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So why did Lata NOT continue singing such songs? It's by choice, I suppose. After all, hasn't this disco crap made Hindi film music touch its nadir today?

Harish Bhimani's book says her classical concerts -- which she performed before 1949 -- were brilliant and evocative. She has also sung a lot of semi-classical stuff on the radio in the '40s.

Lata has sung only 14 songs for Sajjad Hussain, but
 regards him as one of her favourite music directors, the others being Jaidev, Madan Mohan and Salil Chowdhury




The unsung versatility of Lata

Why do people say Lata Mangeshkar can sing only one type of song? She has done rock and roll, Arabic, classical and folk numbers with equal flair, says Ajit K

A young Lata: C Ramchandra's choice for rock and rollLata Mangeshkar is THE nightingale of India. She is probably India's most popular and most respected artist. The accolades she has won are indeed enviable and unparalleled.

It's true that she has received most of the recognition due to her. However, one major aspect of her singing has been ruthlessly undermined or overlooked -- and that is her versatility.
So many people pass the blanket statement that "Asha is more versatile than Lata". Well, I have high regard for Ashaji who is a singer par excellence in her own right, and therefore I mean absolutely no insinuations against her. Nevertheless, Lataji is versatile too.

Now let me substantiate my claim. The most mindless allegation against Lata is her so-called inability to effectively render songs in the Western idiom. I beg to differ. Just one hearing of Shola jo bhadke from Albela or Gore gore o baanke chhore would prove me correct. Interestingly, composer C Ramchandra often used Lata for his rock-n-roll tunes, two of which I have mentioned here. C Ramchandra was one of those who introduced this form in Hindi movies. Lata has also sung a few other such songs.

Lata sounded deliciously Western under the tutelage of Salil  Chowdhury. Her songs, particularly in an obscure movie called Mem Didi, are examples of incomparable vocal artistry, and by that I mean the Western idiom. Yet another such album under Salil's baton (Half Ticket) contains the masterpiece Yeh ik nigaah ja mili sung by Lata. Lata's crooning between the stanzas is exquisite enough to please the finest connoisseur of music, and to evoke a whistle from the most romantic collegian.

Lata sang a remarkable set of such songs in Bengali with Salilda  -- O jhhor jhhor jhharna , Jhhilik jhhilik, Antobaheen and Jhhim chiki chuk, to name a few. The first song is a number requiring tremendous breath control and flexibility. And no discussion on the Lata-Salil combination would ever be complete
without a reference to her songs in Chaand aur Sooraj and
Prempatra, and above all the romantic Lata-Talat duet Aaha rimjhim ke yeh pyaare pyaare geet liye.

Lata's effortless humming at a strikingly high pitch will send any listener into raptures. Salil was truly the pioneer who introduced Western music in Hindi film music. The very fact he chose Lata almost always proves something!

Incidentally he is not the only one who gave such tunes to Lata. There were Kalyanji Anandji who used nothing but Lata's vocals for the deliciously Western love song Ye sama, sama hai ye pyaar ka in Jab Jab Phool Khile. S D Burman used her for Dil jale to jale in Taxi Driver and the absolutely unforgettable Rangeela re in Prem Pujaari, Naushad used her for Dildar-e-yaaram in Dil Diya Dard Liya. And of course Shankar Jaikishan used her for songs like 1957 1958 1959 in Anari, Gham chhod ke manao in Gumnaam, and Aankhon mein aankhein na dalo (don't know the film).

Then there were Laxmikant Pyaarelal who used Lata for the sensuous Tik tik tik mera dil bole in Humjoli (I was amused to see a hardcore Asha fan praising Asha for this song, when it is actually sung by Lata)
, and the songs of Night in London, Shagird and Inteqam. Chitragupt used the same Lata again in Ye parabaton ke daayare in Vaasana and Daga vaga phi vi in Kali Topi Lal Rumal.

Why, even R D Burman used her for Baahon mein chale aao and a frolicky duet with Asha in Padosan. His first movie Chhote Nawaab has a lovely song with a Spanish kind of tune, Matwaali aankhon waale.

Lata and not versatile? Quite the opposite, I'd say!

So why did Lata NOT continue singing such songs? It's by choice I suppose. And very correctly so. After all, isn't it the excessive disco crap that has made Hindi film music touch its most disgusting nadir today!

So is there any genre in film music that the Melody Queen left

Ghazals? Enough by Madan Mohan, Roshan, Anil Biswas, C Ramchandra and Naushad. And a private album each with Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Jagjit Singh and K Mahavir. Mahavir used Lata for a great ghazal Aankh se aankh milata hai koi which has some of the most unexpected and surprising changes in pitch.

Qawwalis? How about Ae haqeeqat from Dulhan ek Raat Ki, the ones from Mughal-e-Azam/Mere Mehboob and Laxmikant Pyarelal's Allah yeh ada kaisi hai in haseenon ki.

