She is just a class act!: Pyarelal speaks on Lata

by Dr. Mandar V. Bichu


It is 2005. Pyarelal (the famous second half of Laxmikant- Pyarelal) is in Dubai to attend a tribute show. I along with Kaustubh- (KCP for the social networkers!), we are dutifully chaperoning him to various TV and radio-stations for various interviews. We enter a studio of a famous Pakistani TV- channel Ary TV. The host happens to be a veteran Pakistani TV-presenter, who spends a great deal of time gloating over his great (!) past meetings with other artistes including Yusuf-saab (Dilip Kumar)! He has had more than two days to prepare for the show and yet, he throws a bombshell in his flowery Urdu. “Pyarelal saab, maaf karna. Mujhe iss show ke pehle aapke baare mein zara bataana! Waise aap ne ab tak kya kya kiya hai?”

Sitting there besides Pyarelal, I feel a hollow sensation in my stomach-pit! Suresh Wadkar, Pyarelal’s wife, Kaustubh – everyone else in that waiting- room is perhaps going through the same shock. But Pyarelal responds calmly: “Waise humne kaafi filmon ko music diya hai- Laxmikant Pyarelal naam se!” The presenter continues his ignorant ranting: “Iss show mein hum kuchh khaas hastiyon ke reactions bhi lete hain. To aap ke liye hum kisko call karein?” Pyarelal icily tells him: “Aap kisiko bhi call kar sakte hain. Waise film-industry mein humne sabhi bade artistes ke saath kaam kiya hai. Lekin aap Lataji ko call kerein.” The presenter looks at him with disbelief. Calling Lata for this man called Pyarelal seems rather outlandish to him. The ignoramus doesn’t know that the melody queen’s maximum recordings (close to 700) are in LP’s music!

The crunch moment comes on the actual recording of the show. The TV-station’s call goes out to Lata. The most famous voice from the Indian subcontinent comes on line and for the next five minutes, the audience is held spellbound as Lata fondly reminisces about her musical association with Laxmikant- Pyarelal. The host is now sheepishly looking at Pyarelal with newfound admiration. From outside the recording booth, I just keep savouring the blissful satisfaction on Pyarelal’s contented face!

Lata and Laxmikant- Pyarelal is one such special relationship. Thankfully the chemistry and proximity generated in that 2005- Pyarelal-visit, has provided me with many special interactions with the maestro over all these years. The man is temperamental and moody at times but on most occasions, he (and his sweet wife) are two gentle, friendly souls ever ready to share their memories in candid words.

Recently I called him up three- four times to conduct an informal interview specifically targeting the Lata- LP equation. As usual, the conversation was great and informative. Here are the excerpts from that exclusive Pyarelal interview :

I had read somewhere that you two went with 101 rupees in your pocket to ask Lataji to sing for you in your first film.

(In an irritated tone) Who told you that?  She was not some stranger for us. From 1951 to 57, we were regulars in the Mangeshkar household. Balasaab (Hridaynath) was our great friend and together we used to run a music-group- ‘Surel Kala Kendra’. Then from Chandrasena (1960) we were working as Kalyanji- Anandji’s assistants till we stopped in Himalay Ki Goad Mein (1965). So Lataji always knew us well for so many years and asking her to sing for us was just a Ghar Ki Baat!

First we got a chance in Hum Tum Aur Woh but the film was never completed. In 1963 we got another chance in Babubhai Mistry’s Parasmani and that was our first film.

Do you remember your first recording with Lataji? Any special memories?

It was for ‘Hansta Hua Noorani Chehra’. Lataji and Kamal Barot sang that song. I distinctly remember one thing about that song. We had used 36 violins in the orchestra! In those days, Naushad used to have 20 violins and Shankar- Jaikishan used 30. We had that newcomers’ silly, child-like enthusiasm and we wanted to outdo everyone else. I remember that after the recording, Lataji had given us her compliments and her blessings.

You can safely say that without Lataji- and also without Rafiji, Laxmikant – Pyarelal would not have been there! Even as a person, Lataji is one of a kind. She is so simple. While talking to others, she gives so much importance to the person before her, that sometimes they get a wrong impression that she doesn’t know a thing! Even to this date, we have been in regular touch.

In your early struggle period, you composed for B-grade Dara Singh- starrers.

(The irritation reappears!) In those days, Dara Singh was not a B-grade actor! He was so famous that he commanded the same price as Ajit! Getting his film was considered a big thing. And if you listen to songs of Lutera, you will know that we did give our best there.

Yes, and there was your work in the mythologicals.

(Interrupts me midway)- There too, we did our best. Take Sant Gyaneshwar. Each song is like a pearl!

You composed some wonderful classical numbers for Lata. Songs like Bahut Din Beete, Bandhan Toote Na and Suno Sajna were just too good. Lataji even named Jeevan Dor Tum Hi Sang Baandhi in her Top 10.

