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Lata Mangeshkar and the Magical Batons – 2

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As this is a sequel of Lata Mangeshkar and the Magical Batons I would proceed with no further ado to the overview of Lataji’s work with a few more celebrated music directors, who could not be adverted to in the previous parts.

Vasant Desai – Tere Sur Aur Mere Geet
Vasant Desai, one of the finest music directors of the golden era, is well known for the tunes mainly based on Indian classical and folk music, filled with simplicity, intensity and purity. He started his career with the maestro V. Shantaram in early 1930s as an all-in-one helping hand in his studio with an ambition to become an actor. However, the events took such a turn later that Vasantrao decided to take up music as his full-time career. Though he composed music for many leading production houses, he remained ardently loyal to his mentor V. Shantaram and always gave him a preference.
Though the credit of recording Lataji’s first Hindi playback in 1947 goes to Datta Davjekar, Vasant Desai was the one who recorded Lataji’s first Hindi film song in 1946. However, the song was picturised on Lataji herself and hence, was not a playback technically. Vasantrao was thoroughly impressed with Lataji right from the very first song that he composed for her; and thereafter Lataji ended up singing more than 100 Hindi songs (solos plus duets) under his baton. She also recorded several songs for him for many Marathi films. Though Vasantrao worked with many other singers, Lataji was the dominant singing entity in his music like many of his compeers.
The dulcet association between Vasant Desai and Lataji resulted in many milestone musical gems. The silky romantic song “Tere sur aur mere geet” from Goonj Uthi Shahnai (1959) is a shining example of their melodious alliance. Lata-dominated soundtrack of the film turned out to be Vasant Desai’s greatest hit outside the Shantaram camp.
The song composed by Vasant Desai in raag Bihag hasn’t lost its popular appeal to the slightest extent even after six decades, despite being a classical number. It sounds as fresh as a daisy in Lataji’s honeyed voice. But then can you even imagine that Lataji recorded it when she was completely exhausted after a prolonged previous recording; and she recorded it at his insistence and encouragement though she was not too keen? When she saw the song on the screen, she was somewhat relieved to see that it had turned out to be better than her expectations, but still wasn’t completely satisfied. And yet it sounds so appetizing to ears. That’s Lataji! And that’s the confidence that the makers of the Lata era had in her!
The song starts with a lithe aalap by Lataji followed by a catchy piece of shehnai and then flows to the lilting mukhda – like a swan elegantly flying down from the sky to water and then swimming gracefully. Sprinkled with Vasant Desai’s subtle classical touches, Lataji’s effortless aalaps and intermittent pieces of shehnai, the song always seems like a freshly prepared aromatic dessert.

Madan Mohan – Lag Ja Gale
Madan Mohan – the name is synonymous with finest ghazals that Hindi films ever had and sentimental tunes generally exploring different shades of pathos, that leave an ever lasting impression in our minds despite sparse and minimalistic orchestration. He unfortunately did not get a due share of success in materialistic terms. Yet, whatever music he created was consistently memorable and is cherished by music lovers even today, decades after its creation.
MM started his career in Hindi films by assisting composers like Shyam Sunder and C. Ramchandra in 1940s. MM happened to attend the recording of Lataji’s celebrated song “Aayega aanewala” and was thrilled with her rendition. He soon happened to record a duet with her under Ghulam Haider’s music direction. When Lataji complimented him for his singing, he shared with Lataji that his real ambition was to become a music director and asked her if she would sing for him when he became one. Very soon, he approached Lataji to sing for his first film Aankhen (1950). However, Lataji refused the offer as some of MM’s ill-wishers had calumniously poisoned Lataji against him. Nonetheless, MM succeeded in making a mark as a talented music director with Aankhen; and then Lataji couldn’t refuse his offer to sing for his second film Ada (1951) (according to some accounts, Madhosh, both released in the same year).
Lataji sincerely apologised before recording the first song for MM; and MM graciously accepted the apologies. A beginning was marked – not only of a brother-sister relationship, but also of a musical era – and there was no looking back thereafter!
Lataji’s work for MM might be quantitatively much less than her work for many of his peers. However, qualitatively their creative collaboration gave rise to many immortal musical jewels, so much so that we cannot imagine MM’s music without Lataji, nor would Lataji’s repertoire be complete without his songs. At least a song or two composed by him has always found place in Lataji’s personal favourites.
An emblematic example of their collective creativity is “Lag ja gale” from Woh Kaun Thi? (1964). The song expresses deep sorrow of the inevitable partition that is just around the corner – perhaps with no second chance. She wants to make the most of that moment, as everything is quite hazy thereafter. How adeptly Lataji has captured the pathos, the eagerness to live in the moment and the uncertainty of the situation in her tone end-to-end! In fact, Lataji’s heart-piercing rendition of the song needs no description. I’m sure all of us have heard it several times and felt the intensity deep inside every time. Lataji’s rendition accompanied by orchestration mainly comprising violins and santoor and apt lyrics by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan make this song a masterpiece in real sense. It still remains so popular that even the youngsters know this song, albeit in the form of several remakes and cover versions. It continues to be an inviting challenge for singers even today.

