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India@75

1949: Lata Mangeshkar arrives as the voice of India

Print edition : Aug 25, 2022 T+T-

1949: Lata Mangeshkar arrives as the voice of India

Lata Mangeshkar

Lata Mangeshkar | Photo Credit: THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

Yet success did not come easy.

In a cavernous mansion on a still, dark night, a lady in white hauntingly sings Aayega, aayega, aayega/ Aayega aanewala, aayega .... (He who must come will come). Madhubala’s beauty is as poignant as Lata Mangeshkar’s voice. Although Mangeshkar had sung for movies before, it was Mahal that gave her instant stardom and made her the “Nightingale of India”, a title that remains hers even after her passing earlier this year. Reportedly, female playback singers were acknowledged in a film’s credits only after Lata was first given this honour in Mahal. Following Mahal, Lata Mangeshkar would become the most sought-after playback singer in Bollywood, winning top honours like the Dadasaheb Phalke Award and the Bharat Ratna, besides several Filmfare Awards.

Also read: 1948: Films Division of India formed

Yet success did not come easy. Before Mahal, Mangeshkar had been rejected by several music directors, who considered her voice too thin compared with the throaty nasal timbre of Noor Jehan, Mubarak Begum or Shamshad Begum, who were the reigning queens of female playback at that time. But Aayega aanewala changed all that, creating a voice that embodied chastity and pliant youth, virtues that the Indian male desired in the perfect woman. As some scholars claim, Lata Mangeshkar’s voice represented “clean performative femininity,” devoid of any dangerous sexuality. Sensuality and mischief were not considered womanly qualities. Hindi film music had found its perfect female icon.

Receiving the Bharat Ratna from President. K.R. Narayanan in March 2001.
Receiving the Bharat Ratna from President. K.R. Narayanan in March 2001. | Photo Credit: Shanker Chakravarty

Lyricists would later compose songs with Mangeshkar’s perfectly high voice in mind. She sang in over 1,000 films and recorded an estimated 30,000 songs in 18 Indian languages. In the early 1980s, the Guinness World Records listed her as the most recorded voice in the world.

Also read: India at 75: Epochal moments from the 1940s

In later interviews, Mangeshkar said Aayega aanewaala was a technically difficult song based on the swar sadhana technique, which she had mastered with practice. In the opening lines, the voice seems to come be coming from a distance; it gets louder gradually. To create this effect at a time when technology was still basic, Mangeshkar reportedly placed the mic at the centre of the recording room, started singing at a remove and walked towards it till she reached the plaintive crescendo. The result was unforgettable.