Seductive songs? Well, a few have already been mentioned. Additionally Malavun tak deep, a Marathi song composed by her brother, is easily the most erotic song I've ever heard! Or Hai re hi neend nahin aaye from Humjoli, if you are the one who loves those "oomph oomph" noises.

High-pitched songs? She has done quite a virtuosic
climb in Aa ab laut chalein from Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, in Jo tum todo piya from Jhanak Jhanak Paayal Baaje and in the songs of SwarnaSundari.

Some other songs in this category: Yaara sili sili from Lekin, Mhara ri giridhar gopal from her Meera Bhajan collection, Yeh zindagi usikiki hai from Anarkali, Aji roothhkar ab from Aarzoo, Rasik balama fom Chori Chori, Chale aao and Sab kuchh lutake hosh mein aaye to from Ek Saal .

And folk songs? She has sung enough lavnis like those in Marathi films like Amar Bhoopali and what is called a "baithhakichi lavni" for Hridaynath (I'm not sure about this). Moroever she has sung
lavnis even in Hindi movies besides some in Marathi for Vasant
Pawar. And we simply should not forget folk songs like  o bichhua from Madhumati, or Mila hai kisika jhhumka from Parakh, or the ones for Naushad in Ganga Jamuna. Besides this, a great Koli geet album for her brother is also extant.

Semiclassical? Strangely this is yet another highly underestimated aspect. Harish Bhimani's book says her classical concerts -- which she had conducted before 1949 -- were brilliant and evocative. She has also sung a lot of semi-classical stuff on radio in the '40s. My grandmother says she had listened to a 20-minute Lata piece some 45-50 years ago. She says never thereafter has she heard such sweetness in a pure
classical performance. The person who accompanied Lata in those classical concerts was the sarangi maestro Ram Narayan. The praises showered on Lata's classical skills by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Aamir Khan are well known. Records of Lata's Marathi
natyageets exist. At the age of nine Lata had performed semiclassical concerts (and later when she was working in the the theatre group of Master Vinayak).

And Lata's command over classical is evident from her songs like
- Preetam daras dikhao (Chacha Zindabad)
- Ja mein tose naahin bolun (Soutela Bhai)
- Ja mein tose naahin bolun kanhaiya (Parivar)
- Ritu aaye re sakhi ri (Hamdard)
- Jhanana jhanana baaje payaliyaan
- Aaja bhanwar (Rani Roopmati)
- Sakal ban gagan pawan chalat purvayi (Mamta)
- Kesariya balama (Lekin)
- Kuhu kuhu bole koyaliyaan (Suvarna Sundari).

Remember the tarana in Swarnasundari and a plethora songs with Anil Biswas, Vasant Desai and S N Tripathi:

- Saanware saanware (Anuradha)
- Manamohana bade jhhoothhe (Seema)
- Balama anadi man bhaave (Bahuraani)
- Jhan jhhan jhhan paayal baaje (Buzdil)
- Ek soutan ki laagi najariya (a raga Bhairavi piece)
- Aeri aali piya bin (RaagRang)
- Kaise aaoon jamuna ke teer (Devta)
- Maane na maane na manmohana
- a duet with Salamat Ali (don't know which film)
- Kanha ja re, teri murali ki dhhun sun (Tel Malish Boot Palish)
- Kal nahin paaye jiya, more piya tum bin (Chhotisi Mulakat)
- Vande mataram (Anandmath)

Any unbiased person will recognise Lata's classical singing abilities to be miraculous and unparalleled. The speed and ease in her taans is very remarkable.

Arabic/Persian tunes? Well, here too Lata has amply displayed her prowess. Sajjad Hussain's Ae dilruba nazare mila from Rustom Sohrab, and C  Ramchandra's Dua kar gham-e-dil from Anarkali require terrific breath control to imitate those quavering "middle-eastern" notes.

Sajjad Hussain also used Lata for his tunes in movies like Saiyyan and Sangdil. Interestingly, though Lata has sung only 14 songs for him, she regards him as one of her favourite music directors, the others being Jaidev, Madan Mohan and Salil Chowdhury.

Besides this her ghazals with her brother, her Tukaram abhangs for Srinivas Khale and her duets with Hemant Kumar show her
ease at low pitches too! Moreover, few will dispute that the sweetness and resonance of her voice is unparalleled. And so too the divinity of her film and non-film bhajans, like those by Meera,Tulsidas and Surdas.

Indeed she is a perfect singer who brooks no superiority or parallel. So this staement that "she is not versatile" is rather poor!

Incidentally, I might say that much of this "versatility issue" is
applicable to Vani Jairam too. I was thunderstruck when I heard her Happiest moment in Bili Hendthi (a Kannada movie). Was this really the same lady who sang classical tunes for Shankarabharanam? Surprisingly and truly, yes.

Ajit R

Published on 3 October 2001

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