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Remembering Lata Mangeshkar: Decades of a musical journey

Never say never but in this case there will never be another like the Late Lata Mangeshkar. It hurts using the word late against her name as its a sad occasion not just for Indian music lovers but also for the global music industry and the art form of music itself. She led a full and complete life passing away at the age of 92 but she for one will be remembered for time immortal through her songs. Nonetheless, her passing is a loss that will be felt by every South Asian around the world as there can’t be a person who has not heard at least one song by the great Lata Mangeshkar!

Covid pandemic has taken many casualties around the world impacting billions and Mangeshkar is perhaps the most high profile victim of the virus in India. The country grieves with two days of national mourning declared in her honour. Her cremation today on 6th February, 2022 was with full formal state honours attended not only by the who’s who of the music and film industry but also the prime minister and other dignitaries. She truly was a national treasure and her voice will remain one of the crowing jewels in the Indian crown. Her name is synonymous with Indian culture, music history and is an intricate part of every occasion or festival there exists and thus she is in many forms a part of tradition!

Through her career spanning seven decades she has sung thousands of songs that there are just estimates of as even the Guinness Book couldn’t keep a count of. She has sung songs in over 36 languages and even the biggest legends of music have never been able to spot a single note wrong in any of her performances. Her voice truly is God’s gift to humanity and her talent knew no bounds. For someone who is so gifted, awards and titles can’t do much justice but as one would expect she had won every award. Winning numerous best female playback singer Filmfare and Zee Cine Awards, to National Film Awards, to numerous Doctorates, to many honorary civilian awards including Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, Dadasaheb Phalke Award and the highest Bharat Ratna award are just a few feathers in her crown that still don’t do justice to her contribution of Indian music.

Her voice is one of the sweetest sounds in the aural domain and one can’t help but fall in love with her melodic voice. Even when she spoke her soft voice sounded as soothing as droplets of water or the chirping of the morning birds. No wonder she has carried the title of Nightingale of India and the Queen of Melody all her life. She was a dream for every music director to work with and every singer to do a duet with. Her vocal art was always note perfect and she was a true credit to her father, Deenanath Mangeshkar who she got her musical training from. One of 5 siblings in a musical family, she truly has been an elder sister in leading by example to huge talents including the amazing Asha Bhosale and Usha Mangeshkar.

Her melodic sweet voice became the voice of almost every major leading lady of any calibre in the last seven decades of Bollywood industry. Her ease in delivery is something that always impressed the most and made her songs sound extremely natural as the sound of nature. Here Indian classical training helped her deliver some of the most difficult songs ever sung in Bollywood. The only thing she ever perhaps lacked was versatility in styling and merging in with the modern Bollywood sound at the turn of the 21st century but the way she owned the traditional sound in the previous century is something that no one will be able to erase from history.

Her voice was her instrument and in culture she is regarded as an avatar blessed by goddess Saraswati. Her music was her devotion and her life, so much so that she never married and remained a celibate in devotion to her music. Some say that is because she believed that it would take her voice away and thus devoted her life to her singing and her fans delivering the perfect tone and pitch song after song in her truly iconic and distinguished style. Her unique voice made each song clearly recognisable as a Lata Mangeshkar song that is the sign of a truly great singer.

It is just simply unpractical and not feasible to list the best or the biggest or the most amazing songs of the great Lata didi but here is a look back at some of her most popular songs in each decade.

She started her career in the 1940s and her songs in the movie ‘Barsaat’ (1949) composed by Shankar Jaikishan truly set the stage for her career ahead. Jiya beqarar hai chhayi bahaar hai and Hawa men udta jae mera lal dupatta are two of the biggest songs of the decade. While Aayega aayega aanewala aayega from ‘Mahal’ (1949), composed by Khemchand Prakash, is still one of the path breaking spookiest songs in Bollywood.

1950s were the best decade that could have been for a newcomer to the industry as she delivered hit after hit every year. Pyar Hua Iqrar Hua from ‘Shree 420’ (1955) is till date one of the most romantic songs ever delivered in Bollywood.

