The Lata Mangeshkar interview | 'I doubt my legacy will matter as much to future generations in this era of instant gratification'
'I am not too sure of my songs outliving me. Nowadays, the young people’s attention span is very limited. They do not live in the past at all. Everyone wants to live for the moment,' says Lata Mangeshkar in an exclusive interview.
There is only one Beethoven, one Tansen, and one Lata Mangeshkar. We are fortunate to still have her in our midst. Mangeshkar, who celebrated her 92nd birthday on 28 September, remains agile, alert, vivacious, and extremely aware of what is going on in the world. She speaks to Firstpost on what it means to be Lata Mangeshkar in an era of instant gratification.
Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview below:
Didi, I hope you are keeping good health?
Considering my age, I think I am doing fairly well. Of course, there are ailments. The body is frail but fortunately, the mind is still intact. Most people my age are gone or are on wheelchairs.
That is because a world without you is imaginable?
That's kind of you to say. But no one is indispensable. Many luminaries far more gifted than me — scientists, religious and political leaders, doctors, and engineers — have come and gone. The world lives on.
But your legacy will never die. Your songs will be heard even a hundred years from now.
I am not too sure of that. Nowadays, the young people’s attention span is very limited. They do not live in the past at all. It is the era of instant gratification. Everyone wants to live for the moment.
I doubt my legacy will mean as much to future generations as they do to people like you.
All your close friends and contemporaries from the music world are gone...
Do I miss them? Of course I do. My colleagues like Mohd Rafi saab, Kishoreda (Kishore Kumar), Mukesh bhaiya, and Mannada (Manna Dey) were a constant part of my life. I’d run into them at recordings on a daily basis. Relationships were not just about work. Composers and poets like Madan bhaiya (Madan Mohan), Narendra Sharma, whom I called Daddy, Chitragupta saab, and Majrooh Sultanpuri saab used to come home regularly. And I’d visit them. We were what is called family friends. Nowadays, people meet on video calls.
Who were your favourite composers?
That’s a dangerous question. If I forget any names, I am in trouble (laughs). But I really enjoyed singing for Shankar-Jaikishan, Salil Choudhary, SD Burman, RD Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Chitragupta, and my brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar. I mention these because I did more work with them. The other composers whom I worked with were equally important. I am grateful to every composer and lyricist who gave me their songs to sing. I mean this from the bottom of my heart. If Raja Mehdi Ali Khan had not written 'Lag Ja Gale,' and Madan Mohan had not composed the tune, what would I have sung?
Speaking of 'Lag Ja Gale,' how do you account for its imperishable popularity of from among all the sparkling gems in your repertoire?
I have no clue! Why do some songs become more popular than others? In the film Woh Kaun Thi, I had sung another beautifully composed ghazal, "Jo humne dastaan apni sunayee aap kyo roye." But 'Lag Ja Gale' has proven to be more popular over the years. Kehna mushkil hai ke ek gaana doosre se zyada logon ko kyon pasand aati hai (it is hard to say why some songs race ahead of others).
Your popular songs are known far and wide. But are there songs that you like that did not get the recognition they deserve?
I don't know about the recognition. But my own favourites are not necessarily the songs that became the most popular. I love my songs composed by my brother Hridaynath in Maya Memsaab. There is a composition by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, 'Yeh Raat Bhi Ja Rahi Hai.' I can't remember the film (Sau Saal Baad). I am very fond of that song. Then there is a song that Sajjad Hussain saab composed, 'Ae Dilruba Nazrein Mila' from Rustom Sohrab. That I love. I am also very fond of the songs that Pandit Ravi Shankar composed for me in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's film Anuradha. So many songs get left behind for so many reasons.
Can you recall any unreleased songs?
There was a beautiful composition by Khayyam, titled 'Yeh Haseen Raat.' It was a duet with me and Yesudas. That never made it beyond the recording. I think the director, Kamal Amrohi, had to shelve the film (Majnoon). There is one album of Ghulam Mohamed's compositions for Pakeezah that were featured in the film, and another album of songs that didn’t feature in the film. The unused songs of Pakeezah were also very beautiful. But they didn’t become popular because they were not in the film. All my colleagues Mohd Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhonsle, Mukesh, and Manna Dey have a slew of unreleased songs lying somewhere.
