I Didn’t Get to Dream, I Just Followed My Destiny: Lata Mangeshkar

Lata Mangeshkar looks back at 88 years of life and a lifetime of music. 

6 min read
Lata Mangeshkar looks back at 88 years of life and a lifetime of music. 

As Bharat Ratna Lata Mangeshkar, the nightingale of India, turns 88, she looks back at her achievements, regrets and her favourite melodies in this exclusive interview.

Q: At 88, what do you feel about the years gone by?

Lata Mangeshkar: I’ve never counted the years. I’ve just carried on doing whatever work God planned for me. Now when you’re reminding me of it, I realise how many years have passed.

Q: Any regrets?

Lata Mangeshkar: Some, not many. God has given me everything. Maybe I should’ve given a bit more time to riyaaz, practised my classical music a bit more.

Q: You sing classical songs like Man Mohana Bade Jhoothe and Raina Beeti Jaye with such supreme mastery. Hindustani classical maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan had once said about you, “Kambhakht kabhi besura nahin gaati”...

Lata Mangeshkar: Yeh unka baddhappan tha (it was his greatness to say this). He was just being encouraging towards a student of classical music. I’ve been a student all my life.

Singing Raina Beeti Jaye, which you love so much, was not at all difficult for me. Should I tell you which song was difficult to sing? Chunri Sambhal Gori from Bahaaron Ke Sapne, which I sang for RD Burman, one of my favourite composers. That song took me out of my comfort zone. It was tougher to do than all these semi-classical songs.

Q: Music has changed so much over the years. Do you feel the change?

Lata Mangeshkar: I definitely do. Music, specially film music, has changed so much over the years. Today I don’t think music has the same place in our films as it did earlier. I remember when I first met composer Master Ghulam Haider, who mentored me, he taught me the importance of the words that I sang and how to make them my own.

What Master saab taught me about singing when I was just a young girl has remained with me. He told me that when I am doing playback singing, I must find out who I was singing for and what is the situation for the song. I don’t think anyone bothers with these details any more.

I’d say he was the greatest influence on my singing career. There were others too, but he taught me the basic rules of singing. I don’t think I’d have been the singer that I am if it wasn’t for him.

Q: Which according to you, are the turning points in the history of playback singing?

Lata Mangeshkar: I’d say Naushad saab’s soundtrack of Rattan and Shankar-Jaikishan’s Barsaat.

Q: Were you not a of part one and the whole-and-soul of the other?

Lata Mangeshkar: That’s not the point. Whether I was there or not, playback music existed before and after me. But I’d say before Master Ghulam Haider, film music was just there, strictly functional. It all changed with Master saab. Then came Naushad’s music in Rattan in 1944, fresh in sound. Even the lyrics by D N Madhok saab in Rattan were so wonderful. I’ve heard that like Pradeep ji (who wrote Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon), Madhok saab would compose tunes for his poetry… I don’t know how far it is true. But Rattan became the role model for Hindi film soundtracks until Shankar Jaikishan came  along with Barsaat in 1949, to change the sound of film music. People loved the music of Barsaat. I know how popular it was. I saw it myself.

Q: Did Barsaat make your career?

Lata Mangeshkar: Ji haan, uske gaane bahut chale. Jiya Beqaraar Hai, Hawa Mein Udta Jaye... But the one song that truly changed my career was Aayega Aane Wala in Mahal. It was after this song that people came to know that a new girl called Lata Mangeshkar has come to sing. But if you ask me about the turning point in Hindi films, they are Rattan and Barsaat. And yes, Barsaat brought five of us into the limelight – Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Shankar, Jaikishan and me. And of course Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra. After Barsaat their career just took off with hit after hit. I don’t want to take credit for their success. Besides Shankar-Jaikishan, I’d say composers like Anil Biswas, Roshan, Madan Mohan, Hemant Mukherjee, Jaidev and Salil Chowdhary created their own kind of sounds. They were all exceptionally talented, all successful and all different from one another. After Shankar-Jaikishan, Kalyanji-Anandji and Laxmikant-Pyarelal came  forward to carry their legacy forward.

