Her Majestic Voice For That I Once My Subsequently, What Nothing I Yes, So, One I So, I Lata Her By Make From what I have been hearing of Lata the last two years, my impression The Two years ago if I was I have agonized and 1. 2. 3. “Humne dekhi hai in aankhon ki mehakti 4. “Ja re ja re udd ja re panchchi”. Maya (1961) 5. “Kadar jaane na, mora 6. “Kahin deep jale kahin 7. 8. 9. “Mohabbat aisi dhadkan hai”. Anarkali (1953) 10. “Na tum bewafa ho”. 11. 12. “Naino mein badra chhaye”. Mera Saaya (1967). Music: Madan 13. “Qareeb 14. “Rehte the kabhi jinke dil mein”. Mamta (1966) 15. “Ruk ja raat thehar jaa 16.
as long as I can remember I have been hearing her voice. It was always there with
me subconsciously. On the radio at home in the 1970s—the ubiquitous Vividh Bharti—every
other song announced was sung by her. Pathos-filled ballads, playful songs,
semi-classical songs, love songs—she sang them all with equal flair.
voice was a part of my growing up years. While getting ready for school in the
morning, there would be her voice on the radio. Returning in the bus there
would often be her voice, as her soaring, ringing voice would emanate from a
transistor someone was listening to. Wherever I went, whatever I did, Lata Mangeshkar’s
dulcet tones would pursue me. It was a voice that quite simply was a part of my
suppose when you are so familiar with something or somebody you become a little
too used to it. So, the various hagiographic articles and speeches about
India’s nightingale didn’t draw any special attention. My musical inclination
in the years at college was conditioned by peer groups and it’s The Beatles,
Abba, Boney M, Neil Diamond and The Carpenters that I took to enthusiastically.
I became an occasional broadcaster too and professed undying love for Glenn
Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” and Susan Raye’s “LA International Airport”. My
music world was far removed from Lata in those days, though her voice on the
radio was inescapable.
I got over my short-lived liaison with Western pop, I passionately took to
Western classical music. I would listen to the BBC on the short wave and as the
sounds soared and trailed off and on, I would love the music without quite
knowing that it was, say, the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” or an
excerpt from Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”.
acquaintance with Western classical grew through sheer doggedness, spending
hours in the studio library of All India Radio’s Western Music section. Or
listening to the BBC. Or buying the few Soviet Melodiya records that were
available and then hearing the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra play a Beethoven
symphony. I made my acquaintance with the best classical renditions—Arthur
Rubinstein, Nathan Milstein, David Oistrakh, Kathleen Ferrier, Victoria de Los
Angeles, Tito Gobbi, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Rudolf Kempe, Otto Klemperer,
et al—in the AIR studio library.
my overseas trips gave me a chance in the late 1980s and early 90s to buy great
CDs and also to see great live concerts in London, Berlin, Paris, Vienna or
Milan. That love for Western classical music is enduring and will remain as
long as I do.
does all this, you may justifiably ask, have to do with Lata Mangeshkar?
except that I needed to set the context for the second coming of her voice in
live in the suburbs of Delhi and the drive to work is 80-90 minutes on a good
day. And another 90 minutes for the return journey. Listening to Mozart and
Beethoven for three hours a day, five days a week, would be a bit much for
Ravi, my chauffeur, I decided. I tried listening to FM radio and the old Hindi
film songs on AIR FM Gold 106.4 worked nicely for a while. Except that the
presenters talked too much in between songs and the breaks for public service
messages were too long, too frequent and too grating. The likes of Radio City
and Radio Mirchi had motor mouth comperes who set my teeth on edge.
there was the occasional Sayema to listen to at night in the ridiculously
titled show “Purani Jeans”. In fact, for a while Sayema’s style and chutzpah
enchanted me but over time
my enthusiasm waned given the sameness to her choice of music. It seemed like
she found it difficult to move away from the Kishore Kumar-R.D. Burman-Amitabh
Bachchan axis. Yes, occasionally there would be the music of Kalyanji-Anandji’s
music too but how often can you listen to “Pyaar main dil pe maar de goli”?
