If a poll is conducted on the most well known Indian singer alive, Lata Mangeshkar would win it hands down. There may be differences among music lovers as to who has been the greatest singer but there is bound to be unanimity on her name when it comes to naming the most successful singer the country has produced.
Lata at 80 stands tall with songs that mesmerised several generations of music lovers. In this long journey, which witnessed a lot of struggle, Lata gave her best during seven years starting from 1948 when she proved to the world that she was the real Mallika-e-Tarannum and Noor Jahan, the original top female singer of the sub-continent was at best a shade below her class. Most of early Lata songs were sung by her in the Noor Jahan style but she benefited from Partition and got to sing some of her best under the baton of India’s most talented composers.
Lata’s first big hit, Baharane phir bhi aati hain was composed by Pandit Shyam Sunder for Lahore. But this gifted singer from a family of musicians arrived in a big way once she came in close contact with maestros such as Ghulam Haider, Anil Biswas, Naushad, Khem Chand Prakash, Shankar Jaikishen, Sajjad Hussain, S.D. Burman, Salil Choudhury and others.
Noor Jahan went to Pakistan and Lata came to be known as India’s Nightingale. It is very difficult to select a list of favourites from her songs. Satish Chopra, a retired bank official and a great Lata fan, considers her Mushkil hai bahut mushkil for Khem Chand Prakash’s Mahal as her best song. “For seven years between 1948 and 1955, she sang from the heart.
It appeared that she was totally possessed by the music composed for her and gave 100 per cent to each song. Thereafter, she sang many more hits but her voice did not have the same pathos,’’ Chopra said.
The credit for pulling Lata out of the Noor Jahan mould goes essentially to Nausahd who asked her to sing Uthaye ja unke sitam for Andaz and of course Shankar Jakishen whose hits in Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat, Aah and Awara changed it all and pushed Lata to the undisputed number one slot. Who can forget Mujhe kisi se pyaar ho gaya, Meri aankhon mein bas gaya koi re, Raja ki aayegi baraat, Bichde huwe pardesi and Rasik balma among the songs Lata sang for Shankar Jaikishen?
Many regard Khem Chand Prakash’s Aayega aane wala as her most haunting number but others would put her Anarkali songs for C. Ramachandra as very soulful. Yeh zindagi usi ki hai is as famous now as it must have been in the early fifties. There were many others and her ghazals for Madan Mohan in Adalat and Anpadh became immortal. Who can ever forget Aaap ki nazron ne samjha?
May God give Lata a long life. It is now time for her to mentor younger singers to the sublime level that she and her sister Asha Bhosle stayed at for decades.