Rare Gems in the Empress’s Crown – Lata Mangeshkar and Forgotten Composers – Part 1

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An adolescent girl is in an ancient temple situated by the sea. Not knowing which deity’s temple it is and wandering inside cluelessly, she reaches the backside and sees some steps going down to the sea. As she sits on the steps, waves of the sea start caressing her feet. And the girl wakes up to the twilight of the wee hours of the morning in a pleasant mood only to realise that this was just a dream. The girl, whom the circumstances have forced to shoulder the responsibility of the entire family at a very young age, goes to sleep the next night after a tiring day at work and the dream reappears. As the dream keeps on recurring many times thereafter, the girl shares the same with her mother. Astonished and happy, her mother says that the dream is a good sign and indicates that the girl will become very famous.
Her mother’s words turn out to be true soon, as the girl grows up to become very famous, so much so that she becomes the voice of the nation, an identity of the nation. The girl in the story is none other than… yes you guessed it right… our beloved Lata Mangeshkar!
As we all know, Lata Mangeshkar, who was initially rejected by a few producers and composers due to her thin voice, soon went on to become the first choice for most of the composers. Many of the golden era composers started their career around the same time as Lata Mangeshkar and their careers reached great heights simultaneously. Day in day out, we cherish her famous songs with all the famous composers. No doubt, all these songs are great pieces of music. But this is not all about Lata Mangeshkar’s repertoire. She has sung under the baton of many such forgotten / lesser known composers, some of whom were just one-movie wonders, while others composed the soundtrack of only a handful of films. What’s more, we often get to hear some of these songs on radio, but do not remember their creators in most of the cases. Songs rendered by Lata Mangeshkar for most of them were however no less in terms of melody and sweetness than the other songs.
Let us have a fleeting glance at this sweet yet underrated part of Lata Mangeshkar’s repertoire.

Datta Davjekar – Paa Laagoon, Kar Jori Re
There would be no better choice than the Marathi Manoos (Maharashtrian guy) Datta Davjekar (popularly known as DD), who gave Lata Mangeshkar the first break as a playback singer in Hindi cinema, to start the write-up.
DD started his career with the Marathi film Municipality (1941). After this, he composed music for many Marathi films and a few Hindi films, mainly produced by the then veteran Marathi film producers like Master Vinayal, Gajanan Jagirdar and Vasant Joglekar. Unfortunately, he could not make it big as a composer in Hindi films and after the first decade of his career, he was reduced to assisting composers like C. Ramchandra and Chitragupt. However, he kept on intermittently appearing as a composer on the landscape of Marathi films till the 1990s, with a lot of hits to his credit.
After her father’s demise, when Lata Mangeshkar approached Master Vinayak for a job as a child singer and actor, it was DD who had first auditioned her. She thereafter sang many songs for him in many Marathi films, in which she had acted too. Later, Lata Mangeshkar ended up singing her first ever Hindi song as a playback singer – “Paa laagoon, kar jori re” from Vasant Joglekar’s Aapki Seva Mein (1947) – under DD’s baton. Coincidentally, DD only had composed her first ever Hindi song (albeit for a Marathi film Gajabhau – 1943), “Hindustan ke logon ab to mujhe pehchano”. DD even assisted Lata Mangeshkar when she composed music in the 1960s for a few Marathi films under the pseudonym Anandghan.
The historic song “Paa laagoon, kar jori re” is a Thumri in raag Pilu. Though Lata Mangeshkar was only in her teens when she sang the song, we can feel the finesse and maturity in her sweet cultured voice.