Roshan – Jurm-e-Ulfat Pe Humein Log Saza Dete Hain
Roshanlal Nagrath (popularly known as Roshan), highly regarded for his musical prowess by the film industry was one of the celebrated music directors of the golden era. In his rather short life and just 18-year long career, he created many classics consistently. Soft melodious and expressive tunes based on a blend of folk music and Indian classical music were his trademark. He is also known for his compositions in the form of quawwali and mujra, which were quite authentic and outstanding.
He got his first break as a music director with Kedar Sharma’s Neki Aur Badi (1949). Though music for Neki Aur Badi wasn’t successful, Kedar Sharma gave Roshanji another chance in his next film Baawre Nain (1950). Roshanji came out with some wonderful compositions for this film that became big hits and announced Roshanji’s arrival.
Many of Roshanji’s memorable compositions were sung also by Ashaji, Rafi Sahab and Mukeshji besides Lataji. Roshanji therefore cannot be forthwith labelled as a Lata-centric music director; and his music does not seem incomplete without Lataji. Yet, Lataji’s songs formed an important part of Roshanji’s repertoire, as the number of her solos under his baton would be roughly equal to the aggregate of solos sung for him by Ashaji, Rafi Sahab and Mukeshji. Lataji also held Roshanji’s musical talent in high reverence. When she was planning to produce a musical Hindi film Bhairavi in the mid ‘50s, she had chosen Roshanji to compose the music for the film. Unfortunately, the film was shelved.
Lataji sang for Roshanji for the first time in Humlog (1951). The alliance of the two legends created many outstanding musical masterpieces thereafter. No one would deny that Roshanji’s capabilities were boosted in his compositions for Lataji and Lataji too did justice to all those compositions – for instance, “Jurm-e-ulfat pe humein log saza dete hain” from Taj Mahal (1963).
The movie is based on the legendary love story of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal, in whose fond remembrance, the emperor built the eternal symbol of love – the Taj Mahal. Just like any other love story, their story too progresses through many hurdles created by close relatives only. Through the tactful selection of instruments and beautifully composed tunes, Roshanji’s music for the film perfectly captures the 16th century Mughal grandeur. The album is arguably one of his most popular works.
Through this excellent ghazal, Mumtaz Mahal is proclaiming her love for Shah Jahan, through the words, sharp as a sword, filled with disdain and commitment, devoid of any concern about the consequences. None other than Sahir Ludhianvi could have been a better choice as the lyricist – he has so proficiently captured her feelings in words by combining self-confidence, grace and vulnerability.
The song starts with a lissom aalap by Lataji, a brief piece of sarangi and it then progresses further through Lataji’s flawless rendition and moderate yet apt orchestration. Predominant use of sarangi intensifies the feelings and only a couple of very short pieces of sitar used intermittently add a different tinge to the composition. Somewhat subdued percussion ironically creates a great impact; and coupled with the optimum tempo adds a lilting flavour.
Lataji perfectly expresses Mumtaz Mahal’s obstinate defiance through her soft and sweet yet sharp and elegant rendition that creates an exotic aura around the composition. She effortlessly surfs the wavy composition and reaches the shore by gracefully touching upon Pancham in the last line. And they say that Lataji was down with cold and fever when Taj Mahal songs were recorded!!