And much as I like KK and RDB, and do think Kalyanji-Anandji have done some
good things, I cannot listen to something like “Apni to jaise
taise” (the song from “Laawaris”) more than once in about five
months. And to listen to “Mere angane main tumhara kya kaam hai” from
the same film even once in a year would cause severe depression.
my passion for Sayema and Purani Jeans abated because of the long breaks in
between songs and her growing loquacity. So, no Western classical and no radio
in the car. That only left the choice of buying CDs of old Hindi film music and
playing them in the car. That’s what I did.
day I went shopping in Mumbai at Rhythm House in Kala Ghoda and bought old
Hindi film music. For me the greatest Hindi film songs were composed between
the years 1950 and 1975 and most of them were sung by Lata. I bought several
dozens of audio CDs from this period and on those 90-minute trips to and from
home would play them in the car.
don’t know what Ravi thinks of my selfless act. I would like to imagine him
looking dewy-eyed at me and saying to himself: what a wonderful boss I
have—kind and considerate! However, I suspect it is still grating for him to
keep hearing Hindi film music from the 50s and 60s…
while I have no idea what Ravi thinks, what I do know is that in my ‘ennobling’
act I have personally discovered true bliss. I get many calls in those 180
minutes in the car every day and when I am at times asked if I am alone in the
car, I take pleasure in saying, “Of course not. There’s Lata with me.” And she
is. Like an inseparable companion. This morning she sang “Naina barse” (from “Woh
Kaun Thi”, composed by Madan Mohan) five times, one after another, and I could
have gone on a few more times and would have had I not felt Ravi was wincing. Did
he really wince or did I imagine it? I wasn’t sure but decided to avoid playing
it yet again. And what a song I moved to: “Jaa re, jaa re udd jaa re panchchi”
(from “Maya” composed by Salil
now actually look forward to the 180 minutes in the car and there are even
times when I wish my destination hadn’t arrived quite so soon. It happened just
yesterday. “Aaj socha to aansoon bhar aaye” (from “Hanste Zakhm”, composed by
Madan Mohan) had just started with Lata’s voice soaring over the soulful
strains of the sitar, when my office swung into view. I considered telling Ravi
to take a couple of rounds of the block while the song played out but dropped
the idea. I think he would have winced.
with me in the car for three hours every day has been happening for the last
year and-a-half. It’s helped me rediscover her magical voice. I have been
listening to songs that I grew up with as a child but songs I took for granted
and didn’t stop at any stage of life to think of them. To admire and adore
them. Until now. Now I do so endlessly. If I could express the feeling by way
of a Lata song, it would be “Woh jab yaad aaye, bahut yaad aaye” (from “Parasmani”,
composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal).
voice grows on you. I can now listen to her songs and am able to guess roughly
what period the song comes from. A couple of weeks ago, I made my acquaintance
with the cathartic pathos of “Chal diya dil mera tod kar” (from “Fifty-Fifty”,
composed by Madan Mohan). It’s 1956 and it’s Lata’s voice as a 27-year-old.
Listen then to “Hum pyaar main jalne walon ko” (from Jailor, composed by Madan Mohan just a couple of years later) and
her voice is already starting to sound different—it’s fuller and deeper.
1963-64 her vocal range reached its full-throated peak. Listen to “Gumnaam hai
koi” (from “Gumnaam”, composed by Shankar Jaikishan) or “Mora gora ang lailey”
(from “Bandini”, composed by Sachin Dev Burman). Or the pathos-filled “Lo aa
gayee unki yaad” (from “Do Badan”, composed by Ravi). The quintessential Lata
voice is what you get through the 1960s and early 70s.
no mistake about it. I absolutely love her voice through the 1950s too—whether
it’s the lyrical “Aayega aanewala aayega” (from “Mahal”, composed by Khemchand
Prakash) or the magnificent “Kadar jaane na” (from “Bhai Bhai”, composed by
Madan Mohan) or countless other songs—but a few years later the youthful
impishness of that 50s’ voice is gone forever. It is replaced by a more mature,
a more full-throated voice of the kind that could belong to a soprano—a warm voice with a bright, full timbre which can be heard over a full orchestra.
