In the words of George Eliot, "Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them," therefore even if millions of hearts mourn the heavenly abode of one of the biggest legends of world music, Sushri Lata Mangeshkar Ji, we know that the nightingale of the nation is immortal. She is widely and rightly regarded as one of the greatest and most influential singers of Indian music. As a playback singer and occasional music composer, her contribution to the subcontinent has won her many awards, accolades, and honorific titles like Nightingale of India, Voice of the Millennium, and Queen of Melody.
Her first public performance was back in 1938. Then, she delivered her first Shastriya sangeet performance, accompanying her father, at Nutan Sangeet Theatre, Solapur, Maharashtra. She sang the song 'Raag Khambavati.'
The legend that she was, in a career spanning over seven decades, Lata Ji had recorded songs in over thirty-six Indian and a few foreign languages. Her band of several awards includes -
A terrific artist and philanthropist, she believed in passing the baton and opportunity to young and fresh talent. Therefore, in 1969, she returned the Filmfare Best Female Playback Award. The State of Madhya Pradesh instituted the Lata Mangeshkar Award in her honor as she was born in Indore on 28th September 1929. The State of Maharashtra also instituted the same titular award in 1992. She also became the first recipient of the Maharashtra Ratna in 2001. In 2019, on her 90th birth anniversary, the Government of India honored her with the title "Daughter of the Nation" for her tremendous contribution to Indian music.
Even after her whopping number of accolades, Lata Ji was not affiliated with any political party. Instead, she was an impassioned philanthropist and enjoyed cooking, photography, watching cricket, and playing slot machines in Las Vegas.
Interestingly Lata Ji attended a school in Mumbai only for a day because it did not bring her younger sister Asha along. However, the Queen of Indian Music has won several accolades to her name with pure talent. Furthermore, she received honorary doctorates from the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1989, Shivaji University in Kolhapur, Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidyalaya based in Khairagarh, among many others.
She comes from a music-oriented family. The prolific singing skill runs in her family. Her father, Deenanath Mangeshkar, was a Marathi and Konkani musician. All her siblings, Meena Khadikar, Asha Bhosle, Usha Mangeshkar, and Hridaynath Mangeshkar, are accomplished singers and musicians. When she was born, she was named Hema. However, her father named her Lata after a character in one of his plays. Lata Mangeshkar was trained in classical music from the age of five from her father and started her musical journey as an actress in her father's musical plays; however, she was more passionate about singing. But after her father's demise, she moved to Pune, Maharashtra, with her siblings and moved on the stage to sing and act as the sole bread earner of the family at the age of 13, with her younger brother suffering from tuberculosis of the bone. The family's ire was that there was nothing left on the first day she went for her first stage appearance for Master Vinayak Rao's "Pahili Manglagaw," on the eighth day of her father's funeral at home to eat for the children. Even though she hated drama, stage, and makeup, she put on a brave face for her siblings.
A brief timeline of Lata Mangeshkar's career
Lata Mangeshkar recorded her first song back in 1942 for a Marathi movie when she was only 13. Even though that song was left out from the movie's final cut, it marked her exponential journey. Since then, till 2015, she has lent her voice to more than 25000 songs for 73 long years. Her most recent track was "Jeena Kya Hai Jaana Maine," for a Norwegian Indo-Pak movie. Progressive as she has always been!
Lata Ji moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1945, where she rented a two-room flat at Nana Chowk. It cost her Rs.25 per month back then. Then, she got the opportunity to essay a minor role in the first Hindi film of Master Vinayak (actress Nutan's father), along with her sister Asha. Master Vinayak was highly impressed by her performance and dedication, so he signed her as a staff artist for the monthly wage of Rs.60, which incremented to Rs.350 before Vinayak's death. However, even then, her plight had no bounds since she had to take care of her siblings and cousins all alone.
In 1942, Lata Ji bagged her first role as an actor in the movie "Mangalagaur ."Since then, from 1942 to 1948, she has acted in over 8 Hindi and Marathi movies. In 1942, she did manage to record a song for the movie "Itihasil," and she gave it all her heart. In 1947, she got the opportunity to sing in the mainstream Hindi from the movie "Aapki Seva Mei," but could not make any significant mark.
