Looking Back At Lata Mangeshkar’s Illustrious Career Through Her Songs
The legendary singer’s career spanned three generations of Indian films and music directors.
Of the thousands of songs Lata Mangeshkar has recorded, one is often mentioned because of the occasion it was sung for. On January 26, 1963, the singer presented Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon, a tribute written by Kavi Pradeep for soldiers who lost lives in the 1962 Sino-Indian war. The song, composed by C Ramchandra, moved an entire nation, starting with the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President S Radhakrishnan, who were present at its first public performance.
By some strange quirk of fate, Mangeshkar passed away on February 6, 2022, which is Kavi Pradeep’s 107th birth anniversary. Her loss leaves behind an ocean of memories, as fans remembered their favourite songs, beginning with her hits in Barsaat and Mahal in 1949.
Mangeshkar was 20 years old when she first hit the headlines. Born in Indore on September 28, 1929, she was the daughter of actor-singer Dinanath Mangeshkar and Shevanti, later renamed Shudhamati. Her birth name was Hema, but her father changed it to Lata after one of the characters, Latika, in his play. Naturally, she took to singing at an early age and even acted in her father’s plays at the age of five. Her siblings Meena, Asha, Usha and Hridaynath also took to music early.
After her father died in 1942, actor Master Vinayak helped the family till his death in 1948. Mangeshkar was keen to pursue singing and even learnt classical music from maestro Ustad Aman Ali Khan. Music director Ghulam Haider spotted her talent and decided to mentor her. Not everything was smooth, though, in the early years. Her first song was for a Marathi film Kiti Hasaal in 1942, but the song was dropped during the final edit. After singing for a few more Marathi movies, she was sent by Ghulam Haider to popular film producer Sashadhar Mukherjee, who was working on the 1948 Hindi film Shaheed, but he found her voice ‘too thin’. Many others were critical of her accent.
An upset Haider is supposed to have famously predicted then that filmmakers would in the years to come ‘fall at her feet’ to have her sing in their films. She took lessons in both Hindi and Urdu, and success came soon after. And it was only fitting that her first hit song was Dil Mera Toda, Mujhe Kahin Ka Na Chhora from the 1948 film Majboor under the music direction of Ghulam Haider. Not surprisingly, she had this to say about him not long ago: “Ghulam Haider is truly my Godfather. He was the first music director who showed complete faith in my talent.”
In Raj Kapoor’s 1949 film Barsaat, Mangeshkar sang seven solo songs and two duets with Mukesh. The music was composed by Shankar-Jaikishen, and the film gave her a sudden boost. Soon, her song Aayega Aanewala, composed by Khemchand Prakash in Mahal, put her on a new pedestal.
Mangeshkar had a long musical journey, from the 1940s till the 2000s when she was almost 80. No wonder her fandom also cut across three generations. While most of her work has been in Hindi films, she has also sung many devotional songs, patriotic songs, ghazals and regional songs, mainly in Marathi, with some popular hits in Bengali. Today’s generation of young singers is inspired by her, singing her songs at tribute shows and talent contests.
Mangeshkar’s most consistent period was between 1950 and 1975, though she continued to record for many years after that. A later generation grew up on songs from the films Maine Pyar Kiya, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Dil To Pagal Hai, besides A.R. Rahman’s Jiya Jale from Dil Se (1998) and O Paalanhaare from Lagaan (2001).
Years before that, there were numerous anecdotes and events that added up to the Lata phenomenon. The story of how Aayega Aanewala was recorded is unique. Those days, the entire orchestra would play together while the singer sang. It’s said that to show that Madhubala’s character was coming from a distance, Mangeshkar took slow steps walking from the corner of the room to the microphone. Of course, since the music director Khemchand Prakash had to coordinate with the entire orchestra, he recorded a few takes till he was satisfied.
There’s another famous incident involving Naushad’s music in Mughal-e-Azam in 1960. To bring about an echo effect in the song Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya, he asked Mangeshkar to sing from a bathroom where the microphone was kept while more than 100 musicians and a large chorus played in the main studio hall.
Another anecdote is about the song Naina Barse from the 1964 film Woh Kaun Thi. The day Mangeshkar was scheduled to record, she had a fever. In her place, music director Madan Mohan recorded the song himself, and it was to his voice that actress Sadhana mimed. Mangeshkar later dubbed the lines. Interestingly, Lag Ja Gale from the same film remains one of her most famous songs and has even been used by Saregama HMV in its promos for its portable digital audio player Carvaan.
Over the years, there was talk of Mangeshkar’s rivalry with her sister Asha Bhosle. However, both sisters denied this, especially when director Sai Paranjpye used it as the base for her 1998 film Saaz. Musicologists point out how music director R.D. Burman successfully used both voices. Though he predominantly used Bhosle for the peppier songs and Mangeshkar for the romantic and classical ones, he would make exceptions, as he did with Bhosle singing ghazals in Ijaazat.
Mangeshkar’s live performances have been unique experiences too, filling up stadiums. Music director Anil Mohile often conducted the orchestra, and one had to keep guessing the next song. It would always be a special moment when she sang Lag Ja Gale, Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon, Yeh Zindagi Usi Ki Hai from Anarkali, Baahon Mein Chale Aao from Anamika or Dil Diwana from Maine Pyaar Kiya.
Every listener would have their own Lata Mangeshkar favourite. Whichever song she sang, it was the uniqueness of her voice that created a huge impact. She worked hard on her technique and was open to ideas, which is why many music directors enjoyed working with her. The Nightingale’s voice will stay on forever.
Lata Mangeshkar’s 10 Essential Songs
While it’s challenging to shortlist 10 essential Lata Mangeshkar songs, here are some that define her class
1 Aayega Aanewala – Mahal (1949)
2 Yeh Zindagi Usiki Ki Hai – Anarkali (1953)
3 Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya – Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
4 O Sajana – Parakh (1960)
5 Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon – non-film (1963)
6 Lag Ja Gale – Woh Kaun Thi (1964)
7 Ab Toh Hai Tumse – Abhimaan (1973)
8 Chala Vahi Des – Meera bhajan (1975)
9 Dikhayi Diye Yoon – Bazaar (1982)
10 Dil Deewana – Maine Pyar Kiya (1989)
(Credits: Reuters, Instagram @lata_mangeshkar)