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Lata Mangeshkar: A Brief Biography

Born on 28th September 1929 in Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Lata Mangeshkar is one of the greatest singers India has ever produced. The Mangeshkar family could very well be called the premier musical family of India as father Pt. Dinanath and the five siblings - Lata, Usha, Asha (Bhosle), Meena (Khadikar) and Hridaynath - have all contributed immeasurably to the field of popular music as singers and composers.

After Dinanath’s untimely death in 1942, a 13 year-old Lata entered the film industry as her family’s sole bread-winner. In the early part of her career, she did bit roles in some Marathi and Hindi films. She recorded her first song ‘Naachu Yaa Gade Kheloo Saaree’ for a Marathi film Kiti Hasaal (1942). In Aap Ki Seva Mein (1947), she made her playback singing debut for Hindi films with the song ‘Paa Laagoo Kar Joree Re’. Even though she has sung approximately 6,500 songs in many different languages, her maximum output and best work is in Hindi, Marathi and Bengali.

As a singer, her main body of work comprises of film songs. The simplicity and easy accessibility of this musical form coupled with Lata’s matchless virtuosity and versatility have made her a national cultural icon who has stood the test of time. It is the class, creativity, critical acclaim and cultural impact, not to mention the consistent commercial success of her musical output that has set her apart from her contemporaries and has given her the status of ‘Melody Queen of India’.

Most of the stalwarts of Indian classical music have praised her role in popularizing their genre among the masses through her semi-classical film songs. The legendary classical singer Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan had once affectionately called Lata ‘Ustaadon ki Ustaad’ (Master of Masters). Commercially speaking, various film soundtracks and non-film albums dominated by her songs have topped the charts for more than six decades and they have sold in the millions.

From the time she first made her mark with the haunting rendition of ‘Aayegaa Aanewaalaa’ in the 1949 film Mahal, her songs have occupied pride of place in the music of almost all the top composers of Hindi film music. These songs have been associated with many important milestones in Indian cinema: Barsaat, Anarkali, Nagin, Mother India, Madhumati and Mughal-E-Azambeing prime examples of the early ‘Golden era’ of the 1950s and 60s; Pakeezah, Bobby, Ek Duuje Ke Liye, Ram Teri Ganga Maili, Maine Pyar Kiya, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge, Dil To Paagal Hai of the 70s, 80s and 90s, right up to post-millennium era blockbusters such as Lagaan and Veer Zaara.

Her emotional rendition of the patriotic song- ‘Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon’ after the culmination of the Indo-China war had moved the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to tears. Many of her non-film albums like ‘Meera Bhajan’, ‘Chaala Vaahi Des’, ‘Lata sings Ghalib’, ‘Dnyaneshwar Mauli’, ‘Koli Geete’, ‘Ganpati Aarati’, ‘Abhang Tukayache’, ‘Shiv Kalyan Raja’, ‘Ram Shyam Gungaan’, ‘Sajda’ and ‘Shraddhanjali’ have carved a musical niche of their own.

She composed songs for a few Marathi movies in the 1950s and 60s, mostly under the pseudonym Anandghan. As a composer, her flair for melody and the ability to smoothly blend classical and folk music were apparent. She won the ