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That Lata lustre

As Lata Mangeshkar turns 78 today, Raju Bharatan recalls the musical journey of the Melody Queen whose lustre remains undimmed - 60 years after she arrived, as India broke free.

entertainment Updated: Sep 28, 2007 22:42 IST
Raju Bharatan

If you say Asha Bhosle's forged ahead of Lata Mangeshkar, your music appreciation course begins with RD Burman and ends with AR Rahman! As Lata turns 78 today, I rewind to the 1949 time.. she commercially broke through not with Kamal Amrohi's Mahal, but with Mehboob's Andaz.

How feelingly Lata broke through with Naushad's Uthaye jaa unke sitam (in Raag Kedara) and Tod diyaa dil meraa (in Raag Pahadi)! Two gems on two sides of one N35771 record! "Nightingale on the highest branch," noted famed dancer Padma Subrahmanyam.

A peak Lata never surrendered. She came, she happened Verily, Lata is the Amitabh Bachchan of songs. In the sense that the first five spots belonged to Lata within a year of her emergence. Geeta Roy-Dutt alone abided as competition. As Shamshad Begum, Zohrabai, Rajkumari and Amirbai just faded away. As Lata metamorphosed the very face of the Indian film heroine. <b1>

With the virtuoso Raag Chhayanat expression, she brought to Khemchand Prakash's Chandaa re (in Ziddi). With the Raag Yaman Kalyan tone, she imparted to Anil Biswas's Ek dil kaa laganaa baakee thha (in Anokha Pyar).

Not until OP Nayyar so heartlessly jettisoned Geeta, could Asha acquire her own singing identity. Not until RD Burman came along, could Asha fortify - in a new er vogue - the sultry-siren cushioning Opee gave her vocals.

Where Asha evolved, Lata just happened. Maybe Asha today is unrivalled in her metier. Maybe Asha's is an Aayeeye meherbaan Meraa naam hai Shabnam niche.. that's her very own. Yet she's not Lata! I say this when I'm closer to Asha than to Lata. "Hamesha sachch likhte hain," Asha graciously acknowledged at a public func tion. It's the unvarnished truth I again speak, therefore, when I say that Lata's First Lady imprimatur is still secure.

Such is the quality of Lata's work - in her supple prime -that Dr Chintamani Deshmukh becomingly hailed her as ‘a tuneful symbol of national integration'.

Long after Ae mere watan ke logon occurred, did Lata remain numero uno. It's only now Lata gives the lie to Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan's diktum: "Kambakht, kabhee besuree hii naheen hotee!"

From the top

At her zenith, Lata made up with Jaidev, for Allah tero naam, the moment that composer talked of turning to MS Subbalakshmi! At another level, Abhee na jaao chhod kar (in the same Hum Dono) went to Asha because Lata felt its Raag Khamaj unfolding was sullied by Sahir Ludhianvi's double entendre. <b2>

Likewise had Lata let Sahir's Jeene do aur jiyo go to Asha, the instant she encountered that Chadhtee jawanee ke din hain punchline in the song. The white-sari image was sedulously nursed, even if the gum-chewing Lata loved getting into jeans in the privacy of her US hotel-room. Hail the Queen! Jeene do is SD Burman's tune in Taxi Driver, the 1954 show to which Lata drew my pointed attention -as a film demonstrative of her ability to do a Geeta.

On Sheila Ramani playing a cabaret-dancer here, Lata fleshed out - for vocal mention - her studiedly vamped rendition of Dil se milaa ke dil, Ae meree zindagee and Dil jale to jale. Spotlighting them as numbers representative of a genre, she soon shunned to reserve herself for something weightier - Jise tuu kabool kar le.

Lata just ignored Asha. Ignored in the knowledge that each nugget from each top composer - would come to her alone, Queen Empress, as she was, in the era when melody was milady. This Lata lustre remains undimmed - 60 years after she arrived, as India broke free.