The peerless Lata Mangeshkar carved out her own niche in Hindi playback singing, and her word carried both melody and authority

Lata’s voice shaped the careers of many a heroine, and her popularity remained undiminished from ‘Mahal’ (1949) to ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ (1995).

Published : Feb 06, 2022 15:12 IST

Lata Mangeshkar with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, in 2004.

Lata Mangeshkar with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, in 2004.

She was blessed with a voice that could stop you in your tracks, a voice that fell gently on the ears and made its way to the heart. Indeed, when Lata Mangeshkar sang, everything came to a halt. Not just the careers of the likes of Noor Jehan, Shamshad Begum and Suraiya, but the everyday work of music lovers as they found themselves transported to a world of love, romance and joy. Indeed, the peerless Lata carved out her own niche in the annals of Hindi playback singing.

Across more than a thousand movies, the Nightingale of India proved her versatility. Ranging from the soaked-in-angst songs of Anarkali and the resplendent colours of love in Mughal-e-Azam to ‘ Naam gum jayega ’ in Gulzar’s Kinara and the lilting ‘ Mere khawabon mein jo aaye ’ in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge , Lata’s voice was made for millions. Such was her aura that music directors waited months for her assent to sing in a film. Her professionalism was equally praiseworthy. She completed her assignments, as in the case of Satyam Shivam Sundaram , even when she was not on the best of terms with the music directors. On other occasions, she sang at night to fulfil the director’s desire for a haunting feeling, as in Mughal-e-Azam . She sang in 36 languages, and ruled the Hindi film world like an empress. Her word carried both melody and authority.

She was admitted to Breach Candy hospital on January 8 following pneumonia and COVID-19 and fought valiantly against other age-related ailments before succumbing this morning. She was 92.

Even as the Government of India announced a two-day mourning as a mark of respect for her, President Ram Nath Kovind condoled her death, stating, "Lata ji ’s demise is heart-breaking for me as it is for millions. In her vast range of songs, rendering the essence and beauty of India, generations found expression of their inner most emotions… a Bharat Ratna, Lata ji ’s accomplishments will remain incomparable."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to tweet, "I am anguished beyond words. Lata Didi’s songs brought out a variety of emotions. She closely witnessed the transitions of the Indian film world for decades. She leaves a void that cannot be filled." In fact, the lovers of Lata broke the Internet, with tens of thousands of messages. Among the early ones to tweet after Lata’s sister Usha Mangeshkar confirmed the news of her demise, were film stars Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar, followed by former cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin and athletics queen P.T. Usha, besides a galaxy of politicians.

Born in September 1929 in Indore to noted musician Pandit Dinanath Mangeshkar and Shevanti, Lata started early as a professional singer, the untimely death of her father leaving her with no alternative as she was the eldest of her five siblings, including the illustrious Asha Bhonsle and the noted artists Usha Mangeshkar, Meena Khadikar and brother Hridaynath. Right from the time she sang for Gajabhaau , a Marathi film, in 1943 to the song " Aayega aayega aanewala" with its memorable alaap in Mahal , Lata’s voice shaped the careers of many a heroine, among them Madhubala, Nargis, Meena Kumari, Zeenat Aman, Rekha, Sridevi and Kajol. Her popularity remaining undiminished from Mahal (1949) to Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995).

In an industry, where new top heroines arrive every few years, Lata was the constant. Along the way she had her skirmishes, notably with music directors Shanker-Jaikishen and fellow artists Mohammed Rafi and Mukesh. But she was the first one to force the industry to give the playback singers their due, speaking up on the issue of royalties and putting the names of singers on cassettes, albums, CDs, etc. She lacked nothing in spine, ready to take on the bigwigs of the Hindi film industry in pursuit of her goals. And she worked with all of them, with Shanker-Jaikishen, Madan Mohan, S.D. Burman, Naushad, Ghulam Mohamed, Khemchand Prakash, Anil Biswas, Khayyam, Jaidev, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji and R.D. Burman. The integrity of her rendition and the depth of her pathos in " Ae mere watan ke logo " reduced the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to tears. Composed by Kavi Pradeep with music by C. Ramchandra, the song is probably the best remembered patriotic song.

In an industry gifted with Noor Jehan, Suraiya and Geeta Dutt, there has not been her equal. Nor will there be another Lata Mangeshkar.

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