In her incredible career of 75 years, Bharat Ratna Lata Mangeshkar has given back more than what she achieved. In an exclusive conversation with Rail Bandhu, the nightingale recalled many watershed moments of her career, which eventually led to big trends in the film industry
As much as her singing prowess, it is Lata Mangeshkar’s dignified humility and simplicity that steal your heart the moment you speak to her. Yes, it is difficult to get through to the media-shy and reclusive singer, but who other than the lady herself would have appreciated our consistent efforts of convincing her to give this interview? After all, the legitimate ‘Voice of India’ has been ruling our hearts for some seven decades, and has definitely left an indelible mark on each heart that beats in this nation or the entire subcontinent, or across the world. Without doubt, she is India’s most celebrated vocalist who’s set an unsurpassable benchmark in the annals of Hindi film music. However, a legend is made not just from their body of work, but also from what they give back to the society. In this interview, she reveals lesser-known facets of much-discussed milestones of her career.
You are completing 75 active years in the music industry, a sort of world record. Did you ever think you would come this far?
How I got into the film industry or how much I sang or achieved, was totally up to God’s will. All I knew was that I had to work relentlessly as I had no other option. After my father’s death, being the eldest daughter, I had to assume responsibilities of my family. But I was very particular about my work. Though I never contemplated results, I wanted to tap my skills in the best possible manner. I would not have wanted complaints from music directors saying I didn’t do justice to their compositions. Today, I feel numb when people tell me that I have been singing for some 75 years. I am blessed by my parents and God.
Even your siblings, Asha Bhosle, Usha Mangeshkar, Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Meena Khadikar, created musical legacies.
I would call it a miracle. ‘Kuch upar ka he hain ye’. (There’s some divine intervention). Asha is known globally for her vast repertoire of songs. Usha and Hridaynath too possess a great body of work. Hridaynath went into composing music and has delivered several memorable albums. My sister, Meena, is very popular in Maharashtra. She used to compose songs for children which got very popular.
Your brother Hridaynath’s albums featuring works of Meera, Kabir and Ghalib earned him a cult status. But have not seen him much in films?
He is like my chhota guru. I find his music out of this world. He has always been selective and never wanted to do too many films. He was happy doing non-filmy albums. His albums on Meera, like Meera Bhajans and Chala Vahi Des, which were recorded by me, have set a benchmark in the industry. In fact, I recently learnt that Mehdi Hassan sahab, who’s rendered as the king of ghazals, loved listening to our compositions of Ghalib in the penultimate moments of his life. For me, it’s a huge compliment coming from a legend.
You have worked with some of the best known music composers. How did they help you hone your vocals?
I have always been a student, someone willing to learn. My father used to tell me whoever helps you improve your music is your guru. I have observed music directors, their working style and paid attention to their specific requirements in a song. I studied classical music under the tutelage of Ustad Aman Ali Khan (Bhendibazaar gharana) and Amanat Khan Devaswale. Composer Anil (Krishna) Biswas taught me how to breathe in front of the microphone without breaking the taal. Master Ghulam Haider, who gave me the major break in the film industry, was very particular about pronunciation. He explained that one must consider the heroine in question and her situation in the track. Nushad (Ali) sahab taught me correct pronunciation in Urdu. Geniuses like Madan Mohan, Jaidev, Salil Chaudhury, Shankar Jaiskishan, Ghulam Mohammad, SD Burman, RD Burman and others have influenced my work.
Outside work, who influenced your thoughts?
I used to look up to poet and lyricist Narendra Sharma, who was a fatherly figure to me. He taught me about spirituality. I would often speak to him to calm down during tough times. He used to narrate Sanskrit shloks from Vedas, Gita and other old scriptures. I would take his advice and sail through difficulties peacefully. He used to tell me, ‘Beta kabhi kisi ke bare me galat mat kaho’ (Never badmouth about anyone). I had similar relations with Kolhapurbased Bhaiji Baba. ‘Vo bhi achhi achhi baate karte the jivan ke baare mein’ (Even he used to talk good things about life).
The playback singers were not given recognition until you pressed for it in late 40s. How did this happen?
It is difficult for me to explain how this concept came up. Before Mahal (1949), music records registered the names of characters performing the songs on screen. Aayega Aanewala, which was initially credited to Kamini, the character played by Madhubala, was the turning point in that case. When All India Radio played the track, their phone lines were jammed with calls enquiring the name of the vocalist. They received stacks of letters requesting the identity of the voice. Ultimately, AIR had to announce my name. After that, I requested Raj Kapoor to start giving credit to the playback singers. His next film Barsaat, released in the same year, started this new trend.
How you convinced Filmfare to start honouring playback singers and lyricists, a trend which flourished in all award functions thereafter.
When Filmfare awards were constituted in 1950s, there was no recognition of playback singers. After four or five editions, Shankar Jaikishan bagged the award for Best Song in 1956 for Rasik Balma (Chori Chori). They requested me to perform the song on stage at the award night. I refused to oblige. I told them ‘Aapke gaane me aapko award mila hai, to aap bajaiye… Agar vo playback singer ko bhi dete, toh mai bhi gaati aapke sath’. Mr JC Jain, the man behind Filmfare awards, called me. I explained to him that though Hollywood.
movies are not known for music, they give recognition to its singers. Whereas Indian Cinema is incomplete without songs so how can we snub vocalists and lyricists? ‘During the conversation, he promised to start the new category for singers and lyricists from the following year. Lekin maine kaha jab aap shuru karenge, mai tabhi aakar gaungi. Award chaahe kisi ko bhi mile, mai aa jaungi (I told him I will sing only when you start honouring playback singers. No matter who wins the award, I will come and perform).
Finally, the new categories were introduced in 1958. For Madhumati, the entire music team was honoured including me (singer), Shailendra (lyricist) and Salil Choudhury (music director).
What led you to give up the Filmfare award?
I knew I would get most of it because almost every film had my songs. So I requested them to stop considering me for the award to promote fresh talent. My last Filmfare was for Aap Mujhe Achhe Lagne Lage. After that, a lot of other singers began to receive the trophy. It made me really happy. ‘Har saal main lekar aa jaun ghar me, mujhe ye achha nahi laga.’
In the last 15 years, you have recorded a lot of ghazals and devotional music with composer Mayuresh Pai. How do you find his work?
Mayuresh contacted me through my sister Usha for a recording. I liked his composition called Mere Sai and recorded it. Later, he came up with some poems by Atal Bihari Vajpayee (former PM). Then I recorded many bhajans for him. We also did one ghazal album Saadgi, which was written by Javed (Akhtar) saab. Now Mayuresh has joined my label (Lata Mangeshkar Music). He is a talented composer.
Isn’t it challenging to run a music label (Lata Mangeshkar Music)?
It is… because people don’t buy records anymore. Everything has gone online. We also had big plans for LM label. I wanted to record devotional music in different religions.
Your views on reality shows with children?
I’m against this concept. Reality shows ruin life of children. They may sing on a stage but they are unlikely to get work in films. In this game of recognition and glamour, they get distracted from their studies. Parents keep hounding them to perform better.
Written by : Karan Bhardwaj