Man Dole Mera Tan Dole from ‘Naagin’ (1954) while Jahan Main Jaati Hoon & Aaja Sanam Madhur Chandni Mein Hum from ‘Chori Chori’ (1956) are some brilliant songs from the decade. Aaja Re Pardesi from ‘Madhumati’ (1958) won her the accolades while Yaad Kiya Dil Ne from ‘Patita’ (1953) is one of the best songs of hers ever.

In the 1960s her career took to new heights as Bollywood grew to new heights as an industry moving into colour and superstars on the generation. Jo vada kiya wo nibhana padega from ‘TajMahal’ (1963) and Aaja Aayi Bahaar from ‘Rajkumar’ (1964) are two of the most iconic songs in the history of Indian cinema. Tujhe jeevan ki dor se from ‘Asli Naqli’ (1962), Lag Ja Gale Ki from ‘Woh Kaun Thi?’ (1964) and Dil jo na kah saka from ‘Bheegi Raat’ (1965) are brilliant songs but were dwarfed by songs like Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna and Piya Tose Naina Laage Re from ‘Guide’ (1965) and Pardesiyon Se Na Ankhiyan Milana plus Ye Samaa Samaa Hai Pyar Ka from ‘Jab Jab Phool Khile’ (1965). There was also the classic movie ‘Aradhana’ (1969) that had the famous Chanda Hai Tu Mera Suraj Hai Tu and Kora Kagaz Tha Yeh Man Mera by the amazing Mangeshkar.

Tu Jahaan Jahaan Chalegaa from ‘Mera Saaya’ (1966), Sawan Ka Mahina from ‘Milan’ (1967), Dil Wil Pyar Wyar from ‘Shagird’ (1967), Aa Jaane Jaan from ‘Intaqam’ (1969), Bindiya Chamkegi & Chup Gaye Sare Nazare from ‘Do Raaste’ (1969)

The 60s were also when she released the patriotic single that brought a tear to every eye as she paid her tribute to the fallen soldiers with Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo in 1963. Her recitation of Vande Mataram and the national anthem Jana Gana Mana are still the main versions used at most public gatherings across India.

1970s gave Lata Mangeshkar the opportunity with the new set of hugely talented music directors that delivered hits on every song in the movies. Most notable being ‘Paakeezah’ (1972) where she took the qawalli genre to a whole new level. Chalte Chalte, Inhi Logon Ne & Thade Rahiyo are all path breaking songs from this movie. And then there was ‘Aap Ki Kasam’ (1974) that had Jai Jai Shiv Shankar, Karwatein Badalte Rahein, Suno Kaho Kaha Suna, Chori Chori Chupke Chupke that all became major hits.

‘Muqaddar Ka Sikandar’ (1978) featured Pyar Zindagi Hai, Dil Toh Hai Dil and the amazing Salaam-e-Ishq Meri Jaan while Bhool Gaya Sab Kuch from ‘Julie’ (1975), Rangeela Re from ‘Prem Pujari’ (1970), Khilte Hain Gul Yahaan from ‘Sharmeelee’ (1971), and Piya Bina, Teri Bindiya Re, Tere Mere Milan Ki Yeh Raina from ‘Abhimaan’ (1973) are cult classics from this decade.

Beeti Na Bitai from the film ‘Parichay’ (1972) won her the National Award and Roothe Roothe Piya from ‘Kora Kagaz’ (1974) won her the best singer filmfare in this decade.

She showed her fun side with Chadti Jawani Meri Chaal Mastani, Dilbar Dil Se Pyare and Kitna Pyara Wada Hai in ‘Caravan’ (1971) and her sad side in Raina Beeti Jaye from ‘Amar Prem’ (1972). She hit a totally different note in ‘Aandhi’ (1975) with Tere Bina Zindagi Se and Tum Aa Gaye Ho Noor Aa Gaya making the 70s one of the most epic decades for Bollywood music.

