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Mangeshkar Family – Striking the Right Note

Lata Mangeshkar- the name inspires awe and reverence. Her voice has cast its magical spell on the entire nation for over four decades, singing more than 40,000 songs. Meet her and her family who have carved out a special niche for themselves in the world of music.

The nightingale of India Lata Mangeshkar, whose musical career spans over four decades, is still going stron “Lata Mangeshkar” is o music what Shakespeare is to literature, said the Guinness citation which she received on July 20,1984.

At 62, Lata does not know how the Guinness people have managed to get a list of songs she has sung. Statisticians who have kept records of the songs she has sung in various languages put the total at 40,000. Lata chuckls: who is counting certainly not me! Neither is she counting the numerous awards and honours that have been bestowed upon her. She says I’ve requested people not to give me awards any more as there are so many youngsters who need encouragment.

Last year, Lata was accorded the highest award given to any artist, the 1989 fellowship of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, followed by the 1990 Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the greatest honour for any film luminary. Lata says “I was touched and felt honoured to be selected for the Phalke Award.”

To commemorate her achievements, H.M.V. released a four-cassette album Diamonds Forever which contains 60 of her all-time popular hits. The BBC too chose July 26 last year to begin its Hindi service programme Lata Ki Kahani covering all aspects of her lif and career.

Though Lata can converse in English, she is more comfortable while talking in Hindi. Explaining how and why she missed out on formal education, she says, “As children we followed our father Dinanath Mangeshkar, a renowned stage artiste, from place to place. Even before 13 years he feel ill and died. I acted as a child artiste on a few occasions but never attended any school. As the eldest child, the responsibility of looking after my mother, three younger sisters and one brother fell on me. Fortunately, I had been trained in singing by my father. Master Vinayak Rao, the father of actress Nanda, took me under his wing and I began my career acting and singing in film at the age of 13.”

Her first film was the Marathi Pahali Mangalagaur followed by more than half a dozen hindi films like Badi Maa, Jeevan Yatra etc. lata confesses: I disliked facing the camera. I always knew acting was not my forte studios. Mukherji rejected her after having heard her singing. Ghulam Haider consoled the sobbing Lata and told Mukherji that he would live to regret the day. He certainly did. A few days later Lata was asked to sing for music director C. Ramachandran. The next day she was recording for C.Ramachandran Majboor. The rest is history.

The only time this magical voice went silent was in 1960 when she had a severe throat infection. Panic griped the film industry and thousands of her fans when Lata went on the All India Radio and announced that she may not be able to sing again. However lata recovered soon only to record for the film Mahal. As she sang Ayega Ayega Ayegamelodiously the film directors and her fans thanked god.

Lata divine voice can move you to tears. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru sobbed like a child when she sang Aye mere watan ke logo, zara aankh mein bhar lo pani at Delhi’s National Stadium for the war aid fund. Lata explains: Everytime I sing something extraordinary happens. I’m transported to a different world. When songs cease to have such an effct on me I will stop singing.

She truly considers music a prayer and never wears slippers or sandals while singing even on stage. Her devotion and dedication to music demand reciprocation. The minute word is out that she is on her way to the recording room all cigarettes are quickly stubbed out in deference to her wish. As a mark of respect for her talent everyone bows to touch her feet I feel embarrassed when people touch my feet; I don’t feel I have done anything to merit it. But it’s their display of love and affection which is more important to me than any award! She emphasizes.

Her sister, Asha Bhonsle, who perhaps poses the only challenge to Lata, having sung as many songs and having won even more awards both dreads and enjoys singing with her Didi. A few months ago at Poona, Hridayanath Mangeshkar held a music programme in memory of his father. Asha pranced, yodeled and danced on the stage rapping out a string of hit numbers. Her younger sister, Usha Mangeshkar too joined her. But the musical luminaries, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Pandit Jasraj, who attended the function, insisted that without Lata the function would be incomplete. So lata walked on stage demurely draped in her traditional white saree and sang only one shloka so evocatively that all hand folded in a prayer and eyes looked heavenwards in utter reverence.

Asha, whose career spans almost as long as lata’s says: The only reason why I am successful is because I don’t bear my maiden name Mangeskhar. My first husband may have made my life miserable but it’s on his name that I have attained fame. After a phenomenon like Lata Mangeshkar, the listeners were not going to accept another Mangeshkar. A voice like hers is God’s own miracle. There never has been and never will be a singer like her. A lot of clones, dressing and singing like her, may be but never one like her.

Lata adds: There really are many people who can sing exactly like me. You can mistake them for the original so long as they imitate me but ask them to record an original song and they are lost.

Asha admits Didi was the one who got me my first break. While she sang for the leading lady I sang for the second lead or the vamps in the film. But Didi advised me not to copy anyone and I established my own style of singing. Today I am known for my very unmistakable style which is as distinct as Didi’s. I am told I can make an obscene song sound hummable. It may sound immodest but the layman identifies only our voices. Ask them about the other singers and they don’t know one singer from the other.

The Mangeshkars are notorious for snuffing out upcoming talent. Murmurs of monopoly have been heard but nobody dares openly accuse the talented isters for fear of reprisals in the form of cancelled recordings. The sisters themselves are scornful of accusations. Meena Khadilkar, the second of the Mangeshkar sister once one of the finest voices ever heard, before a sensitive throat pur paid to her singing career defends: Didi (Lata )