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The making of the Lata Museum

by Dr. Mandar V. Bichu

“Yes, I made Lata Online, a one of a kind web museum dedicated to Indian melody queen Lata Mangeshkar and you know what, I did it single-handedly; uploading each and every article, photograph and video link to make it what it is!”

Oh, how nice it would have been to brag like that but while the statement is true by itself, it is not the whole truth (Not even a tiny bit of it!) if you look at the whole wider picture. So here is an inside look at how this site was conceived and created!

A life-long journey

Our lives are enriched by so many icons from different spheres of life but only a few go on to occupy the place of your very being. Lata Mangeshkar happened to be one such icon in my life. The fascination for her dulcet voice began in early childhood and turned into hard core fandom in youth. Those were the years to keep collecting her songs from every nook and corner of Mumbai and to manically discuss them with like-minded friends. Those were the years to deify her and to look at any criticism of her singing or persona as sacrilege. Those were the years to compete to prove that I was the greatest fan of hers.

Thankfully this rather silly juvenile stage passed off; many people never manage to get off that. Every passing year, every encounter with enlightened minds and every reflective self-analytical stint slowly made me realize one thing that many icons whom I had idolized in my childhood and youth had now become distant memories; pleasant certainly but distant nonetheless. This was happening because my tastes and perspectives were changing. But even in that ongoing reorganization of my affections and affiliations, one icon simply refused to fade away and that was Lata Mangeshkar. Instead of going away from her music, I kept on revisiting and reanalyzing it.

The fanatic urge to prove that she was flawless and better than her competitors had long gone; instead there was this newfound mellowed down respectful admiration about how she had conquered so many artistic peaks and contributed immeasurably to Indian film and music industry.

Her voice, her songs had already become an indelible part of me. In happiness and in sorrow, they had always been there for me, with me. For almost every memory there was a Lata-song attached. Her artistry had made the deepest impact on my persona and had become my musical compass.

The attempts to discover

Even before fully coming out of my Lata-fan stage, I became curious to find out what exactly makes this lady tick; what makes her voice and her songs so special. So I kept asking questions about her artistry to almost every artiste I interviewed and to any knowledgeable music-lover I came in contact with. I was also fortunate to have a few conversations with the diva herself. All these interactions started a new train of thought. I was simply fascinated by how her singing had proved to be the ever-present link joining so many exceptional talents over so many decades. Music directors, lyricists, co-singers, actresses, film-makers….so many successful careers owed a significant part of their success to this one lady’s magical voice.

Exploring that theme I first penned an article-series in the Marathi newspaper Saamna (1993); then turned that into a Marathi book ‘Gaaye Lata Gaaye Lata’ (1996) and finally came out with a hefty English volume ‘Lata-Voice of the golden era’ (2011). But the deeper I went into her music, the more I wrote about it, the more I realized that my writings have barely touched the surface of what she achieved through her amazing musical career. And more importantly these writings have not done anything to highlight how tenderly yet deeply her art touched so many people’s lives to change them forever. So what else could I do?

Web Museum – an all-encompassing solution

Lata or for that matter any icon is a touchy subject for fans. Despite writing so much on Lata’s music, I have had my knowledge/understanding/sanity publicly questioned by her avid fans, just for not finding their favourite song in my Top 25 list! Forget that. More importantly, I have realized that there are dozens of different varieties of fans looking for different things- some who are happy to listen to any of her songs, some who like her songs from a specific era or a particular composer, some who want to read about her life, some who want to seriously analyze her craft and some who even want to question her place as a sociocultural icon.

I realized that the only way to keep everyone happy is to make a museum where practically everything about her is archived – all her major songs, interviews, articles, tributes, photographs, videos…everything! Not only does it offer an aficionado a chance to unearth some rare material but it also gives any curious person a chance to find out more about an artiste widely recognized as the melody queen of India.

But to make such a museum in real world was a challenging task, which would have been limited by space and place. The mind-boggling technological leap through the medium of internet then offered a helping hand. I could now create such a museum on this world-wide web and not only would it be accessible globally but it also would also let the visitor actually listen to her songs, see her videos, check out books on her and read articles, interviews and tributes related to her.