She debuted in the Bengali music industry with 'Akash Prodip Jole' in 1956, composed by Satinath Mukhopadhyay. Like many tracks, she has intensively recorded in the majority of the Indian languages. However, she has recorded only one song in Malayalam, 'Kadhali Chenkadhali' from the movie "Nellu '' in 1974. She debuted in the Meiti music industry with her track 'Nungshiba Magi Ethak Ereida' from the film "Meichak'' in 1999; in Odia language with 'Sei Chuna Chuna Tara Phula Aaji' from the movie "Surjyamukhi" in 1963; in Punjabi 'Pyar De Bhulekhe' from the film "Guddi" in 1971; in Telugu industry with 'Niddurapora Thammuda' from Telugu film Santhanam in 1955 and in the Bhojpuri language with 'Hey Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo' in 1963 from the movie with the same title. Moreover, she produced one Marathi film, "Vaadal," and one Hindi movie, "Jhaanjhar," in 1953.
Though her father was her first teacher, post his demise, Lata Ji learned the nitty-gritty of singing from Ustad Amaan Ali Khan till he moved away in partition and Ustad Amaanat Khan till his early demise. This ceases Lata Ji's journey training in classical singing. Then Lata Ji became a pupil of Pandit Tulsidas Sharma and many others. She learned the prowess of breath control and how not to break up phrases or words in songs from Anil Biswas. When asked about her musical inclination, Lata Ji said that maybe she would have become a classical singer if her apprenticeship had not ended abruptly under Ustad Amaanat Ali.
Her first break came from Ghulam Haider, whom she fondly called her 'Godfather.' It was only when he offered her to sing the song "Dil Mera Toda" from the movie 'Majboor' in 1948 that kickstarter Lata Ji's career. There was no looking back since then. In 1949, movies like "Barsaat," "Dulaari," "Mehel," and "Andaaz" were a huge box office success, bringing Lata Ji under the limelight.
Would you believe that even Lata Ji faced the grind of rejection for her voice?
No. Right? But she did. Back when Ghulam Haider got blown away by Lata Ji's musical proficiency and sweet voice, he took her to Filmistan, when it was the Mecca of Bombay's showbiz and owned by Subodh Mukherjee. However, the latter rejected Lata Ji stating that her voice was too shrill and such a thin voice would not suit the protagonist then, Kamini Kaushal. However, Ghulam Ji got agitated with the response. With complete faith in Lata Ji, Ghulam Ji retorted back that there would be a day when producers and directors would fall on Lata Ji's feet to make her record a song for them.
On that same day, Haider Ji also took her to Bombay Talkies at Malad, where she got the chance to sing the track' Mera Dil Toda Kahi Ka Chhoda' for the film Majboor. It was a huge success, and Lata Ji never had to look back again.
Then one after the other, many accomplished composers approached her with projects that were successful in the box, like Naushad Ji for the movie 'Andaaz", Bhagatram for the movie "Badi Batten'' Shankar-Jaikishan for the evergreen track 'Jiya Bekarar Hai' from the film Barsaat. Her track 'Aayega Aanewala' from the movie 'Mahal' is considered one of the most challenging songs to sing in the musical fraternity. Although all this did bring her remarkable fame, she still struggled to manage the hectic routine by traveling from studio to studio, hopping trains since a taxi was luxury, juggling between two recordings in the morning, two in the afternoon, two in the evening, and two at night.
In 1963, when she was only 33 years old, there was an attempt at homicide by inducing slow poison. The brave soul battled life for over three months in hospital and came back with vigor more than ever.
In her initial days, she too faced competition from her seniors, like Suraiya and Shamshad Begum. Still, her most prominent competitor was Noor Jehan. Some perceptions say that had Noor Jehan not moved away after partition and continued singing for Bollywood, it would have been challenging to attain the "Mangeshkar Monopoly."
Many know about the prolific music career the Daughter of India had, which is evident from the several hit tracks that were delivered from time to time, making Lata Ji’s Playlist a personal favorite of each music lover. However, very few know about her personal life. Lata Ji was timid, humble, and jolly-natured. Yet, she would always greet people with a smile irrespective of speaking of the industry they belonged to. Lata Ji was ethereal and grounded from her co-actors, other contemporary singers, music directors, lyricists, fans, and media. But more than anything, she was a passionate human and was bestowed with the gift to feel emotions deeply, be it for music or love.
