‘Aaja re e… main toh kab se khadi is dwar,
Yeh ankhiyaan, thak gayi panth nihaar,
Aaja re e- e- e- parde-si’
The oldest Lata Mangeshkar song in my memory. Which is the oldest that you remember?
This song was recorded for the 1958 Bollywood blockbuster 'Madhumati’.
The song was lip-synced and brought to life on screen by the then superstar, Vaijanthimala.
But when this song plays, it is just the melodious voice of Lata Mangeshkar that jingles through the senses.
The movie, the performing actors, and every other information and clatters of the mind are simply put to rest as the song plays.
The only thing that comes in front of our eyes is the smiling face of Lata Mangeshkar as her voice keeps pouring sweetness into our ears, hearts, and souls.
And not only this one song, but it is also the same with - ‘Ajeeb daastan hai yeh,’ ‘Mohe panghat pe nandlal’, ‘Aap ki nazron ne samjha’... and the countless number of songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar.
Can an artist rise above everything in such a manner? Is that the might of voice that can make a song immortal, ageless, and as mesmerizing even after seven decades as it was at the time of its release?
What is it that breathes so much prowess into a singer’s voice? A divine intervention? Dedication, commitment, and hard work? What kind of mentor? How many hours of practice? What is it?
Every aspiring singer has these questions in mind. And more so now, after her demise on the fateful morning of 6th February 2022.
So let’s get enroute to see…
What was it like to become Lata Mangeshkar?
Lata Mangeshkar’s career graph has been explicitly written and discussed over and over again. And it was not bereft of criticisms either.
Be it for her being rejected by film producer Sashadhar Mukherjee for having a ‘thin voice’ or superstar Dilip Kumar making remarks on her songs to sounding like ‘daal bhaat’ to being blamed for playing politics to sideline other deserving singers, criticisms were as much a part of her journey as were accolades.
However, she always prioritized her craft. Her dedication was unwavering. And like always, all the noise died out as she sang and reigned over through the past 70 decades. And it will continue in the years to come.
The versatility of her voice beautifully adorned the lyrics and melodies of several prolific lyricists and musicians and made their compositions immortal.
Through diverse genres of music, languages, moods, time, classics, retro and contemporary films - you may categorize or name as much as you like. But the expanse of Lata Mangeshkar’s contribution to film songs is simply unfathomable.
For many of us - she was profusely fortunate to be Lata Mangeshkar. She was blessed by Goddess Saraswati. But what she did to manifest the blessing is what we, the seekers and learners of music should focus on.
If you take a closer look, you will find an ardent seeker relentlessly trying to amp up her capability with every new song, and adapting to the ever-evolving needs of the entertainment industry.
No matter how effortless her renditions sound, the untiring efforts behind them are what we, the learners of vocal music, should appreciate and try to inculcate.
Mentors of Lata Mangeshkar
Lata Mangeshkar’s first mentor was her father Deenanath Mangeshkar. He was a Marathi and Konkani singer. He had trained under Ramkrishnabuwa Vaze of Gwalior Gharana. Lata’s paternal grandmother, Yesubai was a Devdasi. Essentially she had music in her blood.
Her father introduced her to the theatrical stage at the tender age of five in Marathi musical plays.
After her father’s demise, Lata Mangeshkar, all of 13 at that time, got introduced to films as an actress and singer by their family friend, Master Vinayak. Vinayak was the owner of Navyug Chitrapat movie company.
She moved to Mumbai in 1945 along with Master Vinayak’s company. In 1948, after Vinayak’s death, she came under the mentorship of music director Gulam Haider. He was the one who introduced Lata to the Hindi film industry.
After moving to Mumbai, Lata started training under Ustad Aman Ali Khan of Bhendi Bazaar Gharana.
Bhendi Bazaar Gharana is known to blend the riches of Hindustani classical music with Carnatic music to create the best music foundation for their students.
Apart from Lata, Bhendi Bazaar Gharana has given some of the celebrated vocal maestros in the Hindi films such as Manna De, Vasant Deshpande, Asha Bhosle, and Mahendra Kapoor.