(Sounds happy now!) Other composers often used readymade classical bandish for their songs but we never did that. We were not trained in classical music but both of us were very fond of attending classical mehfils and listening to the masters. We kept learning and experimenting from what we had listened over the years! While playing as musicians for Pt. Ravishankar’s Anuradha- song ‘Haaye Re Woh Din Kyun Na Aaye’ we were attracted by the beauty of Kalavati raga. But when we composed ‘Meghava Gagan Beech Jhaanke’ in Harischandra Taramati using the same raga, we employed a Madhyam, which happens to be a forbidden note for that raga. Similarly ‘Bandhan Toote Na’ from Mom Ki Gudiya was based on Puriya Dhanashri- raga but in that we placed a Shuddha Rishabh instead of the prescribed Komal Rishabh- note. In ‘Suno Sajna’ too, we did away with the convention of following Nishaad with the landing note of Shadja. Lataji was always appreciative of such innovations. She made it clear to us that in popular music, what sounds good to the ear is more important than just rigidly following the prescribed norms!

You also used folk- music to great effect.

Yes, we especially used Punjabi folk style a lot. But we did it with our touch. So ‘Bindiya Chamkegi’ is an original LP- composition but with a Punjabi folk touch. Only rarely we used a folk-song as it is. ‘Ankhiyon Ko Rehne De’ was one such song.

In the Mere Laal- song ‘Meri Patli Kamar Lambe Baal Re’, we used a folk-song from Lataji’s grandmother’s village! The same tune was also used by C. Ramchandra (‘Tu Na Aaya Aur Hone Lagi Shaam Re’ in Aasha.) It was Lataji who had suggested the tune on both occasions!

Qawwali-style often showed up in your tunes.

There too, I tried to bring in the original qawwali flavour by bringing authentic qawwali – musicians. They have their distinct way of playing harmonium, sarangi, tabla and dholak. They even have a distinct way of clapping. In ‘Parda Hai Parda’, I had brought an entire qawwali troupe for the recording.

I always strived for this authenticity in my orchestration. To play brass instruments like trumpets and trombones, I used to bring musicians from Navy Band!

Choir-effect was also used effectively in your songs like ‘Jab Jab Bahar Aayi’ (Taqdeer) and ‘Mother Mary’ (Bachpan).

For that we used Mumbai’s leading Paranjyoti choir.

Your orchestration was grand. When did you use the maximum number of musicians in your songs?

In 2008 October, I conducted an orchestra of 188 musicians in Paris. Director Shaad Ali had presented a show on Bollywood in India Festival over there and for that we were playing our songs. In Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om- song ‘Dhoom Taana’, too, I had conducted over 100 musicians.

Do you remember any such grand orchestration from your early years?

For Lataji’s ‘Satyam Shivam Sundram’ title-song, we had used more than 100 musicians and even for Mukeshji’s ‘Chanchal Sheetal Nirmal Komal’ we had employed almost 130 musicians with more than 70 violins!

People used to criticize me for using so many musicians. But we brought so many talented musicians into this industry. We had a great team in Shivkumar Sharma (Santoor), Hariprasad Chaurasia (Flute), Sumant Raj (Flute), Kawas Lord (Bongo), Gorakh (Guitar) and Lewis Banks (Piano, Keyboard).

What instruments played the famous LP- theka?

That rhythm was played on tabla and dholak. Sometimes we even used bongo and conga to complement its sound. Actually Shankar- Jaikishan had started that trend but we did it in our own style.

Wasn’t it piccolo playing in the background of the Roop Tera Mastana- song ‘Dekh Lo Woh Ghata’?

No, it was a small flute. Hariji (Chaurasia) had played it in the piccolo-style.

Tell me, why did you compose ‘Meri Zindagi Ke Chirag Ko’ (Jaal) in Madan Mohan-style?

We liked doing such experiments. Earlier we had tried to emulate Naushadji’s style in Lataji’s Aaya Toofan-song ‘Hum Pyaar Kiye Jaayenge Koi Rok Sake To Rok Le’. In Jaal, we composed ‘Meri Zindagi Ke Chirag Ko’ in Madanji’s style because Lataji herself told us to create something in Madan Bhaiya’s style!

How did you convince Lataji to sing cabaret songs in Inteqam?

We did not require any convincing. She was always sure that we would never give her a substandard tune. In 1967 Laxmi and I had gone to Lebanon. Over there, we met the famous Arabic singer Fayrooz and became quite friendly with her husband. They introduced us to their music and we were quite impressed. In ‘Aa Jaane Jaan’, we tried to bring in that kind of soft rendition style in the cabaret genre and Lataji was simply brilliant in that. She breathed life into our tune. Just listen how beautifully she renders the ‘Aa lala lala lala lala’ part of the song. No other singer could have managed to bring such finesse into that expression. Also a lot of credit of that song’s popularity must go to Helen, who danced on screen singing the song and to P.L. Raj, the choreographer who conceptualized that dance.

You also made her sing in a child’s voice.

(Laughs). Heroine, mother, sister, child, grandmother- we made her sing for every character. If it was possible we would have even made her to sing for the hero! In ‘Maa Mujhe Apne Aanchal Mein Chhupa Le’ (Chhota Bhai), she sings for a small boy; in ‘Yashomati Maiya Se’ (Satyam Shivam Sundaram) she sings for a small girl and in Bidaai, she sings for the elderly Durga Khote! Every song sounds different. That’s her greatness as a singer.