Do you regret that so many of your songs were not used?
There was never any time for regret. We went from one recording to another. I never listened to my songs once they were recorded. So I had no way of knowing what was used, and what was not. In those days, if a song didn’t make it into the film, it didn’t get the recognition it deserved. I remember a beautiful Laxmikant-Pyarelal composition in the film Milan, that was cut from the film ('Aaj Dil Pe Koi Zor Chalta Nahin'). It is among my most favourite songs composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal. I am happy that some of my unused songs composed by the great Madan Mohan were used by Yash Chopra. It was Madan bhaiya’s son Sanjeev Kohli, who is like a son to me, who suggested to Yashji that they use some of Madan bhaiya’s unused compositions in Veer-Zara. That’s how those lovely melodies like 'Tere Liye' and 'Tum Paas Aa Rahe Ho' were revived. Otherwise they would have remained in oblivion.
At 92, do you miss being young?
Main aapko sach bataaoon? (Should I tell you the truth?) I don’t feel my age at all. I still feel young. I’ve never been weighed down by my troubles. Everyone has her share of problems in life.
Even when I was young and struggling, I was happy hopping from studio to studio, bumping into other strugglers like Kishoreda and Mukesh bhaiya. Those were fun times even when I had to go hungry for the entire day. There was no money in my purse. But there was only hope in my heart.
And the belief that no matter how tough the future looked, there was always hope for a better tomorrow.
Wasn't it once during one such hot sweltering day you fainted during recording?
It has wrongly been presumed over the years that I fainted while recording a song with Salilda (Chowdhary). Aisa kuch nahin. Of course, his songs were very complex. So were those composed by my brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar. But because of my father’s blessings, I was always up to any challenge in the recording studio. No. That incident where I fainted did not happen with Salilda. It happened with Naushad saab. We were recording a song on a long hot summer afternoon. You know how Mumbai gets in summer. During those days, there was no air conditioning in the recording studios. And even the ceiling fan was switched off during the final recording. Bas, main behosh ho gayi (So I fainted).
Do you remember any particular incident during a recording that has stayed with you?
I had some really fun times. I remember I was recording a duet with Uma Devi, who later became the comedienne Tun Tun. Uma Devi was as khati-peeti back then as a singer as she was later as an actress. So there we were, the two of us singing into the same mike. Back then, duets were recorded on one mike. Me, a frail reed-like pintsized girl, she quite formidable in her physical presence. I was given a stool to stand on, as I had a problem reaching the mike. I sang my lines, and then when Uma Devi moved forward to sing into the mike and nudged my shoulder, I fell right to the ground. (Laughs loudly)
Whom did you enjoy recording with the most?
Kishoreda. Recording with him was like one whole session of fun and games. He would make me laugh so much, I could barely sing. I had to stop him. "Kishorda, pehle gana phir masti.' It was especially problematic when we were singing sad duets. Instead of tears of grief, my eyes would be sawan-bhadow(tearful) with laughter.
It is said that the whole congregation at the recording wept when you sang Madan Mohan’s 'Heer' in Heer Ranjha and SD Burman’s 'Tum Mujhse Dur Chale Jana Na' in Ishq Par Zor Nahin?
That’s true. Except for me, they were all crying. I’ve never been a weeper even when singing the most somber songs. I’ve always preferred laughter to tears. God has always been kind. I’ve never been given any reason for tears. I think I cried the most when I lost my father and my mother.
Is there a prominent composer who never worked with you?
OP Nayyar! My sister Asha’s voice suited his style of composition more.
Do you have any unfulfilled dreams?
I want to see this world COVID-free during my lifetime.
Any closing thoughts?
I can’t thank the listeners enough for bearing with me for 70 years. I didn’t even know how the time flew by. Waqt kaise nikal gaya pata hi nahin chala. If I had a chance to live it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Not even that fall from the stool while singing with Uma Devi.
Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.
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