The Legendary Lata

The Nightingale of India – Lata Mangeshkar

I can’t say this enough – music has been an integral part of my life. More specifically -Bollywood/Hindi film music. And Lata Mangeshkar was the doyen of Bollywood singers. It is almost impossible to think of Bollywood songs without a mention of her.

Perhaps every Indian that lived through this times will have a list of her favourite songs , or her songs among their all time favourites. Perhaps the oldest of her songs that I knew were from the late 1940s – Hawa mein udta jaaye from Barsaat and Chup Chup khade ho from Badi Bahen. We had the Barsaat tape so I know all the songs.

Her famous pairing with Mukesh – with hits like Jaane na nazar and Ye Shaam ki Tanhaaian from Aah, Ichak Daana Beechak Daana from Shree 420 (that I sang to my little girls as babies), solos like Rasik Balma and Panchi Banoon Udti Phiroon , other songs such as Jahan Main Jaati Hoon and songs of Kathputli, and the entire soundtrack of Madhumati constitute the 50s songs that I heard several times over during my childhood.

The 60s collection perhaps is one of the most wide-ranging set of movies, artists, singers, music directors and lyricists I know of. The tear-jerking Allah Tero Naam (one of my favourite devout songs ever), the lesser-known Saawan ki Raton mein from Prem Patra, to the very famous Jo vada kiya woh nibhana padega from Taj Mahal, most songs from Tere Ghar ke Saamne, Mera Saaya and Guide are absolute favourites. Mere Mehboob has to find a special mention – with the female version of the title song Mere Mehboob and Tere pyaar mein dildaar being my personal favourites. The emotions evoked with Mera Saaya (tu agar udaas hoga, toh udaas hoongi main bhi), Lag jaa gale ki phir ye haseen raat ho na ho (shaayad phir is janam mein mulakat ho na ho) and Aji roothkar ab kahan jaayiega, jahaan jaayiega humein paayiega are unparalleled. Guide stood out as a family favourite. The heart soars with Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai, and you blush listening to Piya Tose Naina Laage re ( with lines like tujh bin holi bhi na bhaaye and chamakna us raat ko jab milenge tan man), pain fills the heart with Mose chhal kiye jaaye, saiyaan beimaan. Dil wil pyaar wyaar and Woh hai zara khafa khafa were often listened songs from Shagird.

Pakeezah, released in 1972 stands out as an album and with Lata’s brilliant rendition of solos – from Chalte Chalte, to Thade Rahiyo, Inhi Logon ne and Mausam hai aashiqana – it is impossible to pick a favourite. The Pakeezah album was magical in so many ways. Abhimaan was yet another album with unforgettable melodies – I used to practice Piya Bina endlessly during my high school days, and even sang the duet Teri Bindiya Re with a friend in one of the performances we had at our apartment community back in the 1990s. I love Loote koi man ka nagar, and Tere Mere Milan ki ye raina too! Chotti Si Baat, a brilliant soundtrack composition by Salil Choudhary has some outstanding songs, including one of my favourite Lata songs Na jaane kyun, hota hai yeh zindagi ke saath…. achanak ye man, kisike jaane ke baad, kare phir uski yaad, choti choti si baat…..You can’t go through the 70s without a mention of Salaam-e-ishq meri jaan from Muqaddar ka Sikandar and peppy songs such as Gapoochi gapoochi gum gum and Jaaneman Tum Kamal karti ho (a current family favourite) from Trishul. While the blockbuster movie Sholay has a few famous songs, I distinctly remember my sisters and me writing down the lyrics to Lata’s Aa jab tak hai jaan playing and pausing the tape until we got it right. The very soulful Tere bina zindagi se, Tum aa gaye ho and Iss mod se jaate hai from Aandhi are unforgettable melodies with unforgettable lines that are so relevant in the journey of life.

The 1980s gave us iconic movies and soundtracks. Dekha ek khwab, Sar se sarke and Yeh kahan aa gaye hum from Silsila, Mere haathon mein na nau and Tere mere hothon pe from Chaandni, Dil Deewana and Aaya mausam dosti ka from Maine Pyar Kiya , Saagar Kinare from Saagar and Bada dukh dina from Ram Lakhan were famous songs I liked. My husband is especially fond of Dikhai diye yun and Phir Chidi Raat from Bazaar, both of which are very classical based songs. Then there are songs like Ae dile nadaan from Razia Sultan, Dushman na kare dost from Aakhir Kyon which tug at your heart. One of my other all time favourites from the1980s is Silli hawa choo gayi from Libaas.

What can I not say about Lamhe from the 1990s – every song is melodious. Who has not danced to Morni baaga ma and Megha re megha, or got carried away by the lyrics of Kabhi main kahoon…The song Gudiya raani would bring me to tears every single time I heard it (as does Luka chuppi from Rang De Basanti, also by Lataji). The 1990s pairing with SPB had some peppy songs like Kabhi tu chaliya lagta hai from Patthar ke phool, Sun beliya from 100 Days, Didi tera devar deewana from Hum Aapke Hain Kaun etc. Jiya jale from Dil Se, Tu mere saamne from Darr, and most songs of Diwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Dil To Pagal Hai are an ode to the 1990s that belonged to Shah Rukh Khan. Every girl wanted to dance in the rain like Kajol did in Mere khwabon mein jo aaye, and experience falling in love like in Ho gaya hai tujhko jo pyaar sajna! So many dance songs of Madhuri and Sridevi that dominated the 1980s and 1990s had Lataji’s voice behind them. Deep and soulful songs like Pani pani and Bhej kahaar from Maachis (by Gulzaar the great), Tere bin nahi lagda from Kacchee Dhaage, Dil huun huun kare from Rudaali and Yaara Seeli seeli from Lekin are unforgettable as well.

Her contribution to mainstream Bollywood was probably lesser in the decades that began since 2000. O Paalanhare from Lagaan, Khamoshiyan gungunane lagi from One 2 ka 4, Jaane dil mein kabse hai tu from Mujhse Dosti karoge and Lukka chuppi from Rang De Basanti are a few of my personal favourites from the 2000s.

A tribute would be incomplete without the mention of Ae mere watan ke logon in honour of the soldiers of the nation. I also love the Ram Ratan Dhan Payo album -especially Ram Ratan Dhan Payo, Thumak Chalat Raamchandra and Raamcharitmanas. It is the only Bhajan album that I probably heard over and over in my life, seeking solace in the melodies sang in praise of God.

I am sure I’ve yet left out so many great songs out of this list. It is nearly impossible to remember them all. I have not even gone to languages other than Hindi, and she’s sung amazing songs in several other Indian languages.

May Lata ji’s soul rest in peace as millions across the world will cherish the rich legacy she has left us with.