Lata Mangeshkar - Melody incarnate still reigns supreme

Lata Mangeshkar - Melody incarnate still reigns supreme  Shivangi Singh

Sweet murmur of a brook, chirping of birds, clink of chimes, tinkle of anklets and laughter of an innocent maiden – such lovely imageries conjure up in the mind when one thinks of the angel of melody - Lata Mangeshkar.

Amitabh Bachchan rightly said, “When the voice achieves perfect harmony with a note (sur), it is as if the soul has soared up to become one with the Supreme Being. That is how I feel when I listen to Lataji.”

White saree-clad frame, vermilion dot on the forehead, an aura of piety and an ageless voice – a voice that India recognises…adores…worships! A voice that seems thin thread-like but is extremely powerful and versatile with complete mastery over all ragas that exist in art. The voice commands, our emotions obey. We flow with its rise and fall, wonder at the perfect control, at the rare clarity of words, indulge in its nectar like quality and haplessly surrender before catching a glimpse of heaven. How else can one react to Lata Mangeshkar’s voice?
Early Life

Lata Mangeshkar was born on September 28, 1929 in a Maharashtrian family at Indore, Madhya Pradesh. She was the first born of Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar and Shudhamati, followed by four siblings. Who would have known at the eve of her birth that she was to reign the playback music world, unchallenged and supreme! Her father, the owner of a theatre company and a reputed classical singer gave her singing lessons from the age of five. She also studied classical music with Aman Ali Khan Sahib and later Amanat Khan. It is said that during her first AIR broadcast in 1941, Deenanathji was moved to tears and had remarked ‘Lata will take the family name further’.

Misfortune stuck at the age of 13, when Deenanath ji died of heart disease. The financial burden of the family fell on Little Lata. At this difficult phase of her life, Vinayak Damodar Karnataki, who owned the Navyug Chitrapat Film Company proved a close friend and mentor to the Mangeshkar family. Lata shifted to Mumbai in 1945, with Master Vinayak’s company and her stint with the film world started. She did various cameo roles in Hindi and Marathi films to earn money. It is said that she had to go without food and sleep for several days at a stretch.

She made her debut in a Marathi film but it was edited out. Those were days when bass singers with heavy nasal voices reigned over film industry. Noor Jehan, Shamshad Begum, Zohrabai Ambalewali were the most prominent playback singers of the time. No music director was ready to take Lata into his project. They considered her voice too thin and high pitched. But she was a born fighter. In words of her mother, Shudhamati, ‘the more she suffered, the more her art excelled’. Master Vinayak’s death in 1948 was an additional blow on the Mangeshkar family.

The Success Story

Luckily, Ghulam Haider noticed the sublime quality of Lata’s voice and gave her a big break in the film ‘Majboor’ (1948). She sang ‘Dil Mera Toda’, which tuned out to be very popular. The year 1949 turned out to be a turning point in her career, when four of her films: Mahal, Dulari, Barsat and Andaz became runaway hits. Her songs became hugely popular and her voice was accepted in the film industry. Initially, she had tried to imitate Noor Jehan but soon, she evolved a unique style of her own. Music directors started lining up at her door, the leading music directors patronized her. Ustad Ameer khan had once remarked, “what we classical musicians take three and half-hours to accomplish, Lata does in 3 minutes”. Her talent gave the music directors chance to utilise their creativity to the utmost. But her voice was most beautifully used under composers C Ramchandra and Madan Mohan.

Lata Mangeshkar’s voice became the voice of Hindi film heroine. Nobody, could rival her art. Heroines were dressed like her to suit her voice. Being a perfectionist, she would do careful research before recordings. She would understand the situation of the song, the heroine on which the song was to be picturised and the mood that was to be presented. That’s why her singing remained flawless. Her songs made the heroines look ethereal, sensuous, playful or tragic. It is said that Jaya Bachhan’s character in ‘Abhimaan’ was inspired by Lataji and Jaya Bachhan would visit the studio to observe the subtle nuances in the performance of Lataji. Her voice brought in the film industry a subtlety and delicacy that was hitherto missing from Hindi films. Right through 90s, she remained the undisputed queen of the film industry. Later, she started cutting down her work load and focussed only on selective songs. Still, the most popular songs of films of recent years, such as ‘Dil se’ ‘DDLJ’, ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’, ‘Veer Zara’ etc. are sung by her. Her most recent release is an album of Ghazals called ‘Saadgi’, written by Javed Akhtar and composed by Mayuresh Pai.

Someone had said, “Lataji’s voice belongs to a temple, or aashram, with its ethereal quality, she keeps alive something that is pure, essentially musical and uniquely Indian”.
Her life has been a seamless saga of sacrifice and devotion – towards music, her family and her nation. It is said that when she sang ‘Aye mere watan ke logo’, paying homage to the dead Indian soldiers of Indo-China war, Jawaharlal Nehru was moved to tears and he said‘ Beti toone mujhe rula diya’.

Ennumerable awards have been conferred on her that includes Padma Bhushan (1969), Padma Vibhushan (1999), Dada Saheb Phalke Award (1989), three National Awards, twelve Bengal Film Journalists Award, four Filmfare Best Female Playback Singer Award and above all India’s highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna. Awards have been instituted in her name by the govt of MP and Maharashtra. She had been featured in Guinness Book of World Records for ‘most recordings in the world’, however the entry was removed due to lack of tenacity. And most recently, she was conferred with lifetime achievement award at the 54th National Film Awards ceremony in September 2008. And she was also conferred with lifetime achievement award at the 54th National Film Awards ceremony. And these are just a few of her many achievements!

This September, ‘didi’ as Lata is popularly known as, turns a year older, but long before age and time has stopped keeping pace with her. She is still to do many impossible wonders. The lady refuses to cow down by age or disease. On her birthday, we salute her spirit, her devotion and her timeless voice. May you live long!