Voice that connects millions

LATA MANGESHKAR (1929-2022)

Purnima Kamath

Last Sunday, millions of fans across the globe woke up to the news of Lata Mangeshkar's demise.

She is among the very few Indians whose name strikes a chord in almost every corner of the world.

The singer enthralled generations of Bollywood audiences as the voice behind many actresses' performances.

Aged 92, she died at the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai due to Covid-19 complications, according to the doctors who treated her.

"She has left us," said legendary Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan. "The voice of a million centuries has left us, her voice resounds now in the heavens!"

Indian movies and songs have had a great impact on my life since childhood. At home, the standard playlist included numbers by Lata (who is fondly called Didi - older sister), Kishore Kumar, R.D. Burman and Mohammed Rafi.

My mother's maiden name was changed by her in-laws after marriage to Hemlata - a combination of Hema (Didi's actual name) and Lata. Such was the influence the singer had on my family.

My grandma used to say that Goddess Saraswati is in Didi's voice, a divinity that could only be felt and cannot be expressed.

Known for her soft-spoken nature, sari attire and hair parted in two schoolgirl-like braids, people called her Melody Queen, India's Nightingale and Voice of the Millennium. But she was simply Lata Didi to many.

Her body of work is overwhelming. Whether it is an intricate classical number like Mohe Panghat Pe, a seductive Bahon Me Chale Aao or the romantic Tere Liye Hum Hein Jiye, she rendered them with ease and perfection.

When she sang, it reflected the emotions of the actress on screen perfectly. Incredibly, in her 70 plus years of singing, Didi had never sung a wrong note. The revered Hindustani classical vocalist Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan once lovingly uttered in happiness: "She doesn't sing out of tune even by mistake."

Women empowerment is the new buzzword. But Didi was the flagbearer when it came to ensuring that her voice was heard in the industry. She accomplished a level of perfection that remains unmatched.

In a career spanning 73 years, she sang more than an estimated 25,000 songs in 36 languages.

Her singing talent was accidentally discovered by her father Deenanath Mangeshkar, a musician and theatre artiste, when she was only five.

She honed her skills in Mumbai under Ustad Aman Ali Khan.

Initially she was rejected by filmmaker S. Mukherjee because he found her voice "too thin". But destiny had something else in store.

When she sang the haunting melody Aayega Aanewala (Mahal, 1949), it bonded her with the nation.

She went on to endear with the timeless Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960), the playful Piya Tose Naina Laage Re (Guide, 1965) and the tragic Inhi Logon Ne (Pakeezah, 1970).

She also sung several patriotic gems, including Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon in 1963 that reduced India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to tears.

The 1960s also marked the beginning of her collaboration with the composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal with whom she released more than 700 songs over 35 years. Most of them were huge hits.

The same period saw her record duets with Mukesh, Manna Dey, Mahendra Kapoor, Rafi and Kishore, and work with successful composers such as Naushad, Anil Biswas, S.D. Burman, Shankar Jaikishan, Salil Chowdhury, Madan Mohan and Khayyam.

She was also the voice for a range of actresses - from Madhubala to Waheeda Rehman, Hema Malini, Rekha, Kajol and Madhuri Dixit.

Classically trained, she moulded her voice to the demands of Bollywood movies, even representing an actress who was much younger to her.

Didi dominated the Hindi film industry for almost five decades until the 2000s along with her younger sister Asha Bhosle.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he is "anguished beyond words" by her death.

He tweeted: "The kind and caring Lata Didi has left us. She leaves a void in our nation that cannot be filled. The coming generations will remember her as a stalwart of Indian culture, whose melodious voice had an unparalleled ability to mesmerise people."

Didi's "golden voice" mirrored our every emotion, moving us to tears of joy and sorrow. Her songs covered the gramophone age to the digital age.

With her death, India has lost one of its most prolific artistes - the last of her kind.

tabla@sph.com.sg

Purnima Kamath is the founder and CEO of De Ideaz, a pioneer events company in Singapore.

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