The disco era of the 1980s wasn’t the most suited for Mangeshkar’s style and talent but she still did wonders in this decade. Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum and Dekha Ek Khwaab from ‘Silsila’ (1981), Tune o rangeele kaisa jaadu kiya from ‘Kudrat’ (1981), Mere Naseeb Mein in ‘Naseeb’ (1980), Solah Baras Ki in ‘Karz’ (1980), hum bane tum bane ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ (1981) gave her a great start for the 80s.

Saagar Kinaare from ‘Saagar’ (1985) and Raam teri ganga maili plus Sun Sahiba Sun from ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili’ (1985) were great ballands for her to come back with. Jab hum jawan honge from ‘Betaab’ (1983), pyar karne wale ‘Hero’ (1983), jane kaise kab kahan ‘Shakti’ (1982) proved why she was here to stay.

Then came the late 80s and brought the era of Bollywood that made Mangeshkar relevant till today with songs delivered for the latest batch of superstars of the Khan’s era. Every song of ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ (1989) was a mammoth of a hit! Kabootar jaa, jaa, jaa, Dil deewana bin sajna ke, Aate jaate hansate gaate, Aaja shaam hone aayi defined the sound of the 90s with Mangeshkar as the lead. Her work on Mere Haathon Mein from ‘Chandni’ (1989) made her a part of every wedding thereon.

1990s was not just one of the best era’s of Bollywood but was also the best one for Mangeshkar even though she was completing 50 years in the industry proving how timeless her voice is. The hits of the early 90s were not her best work but were hits nonetheless as she fit it perfectly. Gori Hain Kalaiyan from ‘Aak Ka Arjun’ (1990), Mornii Baagama Bole from ‘Lamhe’ (1991), Der Na Ho Jaye Kahin from ‘Heena’ (1991), Kabhi Tu Chhalia Lagta Hai from ‘Patthar Ke Phool’ (1991) were some of these early hits.

But then the SRK era presented her a unique opportunity to become relevant to the next generation. Tu Mere Saamne from ‘Darr’ (1993) and every song of ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ (1995) including Mere Khwabon Main, Ho Gaya Hai Tujhko, Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna, Tujhe Dekha To made her a legend to the 90s generation. There was also that every song of ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’ (1997) including Are Re Are, Bholi Si Surat, Dholna, Pyaar Kar, Koi Ladki Hai and Dil To Pagal Hai that took her to newer heights.

The Salman Khan wagon pulled her even further with superhits of ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun…!’ (1994) including Didi Tera Devar Deewana, Ye Mausam Ka Jaadu, Maye Ni Maye, Joote Dedo, Paise Lelo, Hum Aapke Hain Koun, Lo Chali Main, Dhiktana proved she can sing almost anything! There was also the hits of ‘Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai’ (1998) including Madhosh Dil Ki Dhadkan, Is Dil Mein Kya Ha.

She proved her versatility even more with songs like Dil Huun Huun Kare from ‘Rudaali’ (1993), Kuch Na Kaho from ‘1942: A Love Story (1993), Honton Pe Bas from ‘Yeh Dillagi’ (1994), Pani Pani Re from ‘Maachis’ (1996), Geela Geela Pani from ‘Satya’ (1998), Aawaz Do Hamko from ‘Dushman’ (1998) and the amazing Jiya Jale from ‘Dil Se..’ (1998).

Her final era of playback singing in 2000s saw her leave on a high note with massive hits like Humko Humise Chura Lo, Aankhein Khuli from ‘Mohabbatein’ (2000), O Paalanhaare from ‘Lagaan’ (2001) and the massive title song of ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’ (2001).

She continued the hit making with every song of ‘Veer Zaara’ (2004) including Tere Liye, Yeh Hum Aa Gaye Hain Kahan, Aisa Des Hai Mera. Her last superhit was for A. R. Rahman with Lukka Chuppi from ‘Rang De Basanti’ (2006) that is one of the purest songs ever delivered in her voice and almost surreal listening to now that she is gone.

Considering how long the above list is, it makes one realise what an artist Lata Mangeshkar really was. A true legend in every right and she will remain in the hearts of music fans forever. RIP Lataji!