K. Datta – Saajan Se Pehli Baar
K. Datta (Datta Korgaonkar), another Maharashtrian composer, is not an unknown name for the lovers of the vintage classic songs. He gave quite a few memorable classics during the 1940s mainly in Noor Jehan’s voice. He is still remembered particularly for the enchanting use of “Dhaivat” (the sixth note) in Noor Jehan’s “Diya jalaakar aap bujhaayaa” from Badi Maa (1945). Ardent devotee of Noor Jehan that he was, his career almost came to an end after her departure to Pakistan post the partition. He would often say – “Noor Jehan took my music alongwith her.” Though he composed music for a few films in the 1950s, he couldn’t create the magic that he once created in his alliance with Noor Jehan.
His association with Lata Mangeshkar dates back to Badi Maa (1945), in which Lata Mangeshkar played a small role and sang a couple of songs under his baton. Daaman (1951) was most probably their first joint work during the playback era, which had the famous peppy number “Tirulila tirulila tirulila la, gaaye Lata, gaaye Lata, gaaye Lata, gaa” (doesn’t it look like exclusively made for Lata?) and the first ever Lata – Asha duet “Ye ruki ruki hawayein”. Their collaboration gave a few lovely songs also during the later years, one of which is “Saajan se pehli baar hum kaise bole haaye” from Rishta (1954) starring Suresh and Nigar Sultana in the lead roles.
The song composed in a very soft tune with suitable orchestration expresses the sweet dilemma of a young girl about expressing her love to her lover through the lyrics written by Pandit Phani. Lata Mangeshkar expresses the feeling quite adorably through her sugary and smooth rendition.

Dattaram – Meethi Meethi Baaton Se Bachna Zara
Dattaram Wadkar, popularly known with his mononym Dattaram, was another composer in the Maharashtrian brigade in Hindi cinema. He assisted the composer duo Shankar Jaikishan for many years right from their initial days and later composed independently for more than a dozen films. He also assisted Laxmikant Pyarelal in making the music of Bobby (1973). He was a master of rhythm and developed his patent Theka (rhythm) that went on to be popularly known as Dattu Theka (Dattaram was fondly called as Dattu in the film industry), that appeared in many songs like “Mera joota hai japani (Shree 420 – 1955)” and Wo chaand khila (Anadi – 1959)”.
Though he could achieve modest success as an independent composer, the soundtracks that he composed had all the high quality compositions – Aansoo bhari hain ye jeevan ki raahein, Masti bhara hai samaa (both from Parvarsih – 1958), Chun chun karti aayi chidiya (Ab Dilli Door Nahin – 1957) and Tere teer ko humne pyar se (Qaidi No. 911 – 1959), to name a few. As he was an assistant to Shankar Jaikishan, the SJ style naturally peeps into his compositions.
Another bright example of his creativity is “Meethi meethi baaton se bachna zara” from Qaidi No. 911 (1959). The heroine (Nanda), through Hasrat Jaipur’s words, is guiding her younger brother on the way of life and asking him to beware of a double faced world. We get a glimpse of the Dattu Theka in this song too. Lata Mangeshkar, with all her suitable voice modulations, sounds as lovely and frolicky as she sounded in SJ’s music during the 1950s.

The song also has a sad and slow paced version with identical lyrics –

Pandit Gobindram – Kaari Kaari Andhiyaari Raat Mein
Pandit Gobindram was one of the pioneers of Punjab school of music in Hindi cinema. In spite of his vital role in shaping up Hindi film music in the 1940s, he remains less talked about as compared to his compeers from the same school of music like Ghulam Haider, Pandit Amarnath and Shyam Sunder. He was a trained musician from Lahore and composed music for many Hindi and Punjabi films. Rhythm, beat and orchestration were the notable features of his compositions. He was the first composer to use the traditional dadra “Inhi logon ne le leena dupatta mera” in the film music (in Himmat – 1941, sung by Shamshad Begum). Its later version in Pakeezah (1972) sung by Lata Mangeshkar under the baton of Ghulam Mohammed remains much more popular though.
He started his career in the late 1930s, but rose to prominence only towards the mid-1940s. Lata Mangeshkar sang for him for the first time in Bholi (1949) and featured in almost every soundtrack that he composed till his last Hindi film Naqab (1955).
The sweet song “Kaari kaari andhiyaari raat mein kaare kaare baadrwaa chhaaye” from Jalpari (1952) is a good example of their creative collaboration. The lyrics are written by Bharat Vyas and the song is picturised on Nalini Jaywant. Catchy rhythm and beats and optimal orchestration together with Lata Mangeshkar’s cloyingly sweet and coltish rendition make this song a treat to ears.

