Nightingale of India
Dotingly known as the ‘nightingale of India’, Lata Mangeshkar at 84 is still amongst the most successful and respectable playback singers across Indian mainstream as well as regional cinema. Born on September 28, 1929, in a Marathi-speaking family, settled in the princely state of Indore, Lata started taking music lessons from her father. At the age of five, she began working as an actress in her father’s musical production. The musical wisdom she gained left a strong impression on her, as did the songs of K. L. Saigal, whom she idolised. Formally, she has received education up to one day. As the story goes, on the first day of her school, she started teaching songs to other children. When interrupted by the teacher, she became so angry that she stopped going to the school.
Five years before India attained Independence, Lata’s father, also a well-known Marathi theatre artist, Deenanath Mangeshkar died of a heart disease. Accompanied by her siblings Meena, Usha, Asha and Hridaynath, Lata was only 13 and was dejected with the sudden loss. Vinayak Damodar Karnataki, owner of Navyug Chitrapat Movie Company and a close friend of the Mangeshkar family, then came forward and took care of them. He also helped Lata with a start-up in her singing as well as acting career.
From 1942 to 1948, Lata acted in as many as eight movies. In 1942, she debuted as a playback singer in a Marathi film, Kiti Hasal but unfortunately the song was edited out. Then in 1947, her first Hindi playback was released in the film Aap ki Sewa Main, but, she was hardly acknowledged. Surviving in an industry dominated by huskier female singers, Lata was rejected by famous composer S.Mukherjee for her thin voice while auditioning for the movie Shaheed, in 1948.
But another music prodigy, Ghulab Haider broke in through Lata’s typecast thin voice and gave her a chance to sing in the film Majboor. Allegedly, Haider also warned S. Mukherjee for rejecting Lata and even supported her by saying that she will soon go on to become as successful as to put every other singer in the shade including Noorjehan!
As predicted by Haider, Majboor’s song ‘Dil Mera Toda’ finally got Lata noticed and it was touted as her breakthrough. In 1949, she gave four major hits for the movies Barsaat, Andaaz, Dulari and Mahal. This enabled Lata to secure a concrete position in the industry. The husky voices of all other singers became obsolete and the music industry had a huge makeover with the arrival of Lata Mangeshkar. Since then, there was no turning back.
Through 1950s, Lata witnessed tremendous growth in her career. Rising to the top-listers, she started working with the famous composers like Shankar Jaikishan, S.D. Burman, Naushad, Hemant Kumar and Salil Chowdhury. Shankar Jaikishan was absolutely stunned by her voice and persuaded her to sing in almost all his movies. 1960s was no different as she continued to rise in playback singing. Her songs got an overwhelming response from people across the country. During 1970s, Lata sang for Bollywood actress Meena Kumari, for the film Pakeezah, which brought her extreme popularity. Her emotional rendition of the patriotic song- ‘Ai mere watan ke logon’ bought the then, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to tears. She has performed duets with famous singers like Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, etc. She has perfected almost every language and genre of music.
In 1973, she became National Award winner for playback singing (female) for the song ‘Beeti Na Bitai’ (Parichay), composed by R. D. Burman and written by Gulzar. The Guinness Book of World Records listed Lata Mangeshkar, in 1974, as the most recorded artist in the history, reportedly recorded “not fewer than 30,000 solo, duets and chorus backed songs in 20 Indian languages” between 1948 and 1974. Lata Mangeshkar was awarded Bharat Ratna in 2001, India’s highest civilian honor. In the same year, she established a hospital after her father’s name in Pune. With the help of advanced technology, The Royal Albert Hall, London recorded a graph of Lata’s voice which is by far the ‘Most Perfect’ in the World. Little known to people, Lata has a passion for photography and also got herself a gallery permanently reserved at the Lord’s stadium, London, to enjoy her favourite game i.e. Cricket.
Her success and determination made her one of the most powerful women in the industry. She truly monopolised the music business, diligently urging every music director to work with her. She understood the requirement of each song and prolongs to sing flawlessly.