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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 40, Dated 08 Sep 2011

    The Moon Is Her Milestone

    On her 82nd birthday, Gulzar goes in search of the right metaphor to describe the buoyancy of Lata Mangeshkar’s voice

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    (L to R) Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Lata Mangeshkar and Dilip Kumar

    LATA’S VOICE bounces off the moon and back gloriously. I like to think that she is Neil Armstrong. Though if that daydream is true, Asha Bhonsle is probably sitting at another window seat in the same spaceship.

    Lata Mangeshkar

    Lata Mangeshkar

    Hindi film music traces its ancestry back to dhrupad, khayal, bhajan and thumri. If you trace the lineage of the past 100 years of Indian cinema, Lata Mangeshkar’s voice stands out like a divine boon. In the past century, many talented singers such as Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Amir Khan and Kishori Amonkarji have sung exceptionally well. However, they all sang for themselves. This is why Lata’s voice has a legacy of its own. KL Saigal, for instance, was never anyone else’s voice. His singing, though superlative, was his own. It is a feat that she pioneered in Indian cinema. It is something of a paradox though, this business of her lending her voice to someone else. The fact is, the cast, character, situation, film, musical composition might be whatever it is but if Lata is singing, then it’s her song. After that, nothing else seems significant.

    Her voice, her melody and her preparation for a song is extraordinary. Those who seek understanding of the word ‘dedication’ must look to her. Her singing has that something extra. Flair, fun, art or a happy amalgamation that creates her je ne sais quoi. Her voice is like a magic carpet straight out of the Arabian Nights, on which millions of people have thrived for the past 60 years. Listen to her Rasik Balma and you will fall into that state of enchantment that children fall into when listening to stories of magic and fantasy. Composers like Salilda (Salil Chowdhury) have a reputation for creating tunes as complex as a crowded Benares lane. But Lata strolls through unscathed, singing “O sajna, barkha bahar aayi.”

    Whenever I wrote a song for her, I always considered how she’d react to a particular simile. Once, while recording a song for Devdas, she asked me, “What is this sarouli?” My song had a line that went “Sarouli se meethi laagey”. I explained that sarouli was a kind of mango that we used to love sucking when we were children. I asked her whether she thought I should change the image. She said, “No, of course not. Leave it alone. I only want to know how sweet is sweet.”

    I asked her if she wanted the word ‘sarouli’ (a type of mango) to be removed. She said, ‘Of course, not. I only want to know how sweet is sweet’

    On another occasion, when we were practising for a song at Pancham’s (RD Burman) home for the film Ghar, there was a line of mine, “aapki badmashiyon ke ye naye andaz hai”. He was very worried about the word badmashi. He said, “How can you have this word in poetry and, particularly, when Lata didi is going to sing it.” I told him to retain the line. If Lata disliked it, we would remove it. After the recording, we asked her, did you like the song? She said, “Yes. It was nice.” I asked again, “What about the line that contained the word badmashi?” She promptly replied, “Arrey, that was what was nice about the song. That line made the song different.” If you listen carefully to this song, you will notice that she laughs while singing badmashi, making it lovelier.

    We’re fortunate that we have been able to hear her sing. I have been fortunate to write a few songs for her. When you listen to her singing, you can’t say, “Wow, she sings so well.” You can’t do it because the second you hear her voice, you are filled with respect. We don’t even think trivialising words for her songs. Her voice and singing seem effortless, like a prayer from the heart. The moon is her milestone.

    As told to Yatindra Mishra

    ‘My singing is also my God’

    LOVE, HURT, separation, ecstasy, joy — Lata Mangeshkar has been legendary in lending voice to our innermost feelings. Titles like ‘daughter of Saraswati’ and ‘goddess of music’ seem almost insufficient to describe her. Poet and cultural activist Yatindra Mishra spoke to the Bharat Ratna awardee over many sessions about her extraordinary career over the decades.

    Edited Excerpts

    If there is an exam in music, who would you choose as your examiner?
    For the songs that I sing, I’d only choose a singer. I have always believed that whenever I sing for films, in front of a mike, in private recordings or a concert, that is my exam. If people praise it after hearing me, then I feel I have passed. It happens every time and every time you feel that you are appearing in an exam and you have to pass. People do a BA and an MA as degrees and become free, but for us each programme or recording is an ongoing pass-or-fail test.

