For more than seven decades now, the name Lata Mangechkar was synonymous with extraordinary talent and artistic excellence. Although she slowed down about two decades ago after a highly successful and prolific career, few Indian artists can dream of matching her achievements, star power or mass appeal. Her impact on Indian music is such that Mangeshkar can not only be unequivocally called an outstanding singer, but also one of the greatest Indians of all time.
The singer born in 1929 was around 20 years old when she entered the popular consciousness in 1949 with the outstanding success of “Aayega Aanewala” in Mahal. However, at the time, there was an unfair practice of characters in films, on which a song was depicted, being credited for the songs instead of the original playback singer. In this case, it was the character of Madhubala in Mahal, named Kamini. The song created a frenzy and All India Radio (AIR) was inundated with calls for the singer’s name.
Mangeshkar was unstoppable after that. After playing a few roles in Marathi films, she started singing to support her family financially after her father’s death. However, once she rose to national fame, she went on to dominate playback singing in India for the next 50 years with her melodious voice, unique talent, hard work and well chosen career choices. thought.
When Mangeshkar came onto the scene in the late 1940s, the film industry was regaining its stability after World War II and India’s independence. Cinema was making impressive progress in terms of creativity and innovation. She came to represent “the spirit of the new India” with spine-chilling songs such as “Allah Tero Naam in Hum Dono” (1961), which celebrates India’s secularism, and the famous “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logo” which was first performed on Republic Day in 1963, in memory of Indian soldiers who died in the 1962 India-China War.
Mangeshkar’s voice had a universal appeal that touched the soul and reflected his technical genius. But, she never took her art for granted. Known to be extremely hardworking, she learned Urdu to improve her pronunciation and understanding of the language. She was as attentive to the choice of songs as to her personality. She refused to sing anything that seemed inappropriate. Her public appearances were not glamorous as she was mostly seen in off-white sarees with her hair tied back in a long braid – sometimes, two braids.
It can’t be a mere coincidence that in the 70s, when she sang a bhajan of the singer-saint Mirabai, there was a catchphrase going around: “Lata is Meera.” Meera is Lata” (mentioned in Neepa Majumdar’s book Wanted Cultured Ladies Only!: Female Stardom and Cinema in India, 1930s to 1950s, published by University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago, 2009). This contributed to her “pure” image and she became almost a reverential figure. What added to Mangeshkar’s aura was the fact that she was unfailingly humble during her public appearances – often calling her voice a “gift from God” and her success a “blessing” from her parents.
During his lifetime, Mangeshkar won many titles. The highest of these was the Bharat Ratna, which she was awarded in 2001. Although the award was instituted in 1954, she is one of only five women, and the last, to receive the title. Other important accolades include the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India’s highest film honour. Apart from that, several nicknames are attributed to him, including “Nightingale of India” which affirms his stature as an eminent artist of the nation. Then, of course, there are the informal ones such as ‘Melody Queen’, ‘Maharani’ and ‘High Command’ – the latter two are mostly taunts of the power she wielded in the industry (writes Raju Bharatan in her book Lata Mangeshkar: A Biography, UBS Publishers; 1995). She was also affectionately called Latabai and Didi.
Despite his stronghold in the industry, navigating hasn’t always been easy for Mangeshkar. She has had many detractors and several fallouts with industry bigwigs. However, every disagreement was eventually brushed aside and she was courted by the filmmakers. Having him in film often meant commercial success and lasting music. After the business debacle of Mera Naam Joker (1970), Raj Kapoor was in debt. He desperately needed the singer, who had then refused to work with him, to join him on his next outing as director Bobby (1973). Once she was soothed, unsurprisingly, Mangeshkar proved to be the perfect voice for 16-year-old Dimple Kapadia, with Bobby’s songs “Jhoot bole kauva kate” and “Ankhiyon ko rehne de ankhiyon” capturing the energy, youth and heartbreak of its titular character. .
In fact, with her melodious and magical voice, Mangeshkar has always been the go-to singer for young actors to convey various emotions. She was the voice of Madhubala as she defied an emperor’s diktat with “Jab pyar kiya to darna kya” in Mughal-E-Azam (1960), and in Bandini (1963), Nutan synchronized with “Mora gora ang laile” as her character experienced the first wave of love. She voiced Sridevi’s misdeeds in “Mere hathon mein nau nau chudiyan” in Chandni (1989); the horrors of Bhagyashree’s separation with “Dil deewana bin sajna ke” in Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), the vivacity of Madhuri Dixit in “Maye ni maye” in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun…! (1994), and Kajol’s reverie in “Mere khwabon mein jo aaye” in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). She not only ensured hit movies with hit albums, but she also remained a star.
Known for her business acumen and ability to ward off competitors, Mangeshkar was ahead of her contemporaries in claiming her due. She asked for royalty when Mohammed Rafi disagreed. Lata thought that being the two best singers of their time, they should put their strength into securing the singer’s share of two and a half percent royalty. Rafi thought his financial claim on the song ended once he recorded it. This is something his family will later regret. She bruised Dilip Kumar’s ego when they recorded the song “Laagi naahein chute” which was composed by Salil Chowdhury in the movie Musafir (1957). It was reported that Kumar chose Raag Piloo for this song and practiced it for long hours on the sitar. But, Mangeshkar, as expected, eclipsed him and the actor sulked for years. This was resolved in 1970 when she bound Kumar to a raakhi, who always called her “younger sister”. The photo of two pillars was published in a magazine and hailed as a reminder of Hindu-Muslim unity in India.
For the Indians, Mangeshkar is a deeply moving emotion. His voice and his incredible work remain incomparable. She is also that rare female icon whose appeal transcends generations, geographic and language barriers. There can’t be another artist like her. Lata Mangeshkar lives.