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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - They say change is constant. Or perhaps change has only one voice, riding on three octaves.
If you notice the heroines of Hindi cinema for the past century, the faces and the expressions went through several changes, with modest to extravagant attires, to emotional journeys of a lifetime. But this constant change had only one voice. Lata Mangeshkar. She is one woman who sang for Madhubala and Madhuri, Nutan and Kajol, Vyjayanthimala and Preity Zinta and so on. She's the voice that has seeped into South Asian consciousness, revered and loved in equal measure.
Without her three-octaves spanning, honey-sweet voice on hand, our composers could not have given their musical imagination a free rein. For whether it is an intricate classical number like Chalte chalte a peppermint pronouncement like Didi tera devar deewana, Lata has always rendered her songs with commendable felicity.
Her happy childhood, spent imbibing musical knowledge from her father, was rudely interrupted when her father died in 1942. Thirteen-year-old Lata was now in charge of providing for her impecunious family. Within eight days of her beloved father's death, a dry-eyed Lata had donned pancake to act in the Marathi film, Pahili Mangalagaur (1942). She made her debut as a playback singer in the Marathi film, Kiti Hasaal (1942) but her song was edited out of the film.
Defying producer S Mukherji's damning edict that her voice was too thin, prodigal composer Ghulam Haider gave Lata her breakthrough with the Majboor (1948) song, Dil mera toda. The next year saw Naushad making Lata vocalise seminal Andaaz songs like Uthaye ja unke sitam. Barsaat and Mahal were released in the same year. With these three films, Lata soared to the pinnacle of success.
Lata's high pitched singing rendered obsolete the base, heavy voices of Amirbai Karnataki and Samshad Begum. Her early style of singing was reminiscent of Noorjehan but Lata determinedly overcame the influence to maintain a recognisable personal signature in all her songs.
This determination was on display right from the Andaaz days when Dilip Kumar questioned her Urdu. Hiring a tutor, Lata perfected the language. Her perennial search for perfection won her the Amar recording, repeatedly trying to get a particular murki of the song Tere sadke balam right. After 18 takes, she fainted in the recording room. Even after regaining consciousness, the first thing Lata wanted to do was to make another attempt at the song.
Her unbroken record of hit songs made Lata the most powerful female singer in the film industry. She waged battles with important people such as Raj Kapoor and Shankar Jaikishen over the vulgarity in the Main kya karoon Ram number from Sangam. When Rasik Balma (Chori-Chori) won the Filmfare Award for best song, Lata refused to sing it live in protest of no Female playback category. She stopped singing with Mohammed Rafi for several years in the mid-60s over the contentious issue of royalty payment to playback singers. All this made no appreciable difference to her career. She created history by singing more than 30,000 songs in over 2000 films.
Yet, little was known about the taciturn lady's personal life except for her spiritualism, her love for diamonds, her enthusiasm for cricket and her friendship with Raj Singh Dungarpur.
Even as accusations of her monopolizing the field grew stronger, Lata cut down on her workload from the mid-70s and concentrated on her shows abroad. Only a Raj Kapoor could convince her to sing for his Ram Teri Ganga Maili till she made a great comeback with Chandni and Maine Pyar Kiya in 1989. Since then this Nightingale of India has lent her voice to actresses like Kajol, Tabu, Manisha, Urmila, Kareena and Pretty Zinta.
Post millennium, she has mostly sung for Yash Raj Films and has recorded a couple of songs with A. R. Rahman including Jiya Jale from Dil Se, and Lukka chuppi from Rang de Basanti.
Her devotional side has always run in parallel with her commercial singing. Her album Sajda with late Jagjit Singh was the largest selling devotional album of all times. In November 2012, Lata Mangeshkar launched her own music label 'LM Music' with an album of bhajans. She sang along with younger sister Usha on the album.
Remove any heroine from the history of Hindi films and you will lose a chapter; remove Lata from the Hindi film industry and you will have lost its soul. She always sings barefoot as a mark of respect to the platform where she sings. And to her countless fans including myself, hearing Lata's voice is more like meditation than entertainment. We wish her a very happy birthday.
(With references from 100 Luminaries of Bollywood)
Sadiq Saleem is a UAE-based entertainment writer and can be contacted on www.sidsaidso.com
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