In the Sant Gyaneshwar-song ‘Mera Chhaila Chhaledaar’, I felt the song has a Marathi laavani- touch but it also dabbles in Punjabi Bhangra- style. Was it done on purpose?

Your observation is absolutely correct. Many Marathi composers like Vasant Pawar and Ram Kadam have composed some wonderful original laavanis. But our laavani was not just for Marathi audience. To widen its appeal, the orchestration is in Bhangra-style but there too, I have not used Dhol. No authentic bhangra is complete without a dhol. In this song, the main attraction in the rhythm is Anna Joshi’s dholki.

I just love Lataji’s infectious laughter in ‘Yeh Kaun Hansa’. Do you remember that song?

Oh how could I ever forget that song? That song was in Mere Sajna and Raakhi had sung it on screen. It must be one of Lataji’s best renditions. As composers, we could only conceptualize the laughter but she was the one who really made that song come alive!”

The rhythm in ‘Koi Mere Maathe Ki Bindiya Saja De Re’ (Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein) was awesome.

That was Khemta- taal. With Gulzar-saab we worked only in a few films and Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein was one of them. Every song from that film was a hit. Kishore’s ‘Daakiya Daak Laaya’ and Asha – Kishore’s ‘Allah Megh De’ are still popular. Every monsoon, they begin playing ‘Allah Megh De’ on radio!

You also used to specially create certain spectacular entry points for Lata in your duets.

Yes but it was not only done for Lata, even with Rafi-saab, Kishore and Asha we always made that special effort. Kishore Kumar first sang with us in Mr. X In Bombay. That song was ‘Mere Mehboob Qayamat Hogi’. It was also Anand Bakshi-saab’s first song for us. In those days, Kishore’s songs with Burman-saab (S.D. Burman) were already so popular. But if you listen to ‘Mere Mehboob’- (Here Pyarelal sings to show that effect!), you will immediately see a different Kishore. That is LP-style!

Just like his Piya Ka Ghar- song ‘Yeh Jeevan Hai’.

Absolutely right! 

Kishore- Lata’s ‘Saragamapa’ (Abhinetri) is one of the cutest love-songs ever.

That tune uses the actual sargam as its notes. (Sings and shows me!) We took inspiration from a similar experiment (‘Jab Dil Ko Sataave Ghum Tu Chhed Sakhi Sargam’), which was earlier done by C. Ramchandra in the old film Sargam.

Lata – Rafi’s chemistry in ‘Woh Hai Zara Khafa Khafa’ was another highlight.

They always tried to outdo each other in a song. See how they play on each word in this song. (Again sings to demonstrate). That is the real fun in this song!

The Utsav- song ‘Neelam Pe Nabh Chhayi’ is mentioned as a Lata- Asha duet in the anthologies. But I feel that the other voice in that song is not Asha’s. Do you remember?

You are right. That was just some chorus singer – not Ashaji.

How did Anand Bakshi come to sing with Lata in Mom Ki Gudiya- song- Baagon Mein Bahar Aayi?

“Bakshi- saab had come into the film-industry with an ambition of becoming a singer and a composer but instead he ended up becoming a lyricist. We had a great friendship with him and asked him to sing that song in Mom Ki Gudiya. I still remember that he had come to the recording wearing a suit. I had ribbed him a lot about that but he said: ‘Today, I am singing with Lata. There will be photographers and I want to look good in the photos.’ The song did well but the film did not run even for a week! We later started pulling his leg by saying: ‘If any producer wants his film out of theatres within a week, then simply he should take Bakshi-saab as a singer.’

I think he had sung one song for Pancham in Sholay, which was cut from the film! Later in Charas, when we asked him to sing the opening lines in ‘Aaja Teri Yaad Aayi’, director Saagar- saab (Ramanand Saagar) started the song’s picturization by showing a Holy Cross and pictures of a host of other Gods. This was done to ward off the Bakshi- bad luck – effect!” (Laughs!)

I have read that Lataji announced her Filmfare award days are over with Acchha To Hum Chalte Hain. How did it happen?

It was a Filmfare awards night in 1970. Both, Lata and Kishore had got awards as the best singers. Just before they started singing ‘Acchha To Hum Chalte Hain’ as the concluding number, Lataji kept her purse hanging on the mike. As the song was getting over, she picked up that purse and stylishly waving it to the audience, she walked off the stage singing that famous ‘Tata- Bye Bye’ in the end. After that it was announced that from next year onwards, she wouldn’t be accepting any more nominations for the award. We were on stage conducting the orchestra for that song and we were left speechless. The entire audience drew a collective gasp. Nobody knew of her decision before that moment. She did it in such great style. She is just a class act! Hats off to her!



About the author
Dr. Mandar V. Bichu

Lata Online’s editor-webmaster-curator Dr. Mandar V. Bichu is a pediatrician based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, who is also a prolific writer-journalist. His fascination for Lata Mangeshkar’s music has resulted in two books-Gaaye Lata Gaaye Lata and Lata-Voice of the golden era, and many published articles.