Trying to get the legendary Lata Mangeshkar to pick the top 20 songs from her repertoire of an estimated 25,000-50,000 tracks is like attempting to look for the twenty brightest pebbles on an expansive beach! She has lent her voice to four generations of leading ladies in Bollywood: an unparalleled achievement for any singer anywhere at any point of human history!
"I have very beautiful memories attached with almost all my songs," says Mangeshkar, reclusive but still graceful at 84. "But there are a few which are personal favourites."
She didn't have to struggle much to recall those favourites even as she went through a list of about 100 of her best-known songs that I had got along to jog her memory. In fact, she pointed out that I hadn't listed many of her favourites!
Here are the best songs from the vast treasure-trove of outstanding songs, as chosen by the legend herself.
Lata Mangeshkar's top tunes
Of the many songs she lent her voice to, the legend picks her favourites
1. Tu jahan jahan chalega (Mera Saaya, 1966). Music: Madan Mohan. Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
"It's a beautiful composition by Madan bhaiya about yearning for a loved one that you have lost. Exceptionally touching and close to my heart."
2. Lag jaa gale (Woh Kaun Thi, 1964). Music: Madan Mohan. Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
"Sometimes a song is either lyrically heavy or melodically strong. At times, it's both but tends to lose impact when picturised. It also happens that a song is badly written and scored but is visually so stunning that it leaves an impression on our heart and mind. This song has all those three elements."
3. Aaja re pardesi (Madhumati, 1958) Music: Salil Chowdhury. Lyrics: Shailendra
"This was my first super-hit and it scores on lyrics, tune and acting."
4. Rahe na rahe hum (Mamta, 1966) Music: Roshan Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
"The music and lyrics make for a great composition."
5. Ja re ud jaare panchi (Maya, 1961) Music: Salil Chowdhury. Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
"The entire package (music, lyrics and my rendition) has a heart-touching quality. I love the use of the saxophone."
6. O sajna, barkha bahaar aayi (Parakh 1960). Music: Salil Chowdhury. Lyrics: Shailendra
"I'm in love with this song. Salilda composed it beautifully and blended it with the lyrics by Shailendraji, while Bimal Roy's camera-work (pictured on Sadhana), with close-ups of the rain, were outstanding. This melody is also unforgettable because of the contributions of people like Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan, who provided the accompanying instrumentation with the sitar beautifully."
7. Aaega aanewala (Mahal, 1949). Music: Khemchand Prakash. Lyrics: Nakhshab Jaaravchi
"It was one of my first major hits. The lip-syncing on screen by Madhubala added a special allure to the song and set the ball rolling for other hits."
8. Pyaar kiya toh darna kya (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960). Music: Naushad. Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
"I love the song's lyrics, music, choreography and the mood. Many rebellious emotions are conveyed through it."
9. Allah tero naam (Hum Dono, 1961). Music: Jaidev. Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
"Perhaps the most melodious and all-encompassing prayer for humanity. Gandhiji philosophy: 'sabko sanmati de bhagwan,' appeals to me. The lyrics touch your heart and the enchanting music fills my heart with hope."
10. Zara si aahat hoti (Haqeeqat, 1964). Music: Madan Mohan. Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
"Kaifi saheb's lyrics are haunting. Madan bhaiya created some fine nuances even though the tune was simple. The melody stays with you long after you have heard the song."
11. Ae dil-e-nadaan (Razia Sultan, 1983). Music: Khayyam. Lyrics: Jan Nisar Akhtar
"Sometimes, the director's vision of a song adds great value to the composition. I loved the way it was explained to me by Kamal Amrohi. I just closed my eyes, rendered it and conveyed the emotions. One of my favourite Urdu ghazals!"
12. Thaare rahiyo (Pakeezah, 1972). Music: Gulam Mohammed. Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
"The Rajasthani folk tune attached to the song adds a special charm to it. The way Meena Kumari has enacted it is also memorable. I love this song!"
13. Ajeeb dastan hai yeh (Dil Apna Aur Preet Paraya, 1960). Music: Shankar-Jaikishan. Lyrics: Shailendra
"One of the most beautiful compositions by Shankar-Jaikishan and penned by Shailendra. I love the sound of the saxophone in this song as well."
14. Woh bhooli dastaan (Sanjog, 1961). Music: Madan Mohan. Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
"I love the song, especially since its lyrics are so beautiful."
15. Tere bina zindagi (Aandhi, 1975). Music: RD Burman. Lyrics: Gulzar
"Stunning picturisation and such appealing lyrics! RD Burman's music and Sanjeev Kumar's dialogues add a wonderful dimension to the song. And of course, Kishoreda and I also rendered it with our heart and soul."
16. Dikhayee diyen (Bazaar, 1982). Music: Khayyam. Lyrics: Mir Taqi Mir
"This is one ghazal by Mir that is closest to my heart. Khayyam sahab's music only makes it better."
17. Bada natkhat hai (Amar Prem, 1972). Music: RD Burman. Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
"People say this is one of my most touching songs. I agree. The way it has been picturised brings out a mother's love for her son. And my voice suits Sharmila very well. Not to forget the music by RD Burman, my favourite."
18. O beqarar dil (Kohra, 1964). Music: Hemant Kumar. Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
"There's an easy sense of suppleness in this number. It's penned by Kaifi saheb, and it's just beautiful."
19. Yeh kahaan aa gaye hum (Silsila, 1981). Music: Hariprasad Chaurasia and Shivkumar Sharma. Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
"The lyrics are beautiful! I sang this song with Bachchan saab and it was a challenge to blend my voice with his. I read somewhere that Javed saheb, who wrote the lyrics, felt the line, 'Huyi aur bhi mulayam, meri shyam dhalte dhalte,' couldn't be sung more meaningfully by any singer in the world but me. It's a huge compliment, because the song was very challenging for me to sing."
20. Is duniya mei jina hai toh (Gumnaam, 1965). Music: Shankar-Jaikishan. Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
"I love this breezy carefree song picturised on Helen. I don't usually sing cabaret numbers, so this was interesting to render."