Lata Ji was an ardent cricket fan; her younger brother Hridaynath played cricket. She met Raj Singh Dungarpur, a fast-medium bowler from Rajasthan who later became the Indian cricket team manager. Raj Singh Dungarpur was also the youngest son of Maharawal Lakshman Singhji, the ruler of Dungarpur. Lata Ji was a cricket fan, and Raj Singh loved music. This led to their beautiful friendship, which later blossomed into love. However, when the prince of Dungarpur proposed his marriage plans to his family, they were resentful of him being married to someone belonging to a non-royal family. Succumbing to the pressure of his royal family, the marriage did not materialize. However, they made their love story eternal as they did not marry anybody throughout their life. Beautiful, isn't it? As per the autobiography of Rajyashree, niece of Raj Singh Dungarpur, he used to call Lata Ji 'Mithu fondly.' On the demise of Raj Singh Dungarpur in 2009, Lata Ji secretly came to his last rites to get his one last 'darshan .'Lata Ji devoted her entire life loving him and his love for music.
Lata Ji had a different persona in her musical tours abroad. As fun-loving she was, she would let herself loose and enjoy losing heavily at casinos in Las Vegas, enjoying delicacies at Bombay restaurants in New York, driving down the 52nd street in a gay printed sari, listening to Mozart, Beethoven, Nat King Cole, Chopin, Barbra Streisand, Harry Belafonte, The Beatles. She loved Ingrid Bergman and Marlene Dietrich on stage.
When asked about her alternative career, Lata Ji beamingly talked about her passion for photography and how she was intrigued when she went for outdoor shootings. However, she resented digital photography as she believed that the beauty of photography is lost when captured on mobile phones rather than on an old camera.
Adding more to her charisma, Lata Ji also helped BCCI raise funds to felicitate the world cup winning Indian Cricket team of 1983. She raised Rs. 20 Lakh by performing a 2-hour long concert in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Delhi, more than before to honor the 14 member cricket team. Among her billions of fans, Sachin Tendulkar was a special one. The master batsman adoringly called Lata Ji 'Aai' (mom). On celebrating his 100 international centuries, she even sang a song at the function at his special request.
Among all the great music directors she has worked with, Madan Mohan Malviya was her favorite. The singer once said that they share a brother-sister bond in a candid interview. The duo has delivered some of the greatest hits, like Lag Ja Gale, Zara Si Ahat Hoti Hai, Baiyan Na Dharo. In her extensive career, Lataji has recorded a duet with every great male playback singer, be it Kishore Kumar, Hemant Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, SP Subrahmanyam, Shabbir Kumar, Shailendra Singh, Pankaj Udhas, Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu, Sonu Nigam, Adnan Sami, AR Rahman, Jagjit Singh, and many others.
Back when the Filmfare award was introduced in 1954, it had the category for Best Music which was given to a particular song and not the whole album, until 1956, when it was given to the music director for the whole album. In 1957, Shankar-Jaikishan won the award and asked Lata to sing 'Rasik Balma' at the ceremony; Lata Ji denied the request, affirming that they were winning the award for Best Music, not the singer or the lyricist. Thus they should be the ones putting an orchestra to play the tune without any words or singer. She said she would not sing in the award ceremony unless there was a separate category for singers and songwriters. Only then will she go. Finally, in 1959, two new categories were introduced for Best Singer and Best Lyricist and Lata Ji won her first Filmfare Award for Best Singer for the song 'Aja Re Pardesi' from the movie "Madhumati" in 1958. She ruled the award from 1958 to 1966, and it ceased only in 1969 when she voluntarily gave up her award to promote fresh talent.
This was not the only time Lata Ji voiced her opinion on the progression of the music industry. In 2012, she advocated for singers getting a royalty from recording companies and fair pay. Finally, in 2018, singers started getting the royalty for their songs, and Lata Ji's advocacy dubbed her as a feminist.
Once in a candid interview, Lataji shared that some actresses she loved to sing for and some who even became her close friends. She mentioned how after she recorded 'Aayega Aanewala' for the movie 'Mehel,' Madhubala had categorically mentioned in her contracts that only Lata Ji would sing her tracks. Their other highly acclaimed track was from the film 'Mughal-E-Azam,' which the actress shot while she was ill. Lata Ji also shared how she was always drawn to the Nargis' sense of fashion and poised conduct. They shared great friendships, much like sisterhood, since they lived nearby and shared their love for white sarees. Lata Ji adored Waheeda Rehman for her simplicity, Jaya Bhaduri, Rekha, Geeta Bali, Nutan, and many more. She recalls that once Meena Kumari told her that when Lata Ji sings, she does not need to make an effort to act.