    Which of your songs do you listen to when you’re alone?
    When alone, I like to hear Meera’s bhajans. I sang Chala Wahi Des with a lot of intensity. Even today I prefer Saanwarey Rang Ranchi and Ud Jaa Re Kaaga. I spend my free time listening to these songs.

    Which are the ragas closest to your heart?
    There are two I like most — Bhoopali and Malkauns. I had learned this bandish in Bhoopali from my guru, Ustad Amaan Ali Khan Bhendibazar wale, which I still like very much (begins humming Ab Maan Le Ri Pyari). I also like Bhoopali because in our ancestral household, the day begins with bhajans in Raga Bhoopali. During childhood, I always listened to bhajans in Bhoopali by my father. Much later, I sang Chala Wahi Des in Bhoopali under Hridaynath [Mangeshkar]’s music direction.

    Of all the music directors you have worked with, who has challenged you the most?
    For me, the most difficult songs were composed by Madan Mohan, Salil Chowdhury and Sajjad Hussain. I’d to work hard to sing Aye Dilruba Nazren Mila (from the film Rustam Sohrab) for Sajjad sahab. But I enjoyed it just as much. Salil Chowdhury was a very able music director, and under his direction, only the singer would know what they were about to sing. Besides these two, Hridaynath also composed some difficult tunes for me, including Rimjhim Jhimiva from Harishchandra Taramati and Sunioji Araj Mhaari from Lekin.

    You have sung thousands of songs for thousands of movies. Which films’ songs would you choose as most memorable today?
    There are several I’d like to remember. Many films’ songs stay in my heart, but since you ask, I’d like to name movies like Madhumati, Mughal-e-Azam and Pakeezah. There is one more, Jahan Ara — its songs were very good but the film didn’t run. And Kamal Amrohi’s Mahal has always been dear to me. I still like all its songs, even those sung by others. I particularly love my three songs in it — Aayega Aanewala, Mushkil Hai Bahut Mushkil Chahat Ko Bhula Dena and Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya.

    ‘I have no qualms in happily admitting that even I perhaps wouldn’t have been able to match the finesse with which Asha sang Aaja Aaja, Main Hoon Pyar Tera’

    Of all the songs sung by Asha Bhonsle, which are you particularly envious of, ones you’d have wanted to sing yourself?
    There are several songs sung by Asha that are absolutely fantastic. There are many that can be heard again and again. I am not able to remember many of them now, but some can never be forgotten — Yeh Hai Reshmi Zulfon Ka Andhera from Mere Sanam, Nigahen Milane Ko Jee Chahta Hai from Dil Hi To Hai, Aayiye Meherbaan from Howrah Bridge and Dil Cheez Kya Hai from Umrao Jaan. I’d like to particularly mention one song composed by RD Burman — Aaja Aaja, Main Hoon Pyar Tera from the film Teesri Manzil, sung by Mohammed Rafi on a west ern orchestration. I have no qualms in happily admitting that even I perhaps wouldn’t have been able to match the finesse with which Asha sang these songs.

    The world is crazy about Lata Mangeshkar, why is Lata Mangeshkar crazy about the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum? What was so special about her?
    There was a time when I really used to like Umm Kulthum. She had a rich voice, very different and original. Besides her, I also liked Lebanese singer Fairuz. Her voice was a little different in being a bit heavy. Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi, a song composed by Shankar Jaikishan sahab for the film Awaara, was based on a popular Kulthum song Ala Balad El Mahboub from the film Wedad in 1936. The pleasure of singing Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi was totally different. When I discovered that it was actually based on Kulthum’s tune, I looked for and heard many of her songs with attention. I also remember that there was a respected Egyptian music composer, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, whose tunes inspired many Hindi film songs. I myself sang a popular song based on one of his tunes, composed by Naushad sahab, called Mera Salaam Le Jaa, Dil Ka Payaam Le Jaa from the film Udan Khatola. Back then, while travelling I found Hindi film music very popular abroad. Perhaps one chief reason for the popularity was that the foreigners felt that the tunes on which we were singing our Hindi songs were perhaps their own songs sung in a different language (laughs).