Kalyanji Anandji – Ye Samaa, Samaa Hai Ye Pyar Ka
Kalyanji – Anandji (KA) was the third composer duo to enter the industry after Husnlal Bhagatram and Shankar Jaikishan.
KA were the sons of a businessman who migrated from Kutch to Mumbai. Having little film background, they kind of accidentally entered the industry and became the front-row composers in no time. Kalayanji was thrust into the limelight because of the pieces of “been” (snake-charmer’s pipe) that he played on clavioline for the songs in Nagin (1954). This limelight unexpectedly helped him bag the contract for composing tunes for veteran filmmaker Subhash Desai’s films starting with Samrat Chandragupt (1958) – thanks also to the cock-and-bull story circulated by some gossipmongers about Kalyanji’s clavioline training in the USA. After composing music for a few more films as Kalyanji Veerji Shah, he was joined by his younger brother Anandji from Satta Bazar (1959) and the historical journey of the duo begun.
Though they were heavily influenced by Shankar Jaikishan’s musical style in the initial years, they soon developed their own style of simple yet mood-lifting tunes based on basic rhythms. Besides composing memorable milestones for many singers and making a wonderful use of the voices of Mukesh and Kishore Kumar, they also introduced many new singers. However, their best ever female songs were always reserved for Lataji and she remained an important part of their music throughout. To quote Kalyanji – Lataji was the only singer who delivered 100% of a music director’s expectations, more than just technical aspects of music.
A brilliant example of their creative synergy is “Ye sama, sama hai ye pyar ka” from Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965). An urban, westernised girl lands up in Kashmir for holidays and the pleasant weather there arouses romantic feelings in her mind. She is craving for someone special and naturally indulges into a lot of day-dreaming. The song is the clandestine expression of her wool-gathering to herself.
KA have used more of western orchestration perfectly suiting the romantic and somewhat bold mood of the song. Though admittedly inspired from an extremely popular bolero song “Besame Mucho” by Los Panchos, the song is an outstanding piece of music, which seems completely original. Anand Bakshi too has effectively captured the heroine’s “stargazing” through his words. It is said that this film, alongside Himalay Ki God Mein released in the same year, was a huge career breakthrough for Anand Bakshi.
And look at Lataji’s rendition! The song starts with her soft humming and after the prelude; she starts effortlessly riding the song like an expert horse rider. She sings the song adeptly in a somewhat supressed yet impactful tone, completely supporting the idea that the heroine is whispering to herself. When it comes to such sensuous numbers, Ashaji has been the first preference of most of the music directors. However, KA have preferred Lataji over her, and Lataji certainly does not disappoint them or the listeners even slightly!

Laxmikant Pyarelal – Nindiya Se Jaagi Bahaar
Lamxikant – Pyarelal (LP) entered the film industry as the fourth composer duo, soon after KA.
Laxmikant Kudalkar and Pyarelal Sharma were individually working as musicians in the industry in ‘50s to earn their living. They happened to meet each other on some occasion and soon became close friends due to similar age and aspirations. They worked as musicians and assistants with many veteran composers in the ‘50s and the early 60s. As they had a compelling ambition to become independent composers, they were looking for opportunities simultaneously. However firstly, they had to struggle a lot to get films and secondly, a few initial films that they got never saw the light of the day. The lady luck finally smiled on them with Parasmani (1963), which was a major musical hit and then their success-spree continued for three and a half decades till 1998, until Laxmikantji passed away. Though they were clearly influenced by Shankar – Jaikishan style in the initial days, they soon demonstrated their unique style featured by vivid tunes and splendid orchestration. Various accounts quote varying number of films for which they composed music, the lowest number being as high as 500!
For a major part of their career, LP’s music remained immersed in Lataji’s voice. The number of songs that Lataji has sung under their baton (which ranges from 666 to 712 according various accounts) is the highest number that she has ever sung for any music director. Lataji was also always appreciative of their innovative approach. She shared a special personal relationship with them; and recommended them as musicians in their initial days and later sung for them even with their low budgets initially.
LP and Lataji have collectively given many outstanding songs. One such song which is less talked about is “Nindiya se jaagi bahaar” from Hero (1983) – a great example of LP’s unique style of composition and rhythms. The song speaks about awakening of spring in the nature and love in the mind of an adolescent girl. The song starts with a symphony style prelude with brilliant use of cellos and Lataji’s soft humming and aalaps. Interludes with shehnai and flute indicate that something auspicious is happening around. Excellent rhythm with a bit of “theherao” has mind boggling impact on the mood of the composition. Anand Bakshi’s lyrics aptly capture the heroine’s realisation of new feelings amidst adolescence in simple words.
And Lataji in her 50s sings for a heroine in her early 20s – just look at the command that Lataji has over her rendition even at that age! The sweetness in her rendition is really commendable, though her voice sounds somewhat thickened commensurate with age. In fact, the thickness of her voice adds quite a bit of weight to this a little slow paced composition that plays mainly in the lower and middle octave – would it sound so impactful in a thinner voice? Lataji’s selection for this song therefore appears to be thoughtful. Every time she sings “koyal kooke”, you can actually hear the sound of a cuckoo around. When she sings the mukhda after the prelude, you end up actually visualising someone slowly waking up from the sleep and gradually opening the eyes (even if you don’t look at the visual). Lataji is Lataji, after all!

