Lata Mangeshkar, The Queen of Melodies
Lata Mangeshkar, the nightingale of India and the voice behind many actresses' performances, took her last breath on Sunday at the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai. Dr. Pratit Samdani said that the cause of complications was COVID-19.
She was a playback singer, who at times composed music. Even though she works her magic behind the curtains, she was far from anonymous to the nation. She recorded hundreds and thousands of songs, not only in Hindi but in several other languages.
Lata Mangeshkar was born on 28 September 1929 in the city of Indore, Madhya Pradesh. She was the eldest daughter of Shuddhamati Mangeshkar and her husband, Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar. Her father was a well-known classical musician active in Marathi-language theater. All her siblings, Meena, Asha, Usha, and Hridaynath are also singers.
Her father was her first music teacher. She spent most of her time traveling with her family and father’s theater company, across the region. Although she acted in plays as a kid, she never liked acting. “I never liked it — the makeup, the lights,” she said. “The day I started working as a playback singer, I prayed to God: ‘No more acting in films,’ he listened to me and I got a fairly good position in playback singing.”
She had to give up formal schooling on the first day of her school. She brought her 10-month-old sister, Asha and the teacher refused to allow the baby into the class. The family fell on hard times when several songs produced by her father did not do well. In 1940, the theater company was closed. They were forced to sell their house and move to Pune, Maharashtra. To make ends meet, Lata Mangeshkar started singing alongside her father at classical concerts.
Her father passed away when she was 13 years old, in 1942. She joined Navyug Chitrapat Film Company and started playing minor roles, in Marathi and Hindi language films to support her family. When in 1945, Navyug Chitrapat Film Company shifted to Bombay, she and her family moved into a one-bedroom apartment.
When in 1947, the era of singing actors started coming to an end, her career began to skyrocket. The filmmakers started looking for singers to become the singing voice of actors and actresses. Her voice became popular, and many directors and producers hired her as the playback singer. Mahal, the movie that became the breakthrough for Madhubala, was also the movie that brought Lata Mangeshkar to the limelight.
Aayega Aanewala (Mahal, 1949), became her first hit. At the time of release, her name was nowhere to be found on the label, but when the song was aired on public radio, people began to ask for the name of the singer. All India Radio contacted the record company and announced her name on air. Even though she rose to fame overnight, she faced a lot of struggles in her life.
“I recorded two songs in the morning, two in the afternoon, two in the evening, and two at night,” said Lata Mangeshkar in the book ‘Lata Mangeshkar…In Her Own Voice’ by Nasreen Munni Kabir. She sang over 25,000 songs, some of which were used in Hollywood movies like the Life of Pi and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
In 2001, she was awarded India’s highest honor, Bharat Ratna. She was also honoured with the Outstanding Achievement Award in the IIFA Awards in 2000 and the Lifetime Achievement award at GiMA in 2010
From Madhubala and Meena Kumari in the ’60s to Preity Zinta and Kajol in the 20s, Lata Mangeshkar became the voice for generations of actresses. Her sweet, soft voice that could attain a high pitch, was a part of almost every household in the nation.
She devoted her life to music. It was her life and God. She was never married. She spent her whole life supporting her family and siblings. Her last recorded song was Gayatri Mantra, for Isha Ambani’s wedding. The nightingale has flown, the melody remains…