    What kind of literature do you like most?
    I have read a lot of books, but how do I explain that I have a range of favourites? The literature closest to my heart is of Sarat Chandra. I’ve read his novels Srikanto and Devdas several times, but I consider Bipradas as his best creation. I also like Premchand babu’s books. I’ve read most of Marathi literature, in which I prefer bhajans and abhang verses, of which I like Dnyaneshwari the most. I like it even though I can’t understand all of its chaste Marathi, which is why I’ve sung it as well. I find Bhakti literature of Hindi very beautiful, especially Surdas, Kabir, Meera and Tulsidas. Apart from this, I also read Urdu poetry of Ghalib, Meer, Zauk and Daag. I read these poets often.

    I find some people’s film work to also be at the level of literature; I love Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri’s nazms. Apart from this I also like Shakeel Badayuni and Hasrat Jaipuri’s Urdu poetry. One thing that attracts me towards lyricist Shailendraji is that he was a superb Hindi poet and also wrote beautifully in Urdu. Similarly, Sahir sahab and Majrooh Sultanpuri were big Urdu poets but even while writing Hindi songs, they used their pens brilliantly. I really appreciate this quality. Majrooh sahab was a family friend, a great poet and an even greater person. These days, Gulzar sahab is there, whose Urdu and Hindi poetry is quite great. There is no doubt that from old times to present, he has been just as great a poet.

    Perhaps you are forgetting a favourite of yours — Pandit Narendra Sharma.
    You are right, it had slipped my mind. He was a brilliant Hindi poet. He considered me a daughter, and just like his daughters, I too would go to his house. I have sung of lot of filmi and non-filmi songs of his. My favourite of his is the prayer song Tum Asha Vishwas Hamare Rama from the film Subah. Apart from this, I also liked the title song of Satyam Shivam Sundaram a lot. There is an incident attached to this song — when Raj Kapoor was making this movie, he went to Pandit Narendra Sharma and said, “Panditji, I’m making a film called Satyam Shivam Sundaram in which I need a song where satya, shiva and sundar find meaning together.” Then Panditji wrote this title song that I sung. I still feel like singing this song.

    ‘I find some film work to be at the level of literature. I love Shailendraji, Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri. And today, we have Gulzar sahab

    After the festivities of Independence, you must have also seen the pain of Partition. How do you remember it now?
    Every Indian has felt the pain of Partition. It bothered me because many personalities and musicians were also affected by it and one by one left the Bombay film industry for Pakistan. Among those particularly missed were Dalsukh M Panch - oli, producer of Khazanchi, music composer Master Ghulam Haider sahab and singer Noor Jehan. Ghulam Haider sahab used to respect me a lot, I sang several songs under his music direction. I felt very bad about his departure. I still feel sad when I think about how people from both sides suffered during Partition. Many left and then returned to Bombay. Some new folks also arrived. Those days, we used to feel that despite Partition, there was no ill will in our minds against Pakistani artists or citizens; along with that, it was also true that we never felt any fear. We always used to think that we all are one.

    Is there a song that you’d have liked to hear in Noor Jehan’s voice?
    Aye Dil-e-Nadaan. I also like this song because of Khayyam sahab’s melodious tune. I would have really liked to hear it in the voice of Noor Jehan. Once, we were both in London and I went to meet her. When she came to see me off, she said, “Beta! Please sing Aye Dil-e-Nadaan for me.” I quickly sang the mukhda (opening) and one stanza in the lift. She was very pleased and said, “You have sung beautifully. May Allah give you a long life.”

    How do you define goddess Saraswati?
    (Laughs) It is a difficult question. We believe that she is the goddess of music. Other than this, I won’t be able to say anything because she is a goddess, a symbol of knowledge. I wish she always maintains what she has given me. And if there is ever a lack I shouldn’t be around for it.

    Have you ever found God in solitude?
    I have found singing, that is my God.

    What is the biggest truth for an artist?
    If someone is a true artist, then they should love their art, practise to the maximum and not hesitate to make the biggest sacrifices. This perhaps is the biggest truth that needs to be in a talented artist.

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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 40, Dated 08 Oct 2011



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