If you talk about music in India, it’s very unlikely that the conversation won’t divert to the singlemost entity of Indian music – Lata Mangeshkar. Having recorded songs for over a thousand Hindi movies and over thirty-six regional Indian languages and foreign languages, Lata Mangeshkar is undoubtedly the most celebrated singer of the nation.
Born on September 28, 1929, Lata Mangeshkar’s career began when she sang the song “Naachu Yaa Gade, Khelu Saari Mani Haus Bhaari” which was composed by Sadashivrao Nevrekar for Vasant Joglekar’s Marathi movie ‘Kiti Hasaal’ (1942), but the song was dropped from the final cut. Her first Hindi song was “Mata Ek Sapoot Ki Duniya Badal De Tu” for the Marathi film, ‘Gajaabhaau’ (1943).
Following the partition of India in 1947, Lata Mangeshkar started to learn classical music under Amanat Khan Devaswale. Pandit Tulsidas Sharma, a pupil of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, also trained her.
Dinanath Mangeshkar, her father, owned a theatrical company and was a classical singer, a disciple of the Gwalior school, and gave her singing lessons from around the age of five. In her family were brother Hridaynath, a music director, and sisters Meena, Asha (Asha Bhosle) and Usha.
The first milestone in her career came when she crooned the classic “Aayega Aanewala” from ‘Mahal’ in 1949. The song became a cult in itself and Lataji was an overnight star. The song was composed by music director Khemchand Prakash and lip-synced on screen by actress Madhubala.
Such was Lataji’s determination and devotion towards music that when once veteran actor Dilip Kumar made a mildly disapproving remark about her Maharashtrian accent while singing Hindi/Urdu songs, she took lessons in Urdu from an Urdu teacher named Shafi.
In the 1950s, Lataji sang songs composed by various music directors of the period, including Anil Biswas (‘Tarana’ and ‘Heer’), Shankar Jaikishan, Naushad Ali, S D Burman, Pandit Husan Lal Bhagat Ram (‘Behan’, ‘Meena Bazaar’, ‘Afsana’, ‘Aadhi Raat’, ‘Ansoo’, ‘Chhoti Bhabi’, ‘Adal-e-Jehangir’), C Ramchandra, Hemant Kumar, Salil Chowdhury, Khayyam, Ravi, Sajjad Hussain, Roshan, Kalyanji-Anandji, Vasant Desai, Sudhir Phadke, Hansraj Behl, Madan Mohan and Usha Khanna.
Lataji won a Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback Singer for Salil Chowdhury’s composition “Aaja Re Pardesi” from Madhumati (1958).
The 60s saw some of the most melodious tracks from Lataji. This includes the evergreen love song “Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya” from ‘Mughal E Azam’ (1960), composed by Naushad and picturised on Madhubala.
Another song from the same year was “Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh” from ‘Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai’ (1960), composed by Shankar Jaikishan and picturized on Meena Kumari.
In 1962, she was awarded her second Filmfare Award for the song “Kahin Deep Jale Kahin Dil” from ‘Bees Saal Baad’, composed by Hemant Kumar.
On 27 January 1963, against the backdrop of the Sino-Indian War, Lata Mangeshkar sang the patriotic song “Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo” in the presence of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India. Pt. Nehru was so touched by her rendition that he started crying.
Lataji has recorded duets with Mukesh, Manna Dey, Mahendra Kapoor, Mohammed Rafi, and Kishore Kumar and has sung for almost every actress including Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Nutan, Vyjyantimala, Rekha, Jaya Bachchan, Hema Malini among others.
In 1973, she won the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer for the song “Beeti Na Bitai” from the film Parichay, composed by R. D. Burman, and written by Gulzar.
In 1978, Raj Kapoor direct ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ Lata Mangeshkar lent her voice to the main theme song “Satyam Shivam Sundaram”, which was among the chart-toppers of that year.
Lataji has seen generations pass. In 1980s, she worked with the children of composers she had earlier worked with. Some of these composers included Rahul Dev Burman (son of Sachin Dev Burman), Rajesh Roshan (son of Roshan), Anu Malik (son of Sardar Malik), and Anand-Milind (sons of Chitragupt).
Lata Mangeshkar has also worked with music directors Shiv-Hari in Silsila (1981), Faasle (1985), Vijay (1988) and Chandni (1989). Ram Laxman in Ustadi Ustad Se (1981), Bezubaan (1982), Woh Jo Hasina (1983), Ye Kesa Farz (1985) and Maine Pyar Kiya (1989).
Lataji has sung for almost all the Yash Chopra films and films from his production house Yash Raj Films, including Chandni (1989), Lamhe (1991), Darr (1993), Yeh Dillagi (1994), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) and later on Mohabbatein (2000), Mujhse Dosti Karoge! (2002) and Veer-Zaara (2004).
A R Rahman recorded a few songs with Lata Mangeshkar during this period, including “Jiya Jale” (Dil Se..), “Khamoshiyan Gungunane Lagin” (One 2 Ka 4), “Ek Tu Hi Bharosa” (Pukar), “Pyaara Sa Gaon” (Zubeidaa),”So Gaye Hain” (Zubeidaa) “Lukka chuppi” (Rang De Basanti) and “O Paalanhaare” (Lagaan). She made an appearance in the film Pukar singing this song.
On 28 November 2012, Lata Mangeshkar launched her own music label LM Music with an album of bhajans. She sang along with younger sister Usha on the album.
In 1974, The Guinness Book of Records listed Lata Mangeshkar as the most recorded artist in the history, stating that she had reportedly recorded “not less than 25,000 solo, duet and chorus backed songs in 20 Indian languages” between 1948 and 1974.
There hasn’t been anyone in the Indian music industry who doesn’t bow down to the greatness Lataji is. The musical gifts she has got from the almighty has made us, the Indians proud. She is the only second music personality to have been awarded the Bharat Ratna.
There isn’t a single actress who doesn’t dream to be voiced by Lataji. Her devotion to music, her magic with the ‘sargam’ and her whole life which is so engrossed in the ‘sur-taal’ has made her one of the most respected personalities all over the world.
On her 86th birthday, we salute this ‘Nightingale of India’ and wish and pray that her magic continues to enthrall us for many more years to come.