Hansraj Behl – De De Mora Kanganaa
Yet another composer belonging to the Punjabi cadre, Hansraj Behl started his career in Hindi cinema with Pujari (1946) and composed music for 30 odd Hindi and Punjabi films thereafter. Though his last film was Insaaf Ka Khoon (1991), he remained active mainly during the late ‘40s and the ‘50s. His presence was however seen rapidly decreasing during the ‘60s and ‘70s. To add to it, he mostly worked on stunt or fantasy films during these two decades, which had little scope for music. The famous patriotic song sung by Rafi “Jahan daal daal par sone ki chidiya karti hai basera” from Sikandar-E-Azam (1965) was his last hit.
Asha Bholse made her debut in Hindi playback under Hansraj Behl’s baton in Chuanariya (1948). His peers and singers held him in utmost reverence. In spite of all this and a good deal of mellisonant tunes that he composed, he could never get the taste of success to the extent he deserved.
Lata Mangeshkar sang for him in Chunariya for the first time and she rendered many melodious songs infused with emotions under his music direction later. The soundtrack of Rajdhani (1956) is a fantastic example. Out of the total 8 songs in the film, 7 are Lata solos and the balance one is a Lata – Talat duet. The song “De de mora kanganaa” from the said film is a lesser known Lata gem. This playful song is written by Asad Bhopali and picturised on Sunil Dutt and Nimmi. In no time you start tapping your foot and nodding your head to this wonderful combination of extremely sweet and peppy tune, pleasant orchestration comprising Indian and western instruments and Lata Mangeshkar’s frisky and luscious rendition.

S. Mohinder – Guzra Hua Zamana Aata Nahin Dobara
Mohinder Singh Sarna, popularly known as S. Mohinder, who hailed from undivided Punjab, composed music for several Hindi and Punjabi films. His career started with Sehra (1948) and Mehelon Ke Khwab (1967) was his last Hindi film. Although he had a very wide range of music as well as choice of singers, he unfortunately could never make it to the front row of doyens of Hindi film music.
Nonetheless, his bittersweet composition in Lata Mangeshkar’s voice – “Guzra hua zamana aata nahin dobara” from Sheerin Farhad (1956) – is enough to make him immortal. Though he was never considered as a leading composer in the golden era, he will never be forgotten by the music lovers, thanks to this song! The lyrics, the composition, Madhubala’s beauty and Lata Mangeshkar’s rendition full of pathos pierce straight through the heart.

Madhubala starred in quite a few films for which S. Mohinder composed the music. It was rumoured that enamoured of his handsome looks, Madhubala even proposed to him; however, he denied the proposal.
S. Mohinder was the last golden era composer to be among us, until he breathed his last recently.

Jamal Sen – Sapna Ban Saajan Aaye
Hailing from a musical family in Rajasthan, Jamal Sen traced his lineage to the legendary Tansen’s disciple Kesari Sen on one end and to his grandson Sameer Sen (of the Dilieep Sen – Sameer Sen duo) on the other. Jamal Sen, who was an adept singer, dancer and could masterfully play several musical instruments, started his career as a singer with All India Radio, Calcutta and later entered the film industry as an assistant to Master Ghulam Haider in the early 1940s. He got his first break as an independent composer in Kedar Sharma’s Shokhiyan (1951). Even after the initial couple of successful films, his career could not unfortunately take off well and he remained unsung in spite of all the mellifluous songs that he composed.
The dream song “Sapna ban sajan aaye” from his debut film Shokhiyan is the epitome of his rich musical acumen. The tune of the song based on raag Yaman and the wonderful orchestration make it a perfect dream song. The lyrics are penned by Kedar Sharma in chaste Hindi. Lata Mangeshkar’s saccharine rendition in her nascent voice makes the innocence in the dream quite likable.

