Lata Mangeshkar and her bequest to Odia music

Prof. Satya Narayan Misra*

The parameters for popular music underwent significant change after second world war when Lata di left behind her predecessors whose full throated and nasal style was replaced by melodious music. With her ‘wafer thin’ voice Lata Mangeshkar replaced the full throated musical style influenced by Thumri and Dadra tradition of music. Though she catered to popular taste, she remained loyal to the technique and texture of classical music in which she had a solid training during her childhood. With her iconic number ‘Ayega Anewala’ in Mahal (1949) she purged herself of the need to emote Noor Jehan who had migrated to Pakistan. Given her sound training in classical music she could partner with Pandit Vimsen Joshi, another Bharat Ratna, to render remarkable bhajans like ‘Baje Re Muraliya’.

Lata Didi sang in 36 regional languages with an oeuvre of about 30000 songs. She rendered only two Odia film songs. One was for the film Suryamukhi (1963) where she sang “Sei Chuna Chuna Tara Fule Aji”. Subsequently she sang another song “Aji Mu Shrabani Luhara Harini” in the film Arundhati in 1967. These are two iconic numbers which have enraptured generation of music lovers in Odisha. Both the songs were composed by Santanu Mahapatra, a legendry music Director, who passed out from IIT Kharagpur as Geo Physicist but was master of group music and one of the best players of Harmonium of India. Lata would have sang one more duet in Arundhati with Pranab Patnaik. However, she asked her sister Usha Mangeshkar to sing the duet “Ai Choto Kathatia Bhulana”, with Pranab Patnaik.

The 60’s was golden period in Odia films when Suryamukhi and Arundhati won National awards. The black & white films blazed with quality acing, music and socially relevant themes. Santanu Mahapatra was also instrumental in roping in Md. Rafi to sing a wonderful number “Mayuri Go Tuma Akase Mujebe Malhare”. Manna Dey also rendered his voice to music composed by Santanu Mahapatra. It was indeed a cultural bonanza for music lovers in Odisha when singers like Lata, Rafi, Manna Dey and Sandhya Mukherjee lent their incredible voices in Odia film songs and brought a wonderful synergy between the best of East and West in Odia film music.

Lata wanted to sing a few Odia Jagannath Bhajans and had chosen two. She was extremely religious and heard the story of how Salabega, a Muslim had composed songs in praise of Lord Jagannath. Sadly, she could not sing those bhajans. Before singing “Aji Mu Shrabani” she tried to understand the meaning of the song for a day before she rendered it. She wanted to observe the essence of the song instead of just rendering it in a mechanical way. In this aspect, she stood out amongst the peers of her time. When she was approached to sing “Piya Tose Naina Lage Re” in the film Guide someone told her that the music was inspired by an Odisi song “Malli Mala Shyama Ku Debi”. She heard Shyamamani Devi’s rendition before she sang Piya Tose. In fact the album “Shradhanjali” where she sings the old masters like Saigal, Hemant & Kishore is a fitting tribute to her humility and class. Particularly, the way she sings Saigal’s “Mein Kya Janu” will remain a milestone. Hema Malini revealed that she sang each song with so much of feeling and nuance it was very easy for her to emote the lines on the screen.

She was a perfectionist personified. The story goes that when Dillip Kumar made a dig at her Urdu pronunciation to Naushad, she took it to heart and engaged Moulvi to learn the nuances of Urdu. Even in regional language songs, she took immense care to pronounce properly. She was also a bit of an activist and stood for female dignity and insisted on pay parity with male singers. She also pressed Raj Kapoor to pay her royalty, which the thespian refused. This created a hiatus between SD Burman and her for a long time and with Raj Kapoor for a few years when they relented and she was paid at par with highest paid male singer. She did this much before Billie Jean King who started the Battle of Sexes in 1973 against Bobby Riggs to demand pay parity with male players in Wimbledon matches.

She is remembered by many for her extremely generous quality. She is also known as her love of cricket and was seen regularly with Raj Singh Dungarpur, former BCCI President in London in the cricket ground of Lords. She used to meet legendry players like Gary Sobers and Rohan Kanhai and was very close to Sachin Tendulkar. She organised a concert for the victorious cricket team of the World Cup in 1983. She was aware that the crackers are not being paid handsomely then. She could not marry Raj Singh due to family opposition. Dungarpur once said “Lata is like a closed envelope addressed to me. And I know it contains a love letter!”. This was the story of Lata’s unrequited love for Raj Singh and cricket. She also had a soft corner for Madan Mohan, who possibly stretched Lata’s potential to the maximum.

The poet Ben Johnson wrote: “In small proportion we just beauties see. And in short measures life may perfect be. In similar vein, Lata’s odyssey with Odia film song was brief but very soulful, poignant and durable. She always had a very high regard for old film composers like Naushad, Madan Mohan and Khayyam. She harboured similar feelings for Santanu Mahapatra who had his musical training from Salil Choudhury and had a feel of theatre. Lata in the beginning of her career was part of a peripatetic film company. No wonder the synergy of theatre, classical music and melody found its culmination in the two soulful numbers she has left behind for music lovers of Odisha and outside.




*The author is a retired joint secretary in the Ministry of Defence. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.

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