In our time, we just... sang: Lata Mangeshkar on the ‘not enough respect’ debate
Bollywood playback singers have been alleging that they’re not given enough credit despite their role in a film’s success. In this context, the most admired artiste in India recalls how playback singers were once ‘ghost voices’.music Updated: Jul 27, 2017 12:07 IST
Not enough respect. Not enough attention. Not enough credit. This is what several playback singers in present-day Bollywood feel is on their plate. However, Lata Mangeshkar, the ‘Nightingale of India’ and Bharat Ratna awardee, says that in her days as a young artiste — this was when the term ‘Bollywood’, a derivative of Hollywood, didn’t even exist — she never saw the need or the opportunity for media attention.
“When I began singing, I didn’t even know about the media, or how to get written about. Mujhe toh sirf gana tha (all I had to do was sing). After my father’s untimely death, I was the sole bread-winner of the family. I had no time to think of anything except how to look after my siblings. The only thing I could do was sing. So I sang. I’d leave early in the morning and commute by train(in Mumbai) from studio to studio, meeting music directors hoping to get work,” recalls Lata tai.
All that changed in 1947, when the voice of Lata Mangeshkar exploded in India cinema, wiping away all other singing prototypes.
The Nightingale recalls those heady days of initial success with sheer gratitude. “I think in 1949, I sang around 100-120 songs. The majority of them, from films like Mehboob’s Andaz and Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat, were big hits. In 1949, I had 40-50 chartbusters, including Hawaa mein udta jaye, Jiya beqaraar hai (Barsaat); Aayega aanewala (Mahal); Lara lapaa (Ek Thi Ladki); Chup chup khade ho (Badi Bahen); and Sajan ki galiyan chhod chale (Lahore).”
She recalls her relationship with female leads with much fondness: “During those days, playback singers were called ‘ghost voices’, because we really were like ghosts... totally invisible to the public. Even my name was not printed on the records; it was the name of the character that the heroine played that was printed on the record. For the song Ayega aanewala, for Mahal, the name on the record was ‘Kamini‘, which was [actor] Madhubala’s name in the film.”
In the industry, however, Lata Mangeshkar was the name everyone wanted. Apparently, all the major heroines of those times, from Madhubala and Meena Kumari to Nutan and Hema Malini, insisted on only Lataji’s voice for their playback. Some of these actors, like Madhubala, even put this in their contract.
Lataji says, “What you have heard is true. But I never thought of my voice as being bigger than the film. I sang my songs keeping the heroine’s personality in mind. There was no desire to be heard beyond the screen. In fact, for many years, I desisted from doing live concerts.”
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