Lata Mangeshkar: Legendary Singer Passes Away At 92

Lata Mangeshkar: Legendary Singer Passes Away At 92

Lata Mangeshkar passed away on Sunday, after battling pneumonia and Covid for over a month. She was 92. As people, from the Prime Minister to every big celebrity, offer their condolences, the whole country mourns this tragic demise. We lost a spirited nature. We lost the mesmerising magic of a beautiful voice. 

Today, I, along with the rest of the Explore Screen team, would like to take a moment to pay tribute and look back at this singer who devoted each strand of her soul to her art and in turn, became a God in the music landscape. (Even if you haven’t heard her music, you do know who she was)

“What epithet will fit Lata Mangeshkar?” - I met with a roadblock even before I began to write. How can you describe a nonagenarian singer of her stature without resorting to a conscious hyperbole? Moreover, “Great”, “Goddess”, “Legend”- everything has been used so very often and is now used with such levity, that it’d be an irksome banality anyway. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one. No less than a poet, Javed Akhtar has tried to introduce Lata Mangeshkar and was left grasping for the perfect word.

“No one says Shakespeare was a great writer, no one says Michelangelo was a brilliant sculptor, their names are enough”, was Akthar’s way of explaining the dilemma. True, the names of artists like Lata Mangeshkar have become an appellation in themselves. It’s not because you can’t, but because there is no single word enough to capture the emotions, the joys, the pathos, and the poignancy her voice evokes.

 Coming from a family of musicians, Lata Mangeshkar seems to have been destined to follow in her father Pt. Dinanath Mangeshkar’s footsteps. In conversation with Javed Akhtar, she fondly recalls her childhood days of singing in the kitchen. Her sole audience being her exasperated mother, who could’ve done without a five-year-old kid’s loud singing while cooking for the family.

 She used to listen to her father sing and teach music to his students in those early days. One day, in her father’s absence, a very tender Lata took it upon herself to correct one of the pupils on a minor mistake. Her father, however, heard that from outside. Pt. Dinanath Mangeshkar was quick to spot her daughter’s talent and decided to teach her from the next day. There it started, a rigorous routine of practising from the wee hours of the morning.

Lata Mangeshkar: Legendary Singer Passes Away At 92

Image Credit: Pinterest

Four years later, she was already performing with her father (before her father actually) in a concert. Another four years later, she received the first offer to sing in a film. Lata was 13-14 at the time. Her father was reluctant to let Lata perform playback singing at this early age. However, he had to consent to a personal friend’s request. Her first studio-recorded song was for a Marathi film in 1942. Unfortunately, neither the song nor the film could see the light of the day. An unfortunate occurrence that was to repeat itself, quite a few more times in her career. An entire album was shelved and different sets of songs were recorded for Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah (1972). Some of her songs were revived later in other films by Yash Chopra and most recently by Vishal Bharadwaj. ‘Tere Liye’ in Veer-Zara, was originally composed by Madan Mohan but was never used.

 But the initial journey wasn’t as smooth as one might think. After her father’s untimely death, she became the sole breadwinner of the family. Days were hard. She recalls going to the studio by foot instead of ‘tonga’ to save money to buy vegetables on her way back. To imbue her songs with more emotion, at that time, she also started taking Urdu lessons from a Maulana and Hindustani classical lessons from Ustand Aman Ali Khan.

 Producers, too, were not convinced by her ‘too thin’ voice. She was snubbed initially for a few films. However, music director Ghulam Haider came to her rescue. He took her under his wings and gave her a  major breakthrough in the film Majboor (1948). She fondly recalls how “Dil Mera Toda, Mujhe Kahin Ka Na Chhora” paved the way for her future success.

Lata Mangeshkar: Legendary Singer Passes Away At 92

Image Credit: Pinterest 

 Although, her voice remained and still remains a benchmark of perfection- Ghulam Ali is believed to have said, she never went off-key- she has a very different opinion. “I never listen to my songs. If I did, I'd find a hundred mistakes in my singing. Even in the past, once I finished recording a song, I was done with it.”  Humble as always, with self-effacing grace, she has always shied away from taking the credit herself, but has given it to her fans, “can't believe I've been tolerated by music lovers for 75 years!”

 It isn’t a false modesty, however, or a perfunctory gesture of respect and courtesy to her predecessors, contemporaries, and today’s youngsters. She has been an admirer of Noor Jehan, Geeta Dutt of her earlier generation, and Alka Yagnik, Sunidhi Chauhan, and Shreya Ghosal of the younger lot, and never shrugged off the opportunity to sing with Gurdass Mann, Roop Kumar Rathod, Rekha Bharadwaj, Abhijeet Bhattacharya, or Sonu Nigam.

 In the career spanning almost 80 years, her collaborators range from Anil Biswas, Shankar-Jaikishan, Khayyam, Laxikanth-Pyarelal, Salil Chowdhury, both S.D. Burman and R. D.Burman, to Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, Vishal Bharadwaj, Jatin-Lalit, and modern-day maestro A.R.Rehman, whose work she fondly adores.

 “The body is frail, but the mind is still intact.” This was Lata Mangeshkar’s response when asked about her health a few months ago on her birthday. She was alarmed by the frivolous time and anxious of an increasingly fickle and restless generation. “Younger generation has a very less attention span, I doubt whether my legacy will matter,” she remarks.  Hopefully, her apprehension will be proved to be wrong, but that only time can tell. 


Author’s Biographical Note: Parnab Bhattacharya is a freelance writer, currently working as an intern at Explore Screen.

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