Lata Mangeshkar is by far, India’s most famous female playback singer. She is often referred to as the very own Nightingale of India, and holds the unique distinction in singing in more than 36 regional as well as international languages. She has rendered her voice in over 25,000 solo, duet and chorus songs.
Lata was born on September 28, 1929 in Indore (Madhya Pradesh) into a Marathi Brahmin family. Her father, Deenanath Mangeshkar was a renowned classical singer while her mother Shudhamati was a devout housewife. Lata was the eldest among the five children, with the other four being Hridaynath Asha, Usha and Meena. While all of her siblings are respected artists in their own right, it was Asha (Bhonsle) who somewhat matched Lata’s extraordinary career.
Although Lata was born in Indore, she was raised in Maharshtra. She started taking singing lessons from her father right from the age of five. Simultaneously, she began to work as a theater artist in small groups. In order to fortify her knowledge of classical music, Lata also too training from Ustad Aman Ali Khan, and Amanat Khan, at a later stage.
In 1942, she sang her first commercial song for a Marathi movie Kiti Hasaal. However, that song was soon deleted because of her father’s disapproval. In the same year, Deenanath Mangeshkar passed away suddenly due to a cardiac arrest, causing massive financial upheavals in his family. This forced the fiercely independent Lata to support her family by undertaking small acting roles in Marathi and Hindi films. However, she knew deep down that acting was not her life’s calling. This is why she tried to take up a few singing assignments in between, but kept getting rejected owing to her ‘thin and high-pitched voice’.
In 1945, Lata met movie producer S. Mukherji via Ghulam Haider, who was keen to showcase her singing talent on a nationwide level. Interestingly, she was rejected straightaway by Mr. Mukherji who did not like her voice. This is said to have irked Haider who told Mukherji that there would come a time when all movie directors and producers would implore Lata to sing in their movies. Finally, it was Haider who gave Mangeshkar her first break in the movie Majboor in 1948. However, it was the song ‘Aayeha aane waala’ from the film Mahal (1949) which got her noticed throughout the film fraternity.
Lata achieved tremendous popularity in the 1950s, becoming the most sought-after female playback singer in the industry. She got to collaborate with the legends of music direction including SD Burman, Shankar Jaikishan, Naushad, Salil Chaudhary, C. Ramchandra and Hemant Kumar. Shankar Jaikishen was so mesmerized with her talent that he used her extensively in nearly all his movies, especially those starring popular actor and filmmaker Raj Kapoor.
The era of 1960s saw Lata catapulting to greater heights of superstardom. She sang for all prominent music directors of that generation like RD Burman, Lakshmikant Pyarelal and several others. In the 1970s, she recorded for all leading actresses and gave immortal songs in movies like Sharmilee, Prem Pujari and Abhimaan.
In the late 1970s and early part of 1980s, Lata Mangeshkar worked with the newer generation of composers, although she reduced her film singing assignments to focus more on her overseas stage shows. She also featured in the Guinness Boo of World Records in 1974 for having recorded over 25,000 songs!
Between 1953 and 1990, Lata Mangeshkar produced four movies, with the last one being Lekin. She also composed music between 1955 and 1969, and even won the Maharashtra Government’s Award for the Best Music Director in the film Sadhi Manase (1965). The song entitled ‘Airanichya deva tula’ from that movie also won the Best Song Award.
Lata went on to win three national awards in 1973, 1975 and 1990, respectively. Other prominent honours include Padma Bhushan (1969, Maharashtra Bhushan Award (1997), Padma Vibhushan (1999), Dada Saheb Phalke Award (1989), Bharat Ratna (2001) and 12 awards from the Bengal Film Journalists’ Association. In addition, she has also won four Filmfare awards although she relinquished the honour from 1969 onwards to encourage new singers.
Interesting Facts About Lata Mangeshkar
Lata Mangeshkar was originally encouraged to act in theaters and even films. However, she despised acting and looked for every other opportunity to evade it. She was also known for taking criticism in her stride. Once, legendary actor Dilip Kumar made a snide remark about her inability to pronounce Urdu words because of her intrinsic Maharahstrian accent. Instead of getting offended by this statement, Lata decided to improve her accent by taking Urdu lessons.
Although she was friendly with everybody from the Indian film industry, she had certain misunderstandings with music director O.P. Naiyar due to which, they parted ways for ever. She also sang only a few songs with Mohammad Rafi owing to alleged disputes. In addition, she is also said to have had a disagreement with Raj Kapoor during one of her recording sessions.
Another little known fact about Lata Mangeshkar is her penchant for diamonds. Her father used to design jewellery in his childhood, but could not afford them. Lata decided not to wear diamonds until she became a successful playback singer. She is also known to be very philanthropic and regularly contributes towards social and environmental causes. In fact, she began performing for charity concerts during the mid 1970s.