Sardul Kwatra – Tabiyat Theek Thi Aur Dil Bhi Beqarar Na Tha
Sardul (Singh) Kwatra was a film director and music composer. He composed music for the Punjabi and Hindi films produced by the Kwatra family (his home production). He composed music mainly based on classical and Punjabi folk music for several Hindi films, which was at par with some of his contemporary stalwarts in Hindi cinema. He couldn’t however make a mark in Hindi films, though he achieved great heights as a composer in Punjabi films. Lata Mangeshkar sang under his baton for the first time in Mirza Sahiban (1953), the Kwatra family’s first Hindi movie, in which Shammi Kapoor and Shyama were in the lead roles. She also sang a few songs for his Punjabi films. A sad but melodious song sung by Lata Mangeshkar for Mirza Sahiban – “Tabiyat theek thi aur dil bhi beqarar na tha” – gives an idea of Sardul Kwatra’s sweet style of composition. Sparse but suitable orchestration, Lata Mangeshkar’s poignant rendition and Verma Malik’s befitting lyrics add to the beauty of the composition.

Iqbal Qureshi – Itna Naa Sataa, Ke Koi Jaane
A lot is always written and discussed about the leading composers of the golden era, including their personal lives. Some composers are however remembered only for a handful of their classic compositions. Though an artiste being known only for his work is a good sign, such composers have largely remained unsung; and Iqbal Qureshi is one among them.
Mainly known for his songs from Cha Cha Cha (1964) – more so, “Ek chameli ke mandve tale” and “Subah na aayi, shaam na aayi” – he started his career in Hindi cinema with Panchayat (1958). After composing songs for a few films thereafter, his creativity and career culminated in the sound track of Cha Cha Cha, only to see a rapid downfall thereafter for reasons unknown. Though he was active in Hindi cinema till the 1990s, he was hardly taken a note of after Cha Cha Cha until he passed away in anonymity in Mumbai in 1998.
Lata Mangeshkar scarcely appears in his music after his first two films. But she has sung some really fantastic songs under his baton in these films; for example, “Itna naa sataa, ke koi jaane, o deewane” from Bindiya (1960). Mohammed Rafi’s song “Main apne aap se ghabraa gayaa hoon” from this film is well known and this sweet song has remained somewhat unnoticed. It is a romantic number expressing the feeling of missing the beloved and craving for his company. The song is therefore a little nimble with pleasant orchestration. Lyrics are penned by Rajinder Krishan. Lata Mangeshkar, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, always sounded very adorable in fast paced romantic songs such as this.

P. Adi Narayana Rao – Mujhe Naa Bulaa
Really speaking, P Adi Narayana Rao is a lesser seen rather than a lesser known composer in Hindi cinema. His outstanding composition “Kuhu kuhu bole koyaliya” has rendered him immortal in the music world. He was a well-known composer, producer and writer in Tamil and Telugu film industry. He composed music only for two Hindi movies – the first, his quintessential film Suvarna Sundari (1957) starring his wife Anjali Devi, which was the Hindi remake of his own Telugu production with the same title; and the second, Phoolon Ki Sej (1964) produced by him together with Anjali Devi. Songs of Phoolon Ki Sej, albeit quite melodic, could not match the popularity of the Suvarna Sundari songs.
The Hindi version of Suvarna Sundari had a Lata dominated soundtrack with all the euphonious semi-classical songs composed by P. Adi Narayana Rao and written by Bharat Vyas. The soundtrack has a honeyed Lata number based on raag Maalkauns – “Mujhe na bula”, somewhat overshadowed by the popularity of the masterpiece “Kuhu kuhu bole koyaliya”. Picturised on Anjali Devi as an “apsara” performing in the celestial court of Lord Indra, the song expresses her inability to respond to her earthly lover’s alluring call at an unearthly hour, owing to social norms. The semi-classical tune, the orchestration and the effective use of chorus perfectly suit the situation. Lata Mangeshkar has done complete justice to the song by flawlessly crooning it in a perfectly beseeching tone. Interestingly, the words “kuhu kuhu” and “koyaliya” find place in one of the stanzas of this song too.

These composers may have failed to taste commercial success or critical acclaim; but they have definitely studded the Empress’s crown with numerous rare gems. But wait, this is just a glimpse. There are many more such composers and a sequel is already in making.

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