The death of Lata Mangeshkar can never lessen the influence she exerted on Indian cinema during her lifetime.
There are two ways to look at the phenomenon known as Lata Mangeshkar. The first takes absolute numbers into account; where, by her estimation, the prolific megastar playback singer has lent her voice to more than 27,000 songs in 36 languages, dominated the conscious minds of mainstream cinema since the late 1940s, outlived nearly all of her contemporaries and to dozens of playback singers who have emerged over the years. The other is the story of a woman who, given the odds, would have barely survived the cutthroat industry where patronage often decided the extent of success. Not only that, she has been identified as the backbone of Hindi film music for over forty years.
More than anything else, Lata Mangeshkar has not only reached dizzying heights of success that have not been experienced by many playback singers of the past, but has also become synonymous with singing for millions of people around the world.
Talking about Lata Mangeshkar’s career or even attempting to sum it up in a single tribute is almost as bold and impossible as choosing a bunch of songs that best capture her essence. As in her life, Lata i, in his death too, stands miles away from other playback singers. Much like how she was identified as the “voice of India” over a career spanning more than seven decades, Lata Mangeshkar’s passing can never diminish the influence she had on cinema. Indian during his lifetime.
Born on September 28, 1929 in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, to Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar, Marathi classical singer and musician, and Shevanti, Lata Mangeshkar was the eldest of the couple’s five children – Meena Khadikar, Asha Bhosle, Usha Mangeshkar and Hridaynath Mangeshkar. Named ‘Hema’ at the time of her birth, her name was changed after ‘Latika’, a female character in one of her productions Bhaaw Bandhan. She was trained by her father in her early years and also performed in the Deenanath musicals. Tragedy struck the Mangeshkar clan with the untimely death of Deenanath in 1942 when Lata was 13 years old. The family was helped by Master Vinayak, the Marathi star, who also inspired young Lata to sing in films. She acted and sang in a few films in the early 1940s. Once the family moved to Bombay in 1945, Lata began formal training in Hindustani classical music under Ustad Aman Ali Khan. In her early years, Lata sang for composers such as Datta Davjekar and Vasant Desai for Aap Ki Seva Mein (1946) and Subhadra (1946), respectively. She also starred in Badi Maa (1945) which also starred Asha Bhosle.
In an era dominated by singers such as Noor Jehan and Shamshad Begum, Lata’s voice lacked the heaviness that was the norm. The high-pitched voice was considered “too thin” for tall ladies. This is the reason producer Sashadhar Mukherjee gave for rejecting Lata when composer Ghulam Haider recommended her for Shahid (1949). Haider had mentored Lata after Master Vinayak’s death and ensured that the young singer did not lose confidence in the face of such rejection. Haider also gave Lata his first break majboor (1948) with ‘Dil mera toda, mujhe kahin ka na chhora.’
By the 1950s, Urdu dominated songs in movies, and Lata was also chastised for her pronunciation. On one occasion, Dilip Kumar made fun of her accent, and Lata then took diction lessons for a while. A few years later, while recording Lata’s first big hit‘Aayega aanewaala’ for mahal (1949), the legendary Jaddanbai Hussain, a pioneering singer and songwriter, noted the singer’s diction and complimented her. In Yatindra Mishra’s seminal biography, Lata Sur-Gathathe singer recalled Jaddanbai with her daughter, Nargis, being surprised that she was a Maharashtrian, and telling her the way she stated ‘baigair‘in line’deepak bagair kaise parwane jal rahein hai‘ was out of this world.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that when it comes to music in Hindi films, the period between the 1950s and the early to mid-1990s could mostly be described as the ‘Lata era’.
In a pioneering move, Lata ji changed his singing style, which was somewhat modeled after Noor Jehan, and perfected his projection to overcome deficiencies in the technology of the time. What he did was turn Lata Mangeshkar into a force that couldn’t be bogged down by factors like poor recording et al. If the 1950s was a decade when filmmakers shaped Indian history through films such as Awara (1951), Deedar (1951), Aan (1952), Do Bigha Zamin (1953) Shree 420 (1955), Madhumati (1958), Paying host (1957), mother india (1957), to name a few, the story of Lata’s rise and success was also written simultaneously. In the decade of the 1950s alone, Lata Mangeshkar sang over 200 songs!
In many ways, Lata’s and India’s story becomes interchangeable, and so it’s no surprise that she became the “voice of India.” Her voice also became the voice of most leading actresses from the 1950s through the 2000s, and along with her sister Asha, she would be among the handful of playback singers in the world to sing not only for actresses across the eras, but sometimes, also for three generations of actors from the same family. In the 1990s, Lata Mangeshkar sang for Kajol after giving her voice to her mother, Tanuja, and grandmother, Shobhana Samarth.
Unsurprisingly, the way Lata Mangeshkar dominated has also led to stories about her monopolistic attitude. Over the years much has been said about the fact that Lata and Asha never really allowed the competition to flourish and the short lifespan of singers such as Suman Kalyanpur, Vani Jairam, Sulakshana Pandit, Priti Sagar and Hemlata would have been attributed to Lata i using his influence and popularity to get music managers to kick them out. There’s also a lot of industry folklore about the intense rivalry between Lata and Asha, and how at times Lata undermined her sister. Kavi Pradeep originally planned ‘Ae mere watan ke logon’, the song intended to heal Indians following the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, a duet performed by Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. However, according to Raju Bharatan, the author of A trip down Melody Lane, Lata expressed her desire to sing it solo. However, in 2013, on the song’s fiftieth anniversary, Lata i said she initially turned down the song as she was busy and also later suggested it to duet with her sister, but despite Herculean efforts, Asha Bhosle refused to participate.
In a life as remarkable as that of Lata Mangeshkar and a career as vast as she has had, there are only apparent ups and downs. lata i is indeed the pride of India. In 1974, she became the first Indian to perform at the Royal Albert Hall. Throughout the journey that marked the era, regardless of what is true and what is imagined, millions of Indians and music lovers across the world have always had a Lata number at their fingertips. to best express any moment of their life. This is truly what makes the legend of Lata Mangeshkar so dear, and we must consider ourselves lucky to have been born at a time when we could hear her voice.