Forbes India – Lata Mangeshkar: Voice That United India


Despite being blessed with a perfect voice and achieving greatness, Lata Mangeshkar never took her talent or stature for granted.
Image: Sebastian D’Souza/AFP

Lata Mangeshkar had often said that if given a choice, she would not like to be reborn as Lata Mangeshkar. There has been a lot of pain, struggle and sadness in my life, and only I know that, the Bharat Ratna would explain without revealing too much.

Born to Deenanath Mangeshkar and Shevanti, the singer has had to bear the responsibilities of the family since the age of 13 after the death of her father, a classical musician and theater actor. As the financial crisis worsened with the closure of her father’s theater company, Mangeshkar took to acting in Marathi films like Pahili Mangalgaur (1942) to ensure that her four siblings – Asha, Usha, Meena and Hridaynath – don’t have to go to bed hungry. However, she hated makeup and often complained to her mother about the cut of her eyebrows.

Master Vinayak, who had taken Mangeshkar under his wing, asked him to move to Mumbai and gave him acting and singing opportunities. Thus began her journey as a playback singer.

Her voice was initially called “thin” by some, but musical director Ghulam Haider, who mentored her, showed immense confidence in her abilities. He was finally right.

The era of Mangeshkar started after the popularity of ‘Aayega Aanewala’ from mahal (1949). She remembers facing a lot of interference while recording the song, the rehearsals of which lasted for days. To give effect to the line ‘Khamosh Hai Yeh Zamana‘ – which she had to sing as if the actor were in a movie – Mangeshkar stood at one end of the recording room with a microphone in the middle. She would start singing from a corner and move towards the mic to get the desired “echo” effect.

Such a commitment to his craft remained intact decades later as well. At the age of 76, Mangeshkar flew to Chennai and rehearsed ‘Luka Chupi’the song of Basanti Rank (2006), for four days. Ten years after its release, music maestro AR Rahman revealed that the singer stayed for eight hours to record the song.

During the early days of her career, she also had her share of naysayers. Once, while traveling on a local train to a recording studio, music composer Anil Biswas introduced her to actor Dilip Kumar, saying she is a rising singer. “Yeh to Marathi hain. Inko urdu kahan aati hai? (She is Maharashtrian…they don’t know Urdu),” he replied. Upset by the insult, she hired a tutor and learned the language to make sure she got the right pronunciation. Kumar and Mangeshkar, of course, shared a close bond later, with the latter even tying a rakhi to the actor on Raksha Bandhan.

Mangeshkar was a self-respecting person. Once she took her younger sister Asha, who was a few months old, to school with her. When the principal scolded her for bringing a baby to class, she decided never to go to school again. On another occasion, while recording a song, she had a small argument with composer Sardar Malik. Without telling anyone, Mangeshkar left the studio. It wasn’t until the others noticed that her sandals were missing that they realized she had gone home.

Despite being blessed with a flawless voice and achieving greatness, Mangeshkar never took her talent or stature for granted. Music meant everything to her and she treated the space where she sang as a place of worship. At each concert, she went on stage without shoes. During the recordings, she stood barefoot and recorded her song.

In a career spanning over seven decades, India’s Nightingale has sung countless songs, in all languages, and read to actors from Madhubala to Madhuri Dixit, Nutan to Sridevi, Meena Kumari to Tabu, Waheeda Raman to Rani Mukerji. Indeed, it is said that Madhubala, in his contract, would specify that “only Lata will sing for me”. Mangeshkar has also collaborated with almost every musical composer, from Madan Mohan, RD Burman and SD Burman to AR Rahman. From gramophones to walkmans, record players, MP3 players and YouTube, his voice has been a constant.

As Mangeshkar got better and better, she became second to none. Her equally illustrious sister, Asha Bhosle, was perhaps the only one who could match her. It is often claimed that the sisters did not let other female singers flourish, but Mangeshkar had repeatedly dismissed such insinuations saying that they were the best and the musical directors only wanted them to sing their songs. She added that if they could establish themselves when there were other singers when they came to the industry, why couldn’t anyone else?

Among other things, she also received criticism for her opposition to the flyover of Peddar Road and her poor attendance at the Rajya Sabha where she was appointed as an MP. However, such criticism pales in comparison to the impact Mangeshkar has had across generations. She united India like no other with her soulful voice that can stir up emotions in anyone. India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was no exception as he shed tears on stage as the singer sang Aye Mere Watan Kay Logo in honor of Indian soldiers who lost their lives in the Indochina War of 1962.

As she brought the lyrics she sang to life, Mangeshkar herself found joy in cricket. When she was young, she received passes from former Indian cricketer Polly Umrigar and watched cricket matches at Bombay Gymkhana, Brabourne Stadium and Parsee Gymkhana in Mumbai. She once revealed that she would take a vacation from recordings to watch India matches. She also loved sarees and diamonds. Films have remained an integral part of his life. As a child, she would sit on a pile of pillows and play Sant Tukaram after watching a film about the saint’s life. And at other times she would become Devdas with her sister Meena playing Paro even though there was no one to play Chandramukhi.

Mangeshkar kept his childlike enthusiasm to the end by embracing social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, and taking a nostalgic trip. Early in her career, she walked from Malad station to the recording studio instead of taking the horse cart to save money. As she breathed her last on Sunday, a sea of ​​humanity washed over her mortal remains – a fitting tribute to a one-of-a-kind performer who mesmerized people around the world with her melodious voice.

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