Lata Online

Luckily a few years ago I had secured the domain name www.lataonline.com precisely for this purpose. We had initially used it as an online portal to promote my book ‘Lata-Voice of the golden era’. But now the vision was different; the mission much more daunting.

Creating an archive of articles and written matter was the easier job. I had already archived quite a few interesting articles on Lata on my other web-site www.cinemasangeet.com, which has a full section dedicated to her. But for the new venture, I wanted something more. So I asked some of the hard-core Hindi film music connoisseurs to pen their thoughts on the melody queen. Some of them were too busy to respond to the requests but most others obliged me by handing me some exquisite stuff discussing Lata’s music and its overall surreal presence. So to add to the already archived wonderful articles from Satish Kalra and Pradeep Lad, I got equally engaging content from Dr. Chandrashekhar, Chetan Vinchhi, Srinivas Ganti, Dr. Vijay Athalye and Dr. Mukul Acharya. A special mention here is for Archisman Mozumder, who besides writing a touching piece, on his own asked his friends Soumya Chatterji, Indranath Mukherji and Krittibas Dasgupta to contribute personalized articles, which they did with elan. Once the site was ready, Pavan Jha, recovering from a serious illness, created a nice Favicon for the site's tabs.

Archiving her music and videos was an arduous task. Not for the first time in my life, I was amazed by the unending wealth of archival material on Youtube. There were so many rare songs, interviews and live programs to choose from. Yes, one had to carefully weed through lots of chaff and correct hundreds of wrong information tags but the sheer zeal of those uploaders was inspiring. Without those hundreds of unseen, many times even unnamed helping hands it wouldn’t have been possible to get such a goldmine of music and videos. It just told me one thing that when it comes to admiring and archiving Lata’s music, I do not rank anywhere in the long list of her devoted fans!

I also realized that it is well, nigh impossible to ever ‘complete’ this museum because the sheer size of Lata’s quality repertoire in the popular realm. I began by constructing the relatively smaller sections- the interviews, live programs, non-Film songs, regional language songs, the 40s, the 80s, the 90s and the post-2000 songs. I purposely left the 50s, 60s and 70s Hindi film-songs sections for the end, because that was the prime era output, practically needing every song to be archived.

So with Vishwas Nerurkar’s anthology Lata-Gandhar Swaryatra in my hand, I now go on checking each song entry and keep adding the video in the archive, recording the details like the soundtrack, year, lyricist, composer, actress and the other relevant information in the tags. So the tags give the cross-referencing archives like Lata-songs related to a particular composer, lyricist or actress. I am following a reverse order in the 50s, 60s and 70s channels, starting from songs from 1959/69/79 and going towards 1950/60/70!

But this is just the beginning; the work goes on and it will go on forever!

A gratifying experience

The only reason this project has materialized is because so many contributors have wholeheartedly participated into it, some of them knowingly but most of them unknowingly and without any expectations. A big ‘Thank you’ to all the writers who wrote such wonderful articles, the collectors who posted such rare photographs on the net and those hundreds of Youtubers who uploaded such an unending wealth of music and video clips. And yes, how could I forget the contribution of my web developer team headed by the unflappable Rakov Kirpal? They have given it their all for this project. Without all these selfless contributors this web museum would never have seen the light of the day.

Doubtless this Lata Online project has been creatively and emotionally the most satisfying experience. Working on this project has given me a chance to revisit my life all over again. While archiving each superbly written article and each carefully selected song/video clip, I am finding so many new facets of her artistry. I have realized all over again why I fell in love with this voice; how it has accompanied me all throughout different stages of my life and how it has inspired me in my own creative endeavors. I have also realized once more this great artiste’s strong emotional connect with the common man, which has made her an unmatched musical and sociocultural icon.

Lata Online is a humble tribute to one of the greatest artists of all time; a repository of articles, interviews, tributes, images, music and videos; an archive to understand and appreciate a legend; a place to visit and linger on again and again.

So go on, immerse yourself in the world of Lata Mangeshkar, a world of magical music. Welcome to Lata Online!

*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.

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.