Jaidev – Tu Chanda Main Chandani
Work of one more music director certainly deserves to be mentioned, as Lataji’s repertoire would be incomplete without it. Inability to compose simple songs with simple lyrics and catchy tunes was this composer’s strength, which became his weakness on commercial front. As a result, he rarely got the taste of commercial success, but succeeded in making highbrow appeal every time without fail. The composer is none other than Jaidev Verma, popularly known as Jaidev.
Jaidevji came to the industry at a very young age with an ambition to become an actor. On realising in due course that acting was not his cup of tea, dejected Jaidev decided to pursue music as career. He had taken some training in music to advance his acting prospects. He started off with assisting the renowned sarod player and one of his gurus, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, who composed music for Navketan’s two films in the early ‘50s. Due to the commercial failure of the films and their music, Ustad, with dampened spirits, stopped composing for films. Jaidevji then started assisting Navketan’s new composer S.D. Burman. He got his first break as an independent composer with Joru Ka Bhai (1955) and then he composed music for 40 odd films in his career spanning across 3 decades.
Jaidevji’s association with Lataji started right from his first film. Statistically, Ashaji was the predominant singer in Jaidevji’s music; and Lataji has sung only 28 songs for his 15 films as against 64 songs for 26 films and many non-film numbers that Ashaji has sung for him. Nevertheless, the combined work of Lataji and Jaidev, albeit comparatively much less, is full many memorable musical wonders.
One such wonder created by them jointly is “Tu chanda main chandani” from Reshma Aur Shera (1971). The song is like an abstract yet artistically rich painting – that captures the secret meeting of two passionate lovers oblivious to the world, in an unending desert full of ever-shifting sand dunes, under the canopy of dark night decorated with glittering stars – painted in the colours of raag Maand, Balkavi Bairagi’s picturesque lyrics and Lataji’s divine rendition. It starts with a little fast paced piece of santoor that clearly shows the heroine’s excitement and eagerness. First line in Lataji’s voice without background music and with echoing effect then breaks the creepy silence of the vast desert. It then starts flowing freely and naturally like a spring of water, without following the typical mukhda – antara – mukhda pattern, through Lataji’s efficacious rendition and pleasant orchestration mainly comprising santoor, sarangi, flute, shehnai, tabla and dholak. This is probably the best example of Jaidevji’s complex creativity.
Easily coping up with all the quicksilver changes in the moods and pace of the song, Lataji delivers it with panache. It requires only another genius to interpret and deliver such a complex composition by a genius! Elegance in her rendition lifts the mood of the song to another level.

Chitragupt – Dil Ka Diya Jala Ke Gaya
Yet another music director, without whose mention the discussion would certainly remain incomplete is Chitragupt Shrivastav (popularly known as “Chitragupt”). Some of Lataji’s sweetest songs are sung under his baton, though the number of their songs together may be quantitatively much less than many of Chitraguptji’s coevals.
In his career spanning over 5 decades, he composed music for about 150 films. However, as many of these were B-grade films, Chitraguptji could never make it to the first row of composers. However, his music for films like Bhabhi (1957), Kali Topi Lal Rumal (1959), Barkha (1960), Opera House (1961), Main Chup Rahungi (1962), Ganga ki Lahren (1964), Oonche Log (1965) and Akashdeep (1965) is still fondly remembered and speaks volumes about his calibre. When we listen to his songs from these films, particularly the ones rendered by Lataji, we absolutely accept him as the master of sweet tunes, which Lataji has made sound even sweeter!
Let us have one such exotic dessert stupendously made by the two expert chefs – Chitraguptji and Lataji – “Dil ka diya jala ke gaya” from Akashdeep (1965), based on the beautiful raag Jayjaiwanti. The song, playing on a record in the background, is a sombre expression of a mute girl (named as Baani – look at the paradox!) who has just fallen in love. Chitraguptji has thoughtfully kept the tune somewhat subdued, so that it suits the context. Violins in the prelude convey the thrill that she is experiencing and soon jaltarang starts tinkling, matching her soft feelings. The optimal interludes – neither too soft not too flashy – also compliment the mood of the song. Lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri written in his unique style garnish this dessert with another pinch of sugar.
As Baani is not proclaiming her love, but is rather feeling it herself and softly expressing it to herself. Keeping up with the context, Lataji sweetly whispers the song letting out the secret of her feelings. Her feather-soft rendition and the velvety texture of her voice add an aura to the soft glow of love that is lit up in Baani’s heart. Crooning a song before the over-sensitive microphone would certainly call for tremendous control over own voice and mastery over the technique. None other than Lataji could have been a better choice for this, and there would be no two ways about it!

After having briefly touched upon Lataji’s work with a few renowned music directors in this series, I am reminded of the parable of blind men and an elephant. Just like the blind men try to visualise an elephant by touching its parts, what is written so far is my conceptualisation of the titan “Lata Mangeshkar” with my limited acumen. There is a lot more to it and the saga of the living legend is never ending…

2 Comments

  1. Surojit Ray

    March 31, 2020 at 2:47 pm

    Wonderfully written. Great research work, as always. Keep writing. Was refreshing to once again listen to these evergreen beauties while reading through the wonderful article. Keep it up!

    • Yogesh

      March 31, 2020 at 3:21 pm

      Thanks a lot, Surojit 🙂🙏

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