She made our hearts rise an octave or more of love and longing, moved us to tears of joy and sorrow, sometimes introspect and sometimes dance in surrender, her voice reflects all our emotions, her songs that the cadence of time and history of the gramophone into the digital age.
Lata Mangeshkar is dead, but the music continues – in a seemingly endless chorus, as it has been for nearly eight decades and probably for many years to come.
Mangeshkar, 92, who died Sunday in a hospital in Mumbai, sang not only in Hindi but in almost every other Indian language, that lilting voice that awakened generations of actors from Madhubala to Preity Zinta and dozens of others in between.
Her “golden voice” is the “golden voice” that millions of South Asians tune into when they wake up and often the last thing they hear before they stop, the beating heart of a shared memory passed down from generation to generation.
The nicknames are many — ‘melody queen’, ‘India’s nightingale’, ‘the voice of the millennium’ and for many simply ‘Lata didi’.
The first recorded song of the Indonesian-born Mangeshkar was in 1942 in the Marathi movie “Kiti Hasaal”, when she was just 13. Last October, 79 years later, Vishal Bhardwaj released “Theek Nahi Lagta”, a song featuring Mangeshkar’s favorite lyricist Gulzar that was thought to have been lost.
“That long journey is with me and that little girl is still with me. She hasn’t gone anywhere. Some people call me ‘Saraswati’ or say I have her blessings. They say I am this and that…” It’s their blessing that people like everything I sing. Otherwise, who am I? I am nothing,” Mangeshkar said in her latest interview with PTI, days after the song was released.
Her many millions of fans will disagree. To them, and even to those unfamiliar with her music, she is one of the few Indians whose name strikes a chord in far corners of the globe.
The body of work is so overwhelming that it is impossible to take stock in one sitting, with divided opinion as to whether it was 10,000 numbers, 15,000 or 25,000.
There were the gems that sparkled in the crowd — from the non-cinematic tribute to the Indian soldier, “Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon,” which she sang in 1963 in the presence of Jawaharlal Nehru and famously reduced him to tears and the classic “Mohe Panghat Pe” (“Mughal-e-Azam”) to the romantic “Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Ye” (“Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai”) and the seductive “Baahon me Chale Aao” (“Anamika”).
She was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, the Dadasaheb Phalke Prize, and many others.
Unusually for someone so revered and so much in the public eye, Mangeshkar was always fiercely protective of her privacy.
The image of the soft-spoken woman, invariably dressed in white and pastels with diamonds glistening in her ears, arguably the only concession to her wealth and fame, has endured the years.
She remained single despite her highly speculated relationship with cricketer Raj Singh Dungarpur, a relationship he talked about and she never did. The much talked about competition with sister Asha Bhosle was also the subject of headlines and rumors, but she never bothered to clarify. Just as the two Mangeshkar sisters kept quiet about the persistent talk of how they ruled the industry and not let others rise up in the industry. There were some other controversies like her feud with Mohammed Rafi over royalties and her brief feud with Raj Kapoor, but those were just blips in a long career. The beginning was humble.
Mangeshkar was born on September 28, 1929 as the son of Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar, a Marathi musician and Gujarati housewife Shevanti in Indore. She was the eldest of five children – Meena, Asha, Usha and Hridaynath.
Her singing talent was discovered by accident by her father, a musician and theater performer, when she was only five.
The untimely death of her father placed the financial burden of the family on the shoulders of a 13-year-old Mangeshkar. Family friend Master Vinayak came to the rescue of the family and Mangeshkar started singing and acting in his theater company.
When she went to Mumbai, producer S Mukerji rejected her because he thought her voice was too thin. But fame was just around the corner.
The song was “Aayega Aana Wala”, the movie “Mahal” and the year 1949.
Playback singers were not a priority and the haunting song, one of Mangeshkar’s best-loved stills, was initially credited to Kamini, Madhubala’s screen name in the film.
It was such an outrage that people called to ask about the singer’s identity, forcing the radio station to contact HMV to ask who had sung the song, Mangeshkar recalls in the documentary “Lata Mangeshkar: In Her Own Words by Nasreen Munni Kabeer. Lata Mangeshkar was identified on air. And the star was born.
The 1950s belonged entirely to Mangeshkar, who went on to work with composing greats such as Shankar Jaikishan, Naushad Ali, SD Burman, Hemant Kumar and Madan Mohan.
While the money wasn’t great, these were the busy years for Mangeshkar and sometimes she saw her record six to eight songs in a day, go home, sleep for a few hours and then catch the train back to a recording studio.
Her voice was such a guarantee of success that over the years, protagonists would insist that Lata Mangeshkar be their voice, and put that condition in their contracts.
In the 1960s, Madhubala was again the face of Mangeshkar’s voice in the evergreen “Mughal-E-Azam” with the defiant “Jab Pyaar Kiya to Darna Kya” that became synonymous with many a lover’s revolt.
The 1960s also marked the beginning of her collaboration with Laxmikant-Pyarelal with whom Mangeshkar sang over 700 songs over a span of 35 long years, most of which became huge hits.
The period saw her record duets with Mukesh, Manna Dey, Mahendra Kapoor, Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar.
And of course the 70s will be remembered for Meena Kumari’s last movie “Pakeezah”.
In the 1980s, she worked on such films as “Silsila”, “Chandni”, “Maine Pyar Kiya”, “Ek Duuje Ke Liye”, “Prem Rog”, “Ram Teri Ganga Maili” and “Masoom”.
Her most notable songs in the 1990s and 2000s were the Gulzar-directed film “Lekin” and Yash Chopra films “Lamhe”, “Darr”, “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” and “Dil To Pagal Hai”.
Mangshkar’s last full movie album was “Veer-Zaara” in 2004.
Lata Mangeshkar is gone, but will never be silenced.
Whatever the theme, the Maiden sang as if her song could have no end.
That was William Wordsworth in another age. But Lata Mangeshkar, her songs will have no end.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by DailyExpertNews staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)