tunes in order to suit the voice of the singers, and had to compose in accordance with the singers’ limitations. But when Lata appeared on the scene unlimited musical possibilities burst open it front of the music directors. She broke all the shackles of limitations and set free the genius of composers. Everybody was at his liberty to compose any complicated tune, and Lata would beautify it a thousand times more. An era of real ‘musical heat’ had begun. Lata’s exquisite voice, her musical strength and capacity posed a challenge to the music directors’ genius and to enhance their compositions a thousand fold was a challenge for Lata. These challenges and counter challenges have enriched Indian film music in particular and Indian music in general.

Lata has an uncanny gift to delve deep at the depth of the composer’s mind. She can conceive the exact moods, the exact feelings, and the meaning beyond mere words of the ‘geet’ and then her superb voice traverse a great magical span - the effect amazes even the composer himself - only Lata has this unimaginable power of imagination. All music directors, including C. Ramchandra, have accepted this fact.

Lata has personified all the human feelings and emotions in her songs. She does not merely sing. She thinks of the character, the actress who will be interpreting the character, then absorbs the real meaning of the song, and finally creates a fine piece of art. Here Lata stands out as an artist par excellence, and not just a craftsperson. Her approach and study impart that ever freshness to every song. It can be felt even after many decades and after thousands of records.

Lata has offered her voice for a wide variety of songs. From eagerness in waiting for a beloved in “Aayega Anewala (Mahal) and Zarasi Aahat Hoti Hai to Dil Sochata .... (Haquiquat), to the agony of Rasik Balama and to the expression of freedom in Kanton Se Kheech Ke Ye Anchal ... the list would go on unendingly. More than thirty thousand records is a record in itself!

Record Speed
With the emergence of Lata, recording time was reduced, from days to hours. Prior to her, rehearsals for a single song would go on for some days or even for a week, but for Lata, recording two, three or more songs in a day, had been a routine.Many of the music directors, who were famous, had proved their ability before the rise of Lata. But her voice enthused and inspired their genius and many of their immortal compositions came into being.

One can surely say that with Lata, a new era of playback singing opened up. Her admirable voice encompasses the entire three octaves with ease. She has developed, to perfection, a quality of effectively express nuances of meanings with perfect intonation and pronunciation of words. Her voice has always been quite attractive, delightful and clear. For her, the microphone is a womb wherefrom creativity gets birth and re-birth! She takes the poet’s words and the composer’s imagination to extraordinary heights. Besides being a gifted talent, a lot of hard work has gone in to develop that skill.

Even after showing her mettle, in terms of her genius, it has been alleged that she has been blocking the ways of newcomers. This allegation does not hold water at all. It is like criticising pure gold of having surpassed and suppressed imitation jewellery. There have been attempts to decide, who is the greatest, “Lata or her sister Asha Bhosle? But again it is wrong to compare two different kinds of flowers with different blossoms. Both are great in themselves.

To argue whether Lata of good old days (early years of her career) was great or the new Lata (of today), is also meaningless. She has always been committed to her profession and art and still sings with the same dedication. Satyam Sivam Sundaram, Sargam, Utsav, Basera, Ram Teri Ganga..., Hun Aapke Hain Kaun and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge ,Dil to Pagal Hai ,Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam etc. bear eloquent testimony. Listen to her songs composed by her talented composer brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar. All flawless songs !A treasure which makes many moments of our lives happier and beautiful.

Lata & Classical Music
Lata has proved the notion wrong that film music is inferior to classical music. Just listen to the compositions of stalwarts like Sajjad Hussain, Madan Mohan, Jaidev, Naushad, S. D. Burman, Shankar Jaikishan and others, sung by Lata.

These compositions prove this point. These are based or ‘ragas’, ‘mishra ragas’ (blend of ragas) and are in nature, an essence of that particular raga. And Lata has made them all the more beautiful because she has a fine knowledge of classical music; her first ‘guru’ was her father Master Dinanath Mangeshkar.

Dinanath gave everything he knew in music to his gifted and beloved daughter. At the age of eleven Lata could sing around 150 ‘cheeze’ (musical compositions). Unfortunately in the untimely death of Dinanath, Lata lost her best ‘guru’.

Some years after she settled down in the film world, Lata became a Student of Aman Ali Khan Bhendibazarwale to study classical music. After the partition, he migrated to Pakistan. But Lata continued her training under the guidance of Amana Ali Khan. It was discontinued in 1951 due to khan Saheb’s death, yet another calamity.

Even today, Lata performs ‘riyaaz’ every day. A tremendous hard work coupled with intelligence has been the sound foundation of her number one position for the last five decades.
More than four generations have enjoyed the taste of the nectar of Lata’s dazzling voice. Our ears are used to the perfect musical notes (sur) only because of Lata. We cannot accept any outdated note- or ‘besur’. Her voice has evaded all the musical forms that a human mind can conceive of. Millions of music lovers can experience and enjoy the taste of her classic and heavenly voice, only because of Lata. This is a debt we owe to her. It is beyond one’s reach to pay fair compensation for it.

Nikhil Gajendragadkar is a senior journalist in Maharashtra and also teaches Journalism & Communications at the University of Pune. He writes extensively on entertainment media and socio-political subjects of the media for English periodicals and International magazines.

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