is that it’s after “Satyam Shivam Sundaram” the voice of the 1960s and 70s
Lata—which I call quintessential Lata—started to change. By the time she sang
for Rahul Dev Burman in “Golmaal” and “Love Story”, and Laxmikant Pyarelal in
“Aasha”, Lata’s voice had changed. And while there are many Lata songs from the
80s and later that I like, I believe the greatest songs she recorded were between
1950 and 1975.
transition in that magical voice fascinates me. I remember reading an article
some time ago about phonetic study of the human voice and how indication about
the age of the speaker is always present in speech and can be used as
perceptual cues to age. That can certainly be said of singing voices too. I
certainly get that feeling when listening to Lata. It’s a voice I am
now—finally—completely aware of.
told that I was about to be left on a desert island with just half-a-dozen
audio CDs for company, my choice would undoubtedly have come from Mozart’s
piano concertos, Beethoven’s symphonies, maybe some compositions by
Mendelssohn, Schubert and Tchaikovski and Verdi. Today, one of those six CDs
would have to be of Lata’s songs. If that CD could have 70 minutes of music, it
means roughly that it would contain 16 songs. So, just a few days ago I
challenged myself to come up with this list of 16.
cogitated over the choice, heart-broken in many instances of having to leave
out one song or another, but I am happy with these 16. On a desert island with
just these songs to keep me company, day in and day out, I think I would
survive listening to:
socha to aansoon bhar aaye”. Hanste
Zakhm (1973). Music: Madan Mohan, Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi. Picturised on Priya
“Aap ki nazron ne samjha”. Anpadh (1962). Music: Madan Mohan. Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali
Khan. Picturised on Mala Sinha
khushboo”. Khamoshi (1969). Music: Hemant
Kumar. Lyrics: Gulzar. Picturised on Waheeda Rehman
Music: Salil Chowdhury, Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri. Picturised on Mala Sinha
baalam bedardi”. Bhai Bhai (1956). Music:
Madan Mohan. Lyrics: Rajendra Krishan. Picturised on Nimmi
dil”. Bees Saal Baad (1962). Music: Hemant
Kumar. Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni. Picturised on Waheeda Rehman.
“Lag ja gale, ki phir yeh haseen raat ho na ho”. Woh Kaun Thi
(1964). Music: Madan Mohan. Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan. Picturised on Sadhana
“Lo aa gayee unki yaad, woh nahi aaye”. Do Badan (1966). Music: Ravi. Lyrics: Shakeel
Badayuni. Picturised on Asha Parekh
Music: C Ramchandra, Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri. Picturised on Bina Rai
(1968) Music: Madan Mohan. Lyrics:
Rajendra Krishan. Picturised on Naina Joglekar
“Naina barse rim jhim”. Woh
Kaun Thi (1964).
Music: Madan Mohan. Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan. Picturised on Sadhana
Mohan. Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan. Picturised on Sadhana
aa yeh nazar”. Anita (1967). Music:
Laxmikant-Pyarelal. Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan. Picturised on Sadhana
Music: Roshan. Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri. Picturised on Suchitra Sen
re chanda” (Also “Hum tere pyaar mein saara alam”). Dil ek Mandir (1963). Music: Shankar-Jaikishan. Lyrics: Shailendra.
Picturised on Meena Kumari
yaad karte karte jayegi rain saari” (Also “Tadap yeh din raat ki”). Amrapali (1966). Music: Shankar-Jaikishan. Lyrics: Shailendra. Picturised
Her Majestic Voice
From what I have been hearing of Lata the last two years, my impression
Two years ago if I was
I have agonized and
3. “Humne dekhi hai in aankhon ki mehakti
4. “Ja re ja re udd ja re panchchi”. Maya (1961)
5. “Kadar jaane na, mora
6. “Kahin deep jale kahin
9. “Mohabbat aisi dhadkan hai”. Anarkali (1953)
10. “Na tum bewafa ho”.
12. “Naino mein badra chhaye”. Mera Saaya (1967). Music: Madan
14. “Rehte the kabhi jinke dil mein”. Mamta (1966)
15. “Ruk ja raat thehar jaa