Q: It is believed by many that Laxmikant-Pyarelal outdistanced Shankar Jaikishan?

Lata Mangeshkar: You are saying that because later in their career, a little bit of stress came into Shankar and Jaikishan’s relationship. But yes, Laxmi-Pyare did some outstanding work. The two composers after them who made all the difference to film music were RD Burman and AR Rahman. Both revolutionised the sound of Hindi film music. I enjoyed singing with both. It’s wrongly believed that RD, who I was very close to, gave all the classical songs to me and the fast-paced westernised numbers to my sister Asha Bhosle. In fact I’ve sung some very peppy numbers for RD.

Q: Yes, in fact, wasn’t Dum Maro Dum to be sung by you?

Lata Mangeshkar: I wouldn’t know about that. But songs like Dilbar Dil Se Pyaare and Bangle Ke Peeche, that I sang with Pancham, weren’t exactly bhajans (laughs).


Q: Between SD and RD Burman, who did you enjoy working with more?

Lata Mangeshkar: They both loved me immensely. I was very close to both. In the middle some differences were created between Sachin da and me. But we both knew we would get over that rough patch. And we did. Pancham helped us patch up.

Q: Sachin da would say, “Give me Lata and a harmonium and I’m good”...

Lata Mangeshkar: (laughs) Did he really say that? I knew that the kheer he made for himself was shared with no one else but me.

Q: Who did you enjoy singing with the most?

Lata Mangeshkar: I had an amazing rapport with all of them. But Salil da’s tunes were tough. It was very hard to copy his style because there were so many dips and curves in his compositions. Once Kishore Kumar, and you know how humorous he could be, told me that he was singing for a composer whose songs were known to go oopar and neeche. He meant Salil da.

My first song for Salil da was for Do Bigha Zameen. I give him credit for making me a household name in Bengal. The puja songs that I sang for him became an integral part of the Durga Puja festivities, so much so that other composers doing puja songs with other singers would anxiously ask the music company if Salil da was again doing puja songs with Lata (laughs). Incidentally, this year my birthday coincides with Durga Puja.

Q: Do you think you made a lot of singers insecure?

Lata Mangeshkar: Shall I tell you something? It is a myth that other singers couldn’t get along with me. I shared a tremendous rapport with Geeta Dutt. She shared all her secrets with me. Even before Geeta I was very fond of Amirbai Karnataki. She treated me like a daughter. Then after Geeta, Kavita Krishnamurthy and Alka Yagnik have been great friends. In fact Alka and I are connected on Whatsapp. She sends me pictures and songs.

Q: The other thing I want to ask you about is your perfect pronunciation in every language that you sang in. How did you manage that?

Lata Mangeshkar: For my Bengali, the credit goes to three people– Salil da (Salil Chowdhary), Hemant da (Hemant Mukherjee) and Hrishi da (Hrishikesh Mukherjee). They insisted on speaking to me in Bengali. For my Urdu, I’d give the credit to my elder brother Dililp Kumar saab, who once challenged my ability to pronounce Urdu words properly. I immediately hired a maulvi saab to teach me Urdu. But the toughest  language to sing in was Tamil. I think I managed it very well when I sang a duet in Tamil for composer Ilaiyaraja .

Q: You’ve managed just about every thing there is to manage in film music. Any unfulfilled dreams?

Lata Mangeshkar: None at all. I never had a chance to dream. I just kept doing whatever destiny willed. When I was just a young girl, my only concern was to make  sure that my family was looked after.

When my career took off, I just kept singing hoping that I am able to do my father, a reputed singer and my idol, proud. I never wanted to shame my father in my life. I had only one other idol, and that was KL Saigal. My one regret is that I could never meet him.

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