More fascinating nuggets about Lata Mangeshkar’s life

Lata Mangeshkar, along with Satyajit Ray, was the first Indian artiset to be famous globally. Photo: Publicity Photo

Composer Anandji of the Kalyanji-Anandji duo recounted how they discovered a closet Lata fan – an African man – deep in the jungles of Africa in the early ‘60s. He owned a curio shop and they found a garlanded picture of Lata hanging in his establishment. Curious, Anandji asked him, “Do you know who this is?” and the man replied, “Lata maa!” and prostrated before it, and began warbling a Lata hit from the ‘50s! Such was her fame even then – worldwide!

Lata produced three films in Hindi – Jhanjhaar in 1953 along with composer C. Ramachandra, Kanchan (1955) and finally Lekin (1991), which she officially only presented.

Lata’s song Ae mere watan ke logon composed by C. Ramachandra in memory of the soldiers who died in the 1962 Chinese aggression had its Golden Jubilee celebrated in 2012 – a rare honor for any song!

In Marathi films, the cinema of her mother–tongue, Lata has sung a fraction of the songs sung by her sister Asha Bhosle. But she also composed music for five Marathi films – for the 1950 Ram Ram Paahune under her own name to Mohityaanchi Manjula, Maratha Tituka Melawa, Saadhi Mansa and Tambdi Maati. As composer, she was billed as Anandghan.

Lata even produced the Marathi film Vaadal in 1953.

Lata, who is said to have sung in over 30 Indian languages and dialects, including English, has sung substantially in Bengali and Gujarati. But her contributions here included songs in both films and private albums.

When she sang for youngsters like Rahman, Jatin-Lalit, Adnan Sami and Shamir Tandon—people born much after she began singing!—she made them tell her frankly if she is not delivering what they wanted. Time stood still whenever she went for a recording – until the composer was satisfied.

Besides her father, her teachers were Pt. Tulsidas Sharma (Lata had a wish to be trained by Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, which did not happen, and Pandit-ji was the Ustad’s disciple), Ustad Amanat Khan and Ustad Aman Ali Khan Bhendibazarwale. The latter two taught her the importance of taal (rhythm).

Technically, among her ‘teacher’ composers, Ghulam Haider taught her how to concentrate on words, their clarity and diction, and to dwell on the artiste who would be singing her song on screen. He also taught Lata how to stress on the word or syllable that came on the beat of the song. Naushad too trained her in this, and also emphasized the importance of the lyrics and the story of the film as a whole.

But the most significant contribution to her uniqueness as a singer came from Anil Biswas – it was he who taught her the art of breath control, making her the only singer whose intake of breath is inaudible.

Perhaps related to this is another Lata USP – those in the singer’s cabin can barely hear Lata at the microphone even if they stand close behind her. Lata knows how to ‘throw’ the complete power of her voice into the microphone and not dissipate it!

Before rendering the Bhagavad Geeta, she took lessons in Sanskrit from the scholar Pt. G.N. Dandekar.

Today, when she does not have anything at all left to prove. Lata Mangeshkar still remains a student of music. She once told this writer, “Can I tell you the truth? So many singers have been better than me, are better than me and will be better in the future too. To be honest, my biggest achievement is that the people liked me, showered me with so much love and affection and gave my singing and me a consistently great response. I personally feel from the core of my heart that this is all my parents’ and my gurus’ blessings and my destiny that I was able to reach where I did. I cannot really say that I have done all this!”

She told me, “I also put in a lot of effort to understand what playback singing, as opposed to classical music or any other musical field, was all about. I made a study of the art, especially of its specialized needs. I realized it called for a circus of three to four minutes in which everything— your musical knowledge, your diction, expression and everything else—has to be packed in. It was also clear that while being conscious of all these factors, it was essentially music for a film, a situation in a story and for a heroine. And I put in efforts in diction when it came to other languages I was not familiar with, like Bengali.”

Her expertise in Western songs, she admits, came because of her strong base in Indian classical music. She avoided cabarets unless the lyrics were decent. “But Shankar-Jaikishan and Laxmikant-Pyarelal took care of those aspects and made songs that were suited to my vocal cords and left me free to sing them in my style,” she stressed.

She was conferred the nation’s highest honor in Entertainment, the Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1989, the second highest civilian award, Padma Vibhushan, a decade later, and India’s biggest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in 2001.

Lata established the Master Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in Pune, managed by the Lata Mangeshkar Medical Foundation (founded by the family in 1989) in 2001.

In 2005, she designed a jewelry collection called Swaranjali, crafted by Adora, an Indian diamond export firm. Some of the pieces raised 100,000 British pounds at a Christie’s auction, and part of this was donated for the 2005 Kashmir earthquake relief.

Lata also launched her own music label, LM Music, with an album (in which she also sang) of bhajans, Swami Samarth Maha Mantra, composed by Mayuresh Pai. She also owns the L.M. Studio in Mumbai’s Andheri.

In December 2018, she recorded the Gayatri Mantra on the occasion of the wedding of celebrity tycoons Isha Ambani and Anand Piramal.


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