Ever since she sang for the first time in 1942, Lata Mangeshkar made people sit up and take notice. The singer went on to become a legend in Indian film music. In fact, the ‘Nightingale of India’ reveals that she completed 75 years in the industry this year. Interestingly, the chartbuster ‘Aayega aane wala’ (Mahal; 1949), which is believed to have turned her into a star singer, also completes 68 years on January 1.
Apparently, when the song first played on All India Radio (AIR), its phone lines were flooded with callers who wanted to know the singer’s name. AIR had to find out who the singer was from the record company before they could announce that Lata Mangeshkar sang the song.
Do you remember your initial years in films?
I acted for the first time in the Marathi film Pahili Mangalagaur in 1942. I also sang for the movie. After that, I sang and acted in other Marathi as well as Hindi films, the last one being Mandir (1948). We used to work in Master Vinayak’s (late actor-producer) company, Praful Pictures.
At that time, all the musicians, actors and other artistes were part of his company. Since I was very young, I played the hero or heroine’s sister. But after Master Vinayak’s death in 1947, his company closed down.
Did things become difficult after that?
There was a cameraman in the company who was also our neighbour. One day, he said, “Lata, I know Baliji, and he wants a fresh voice for his new film.” So, he took me to Baliji. He heard my song and immediately took me for the [music] rehearsals. He recorded the song in two days.
That’s how my journey started. From there, I went to Filmistan and Bombay Talkies (production companies). So, this is the 75th year since I started working.
You worked with almost all the music composers except the late OP Nayyar…
There was a time when OP Nayyar sahab had approached me to work with him. I had even given him the dates [to record the song]. However, at that time, I was suffering from severe sinus, so I told him that I wouldn’t be able to record songs for him, and that if we would work out dates after a few days, then it could happen.
He said he was in a hurry and would have to record the songs immediately. I don’t know which singer he approached later on to record the songs for him.
Watch Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya from Mughal - E - Azam
But your sister, Asha Bhosle, sang a lot for OP Nayyar…
Yes, she and even Geeta (Dutt; singer) did. These two sang the most for him. Sometimes, Shamshad bai (Begum; singer) also worked with him.
What are your personal favourite songs?
As far as film songs go, there are many songs of mine that I like. But I don’t listen to my songs too often. One record that’s my big favourite is Hridaynath’s (Mangeshkar; brother) Chala Vahi Des and Meera Bhajans (both albums feature the poems and songs of the poet-saint Meera). I really like them.
The way Meera has written them and also the compositions make me feel like we have been transported to those times. It feels like we are sitting in that era.
Watch Tujhe Dekha Toh Yeh Jaana Sanam - Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
In your illustrious career, did you and OP Nayyar ever think of working together again?
Nayyar sahab created his unique and different style eventually. And I had never sung in that style. Maybe, his style wasn’t suitable for my voice. In fact, we both would agree on the same thing. I remember, I once spoke to Majrooh sahab (Sultanpuri) and told him not to push me to sing in that (OP Nayyar’s) style.
I always had a good relationship with OP sahab. It’s just that I could never sing for him. But whenever we met, he would speak to me in the nicest manner.
Your sister, Asha Bhosle, has also worked extensively in the music industry. But the perception is that the two of you had a fallout many years back…
I’ve never had any fallout with any of my sisters. There was never any competition between us because we used to sing very different kinds of songs. She had her own style, which was really good. So there was no scope for any competition. But Asha’s (right) first husband, Bhosle sahib (Ganpatrao Bhosle), was upset with me.
He used to believe Asha wouldn’t get work because of me. But there was a time when Asha and I sung a number of duets, and many of them became popular as well. Later, when Asha came to our house, we used to stay together.
Watch Man Kyoon Behka Re Behka - Utsav | Lata Mangeshkar | Asha Bhosle
Do you and your sister keep meeting each other?
Asha has a house next to ours in the neighborhood, but she doesn’t stay here anymore as she has bought a new house. But when she used to stay here, we would eat and even travel together. Even her kids used to stay with us. I used to take her son, Anand, when he was just a year old, with me to Kolhapur and Pune.
When he turned 12 or 13, I took him to London (UK) and USA for the first time. He used to always be with me. So, there has never been any problem between us.