Similarly, Lata Ji shared a warm bond with Saira Banu. The veteran actress' husband Dilip Kumar considered Lata Ji, his sister. Once Dilip Ji teased Lata's Marathified Hindi accent, she took Urdu lessons from her teacher Shafi. Later, Kumar recalled the incident and said that when he met Lata Ji after some time, he felt embarrassed after hearing how eloquent she had become in Hindi and Urdu. Lata Ji used to tie rakhi to Dilip Ji, and they shared a great camaraderie.
The legendary singer happens to have recorded the most number of tracks for Laxmikant Pyarelal as shared by famous music composer's eldest sister-in-law and veteran actress Bindu for whom Lata Ji sang the song 'Jiya Le Gayo Ji Mora Sanwariya' from the movie "Anpadh" (1962).
In 1960, she gave voice to the poem of Pradeep under the music direction of Ramchandra to the nation’s most favorite patriotic track "Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon" in the premise of the Indo-Chinese war. Such was the impact of her voice that it is said that when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, heard the song, he was moved to tears. She rightly helmed the title "Swar Kokila."
Lata Ji was a massive fan of K.L Saigal. She recalls a fond memory of her childhood where she wanted to marry K.L Saigal and sing his song 'Ek Bangla Bane Nyaara.'
Lata Ji also has had her share of drama and controversies. In the late 60s, Lata Ji and Rafi Sahab had a turf about royalties. She voiced her opinion that recording companies should pay royalties to singers. Mukesh, Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey, and Talat Mahmood supported her cause. However, Rafi and Asha Bhosle thought that singers should only receive a one-time payment from record producers. This created a rift between Rafi and Lata Ji. They did not collaborate after 1963 until 1967, when S.D Burman brought them together. Rafi Ji addressed a letter to Lata Ji telling how he acted in haste. After five long years, the duo then sang the song 'Dil Pukare' for the movie Jewel Thief.
Furthermore, in 1974, the Guinness Book of Records listed her as the Most Recorded Artist in human history for recording more than 25,000 tracks across 20 languages between 1948 and 1974. However, this was later contested by Rafi Ji again, who claimed to have nothing less than 28,000 songs. After Rafi's death, the Guinness Book decreed this award to Lata Ji, acknowledging Rafi's claim. However, it then recorded that Lata Ji had not recorded more than 30,000 tracks between 1948 and 1987.
Even though she had political afflictions, in 1999, under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government, Lata Ji was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha. She never took any allowances in her tenure as a member from 22nd November 1999 to 21st November 2005. It is reported that all the payments made to her Pay Account Office were returned. Although even then, she was under the scrutiny of being absent from the House, and as per the record, she attended the sessions of the House for twelve days only and asked only one unstarred question regarding derailment of trains. On Lata Ji's absence in 2003, Shabana Azmi once objected. Later, Lata Ji had already informed the speaker that she had an accident and viral fever. Lata Ji also retorted that why does Shabana Ji have any problem in the first place.
Lata Ji incurred a monthly income of around Rs. 40 Lakh per month as royalty for her songs. Her net worth was claimed to be somewhere Rs. 108-115 Crores as per some sources while Rs. 360 Crore as per some other sources.
Did you know that Lataji was also a music director? Yes, the nightingale of India enthralled all of like Ram Ram Pavhana, Maratha Tituka Melvava, Mohityanchi Manjula, Sadhi Manase, and us by singing and composing music. Her brilliant music directions were part of Marathi movies Tambadi Mati. The musical maestro that she was, she has recorded songs in Hindi and Urdu and over 36 regional languages like Marathi, Tamil, Bhojpuri, Kannada, Bengali, Assamese, and many more.
From leading a nomadic life to winning over the obstacles that come from being from a humble background and raising her siblings, to making her first break and then breaking other records and establishing her legacy, Lata Ji's life has come a long way as we bid her generously to her heavenly abode.
In this blog, we pay homage to our queen of Indian music and look upon some exceptional Lata Mangeshkar Karaoke Songs which you can sing along for karaoke in ode to the legend.
Lata Ji's heavenly abode leaves an unrecoverable void in the core of Indian music. However, life is not perpetual; hence, neither are we. So then, the goal is not to live forever but to create something that will. Thus, the contribution of Lata Ji to music and the world will remain forever in the sands of time and in our hearts. So, pay homage to the legend, sing along, and cherish her art with these tracks and more only on Regional Karaoke.