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Sweet 75

The Nightingale of India turns 75 tomorrow. K. PRADEEP on this sweet voice that generations love.


"In this workaday world her (Lata Mangeshkar) songs don't provide subsistence to this crazy people but they keep listening to her sing, wanting more... ': Vijay Tendulkar.

LATA MANGESHKAR'S songs are part of the collective memory of the people of this land. The inimitable voice would not have bettered lives but it must have surely brightened lives, if at least for fleeting moments; given them wings to escape, albeit for a short while, from the miseries and agonies of their lives.

Thousands of movies churned out by Bollywood every year have hinged on its songs. And Lata has, for 54 years, infused life into an unending flow of songs. That cascade, which began as a trickle in the Marathi film `Pahli Mangalagaur' way back in 1942, flowed steadily, entered Hindi films and soon engulfed this world. She gave her voice for the leading ladies of Hindi screen, beginning with Shantarin, right up to Preity Zinta.

Most of these stars have aged, died, retired or simply faded, but this voice goes on. Ilayaraja once said: "Nothing will remain the same and anything can be replaced by something. But one thing that will remain in the world is Lataji's divine voice."

All these ladies must have echoed the feelings of Nargis, who once said: "I never needed to use glycerine while emoting to the sad songs rendered by Lata... " Sweetness and emotional intensity were two qualities that outweighed every other aspect of her singing. If one has a soul worth expressing it will show itself and Lata sang not with her voice, but with her heart, with all her convictions. No surprise that Naushad once said that even if there are better singers than Lata they could never take her place.

The journey to the top was not easy at all. In the beginning there was this little girl who sang and acted to keep her family going. To the music directors and others in the tinsel world she was the little daughter of Dinanath Mangeshkar, a maestro who died a broken man, leaving the family of four daughters, Lata, Meena, Asha, Usha and a son Hridaynath, in penury. Initially it was acting and singing in films that came her way.

Naushad gave Lata a break in the film `Chandni Raat.' The fact is that the master composer was not quite happy with her voice, which he described as "shrill to merit notice in the midst of the heavy ones." But he acknowledged the potential of her mobile expression and the advantages of a strong classical Lata got her decisive break in the film `Majboor,' but three films that appeared in 1949; `Mahal' (Khemchand Prakash), `Andaz' (Naushad) and `Barsaat' (Shanker-Jaikishen) thrust this singer to centre stage.

Along with fame there came rumours and harsh criticism. It was alleged that Lata did not allow other female singers to emerge, not even her sister Asha Bhonsle. There were rumours that she even refused to sing for music directors who introduced other female singers. But even the harshest of critics were unanimous on the amazing quality of her singing.

Of late, Lata has eased herself out of the rat race of playback singing though she continues to sing occasionally when an old friend or associate asks her to. She spends more time out of Mumbai, preferring the solitude of Pune, Nasik or Kolhapur.

As the song goes, `Abhi na jao, chchod kar, ke dil abhi bhara nahin... .' And now countless fans would repeat, `don't leave now, for our hearts have not been filled yet'.

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