Training in classical music under her father Deenanath Mangeshkar in her early years, exposure to acting on stage as well as on the silver screen, and finally training under Aman Ali Khan - all these together groomed Lata to become an unmatched talent at that time.
Essentially, success in any skill depends largely on your mentor. And Lata was no exception. Her success can be attributed to all her mentors who helped her to develop a strong foundation in classical music and guided her throughout her career.
The significance of finding a good mentor at the right time can never be emphasized enough. And if you want to start your musical journey under able guidance - explore options to learn Indian singing here.
When Lata Mangeshkar stepped into the Hindi film industry, she had to face competition from established singers of that time. Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt, and Noor Jahan were some of the reigning supremos of that time.
Also, it was a time when the actors used to multitask as singers as well. Playback singing was yet to take center stage. Hence, Lata had to join Hind films as an actor rather than a singer.
The reigning trends of the era were marked mostly by either nasal tones or full-throat voices of the singers. In that, Lata’s voice brought about a freshness that created an instant universal appeal.
Within just one year of her arrival, Lata made her mark with her first hit - ‘Aayega aanewala’ from the 1949 film Mahal.
Lata commanded unwavering control over the pitch and the tone while rendering myriads of musical composition. Over the years, she developed her signature style that moved away from the mehfil style renditions of the established singers of that time.
Her voice was often compared with that of a nightingale's. It had set her apart from everyone else in the league. She earned several accolades and names for her voice. Research firms in the USA even wanted to conduct research on her vocal chord.
Essentially, it was the first sign of the advent of the golden era of Hindi film music. Gradually, several other stalwarts of the Hindi film industry came together to usher in the most glorious time for both motion picture as well as music. Bollywood Music - Introduction, History & Evolution effectively captures the growth chart of this new and indigenous genre of music.
Lata Mangeshkar’s training
There’s a lot that’s spoken about Lata Mangeshkar’s vocal prowess. And the volume of her work that had transcended all boundaries only testifies to that.
‘Lata Mangeshkar song’ is the most vividly searched phrase on the internet. Even in 2022 music lovers from India are sure to have a playlist saved as - ‘Lata Mangeshkar old song’ on their devices.
But the persistent question in the minds of every aspiring vocalist and their parents - what did she do for that voice? How many hours in a day did she practice? And so on.
Well as it is revealed in some of her exclusive interviews, she was mischievous, evasive, and shy in her early years of training in vocal music.
So that’s one common thing we share with her. Right?
But… she listened to her father when he told her that she should think she would sing better than her guru.
She remembered her father’s words like gospel.
Lata loved to learn the bandish more than the alaap and taans.
Further, Lata was also kept under very strict discipline in regard to the kind of songs she should listen to or sing. Her father was extremely selective about the movies she watched. Thus cultural grooming was as much a part of her training as singing practice.
Lata Mangeshkar reigned over Hindi film music right from its founding years through the decades as it grew into this magnanimous industry. The number of songs she sang and in how many languages has been cited enough.
The songs she sang reverberated in the minds of common men and pulled at their heartstrings. Very soon everyone was found humming these songs. Her songs also defined the genre of semi-classical music.
The day after Vasant Panchami and Saraswati Puja, when students from all over India were preparing for immersion in the idol of Goddess Saraswati, the Nightingale of India left her mortal frame.
On her demise, the media is flooded with tributes from the entire musical fraternity as well as fans from across the globe. Everyone is expressing their reverence through words or by singing her songs on social media.
And lastly… a lifetime of songs and a treasure trove of melodies summed up in a couplet sung by her… “Do pal ruka khwabon ka karwan… Aur phir chal diye tum kahan hum kahan…”
Indeed, Lata Mangeshkar is survived by her musical legacy which is a thriving inspiration for everyone. Let us keep her alive in our hearts. And for those of us who can sing, let us make an attempt to take it ahead.
Let us keep her alive in songs… by learning to sing her songs!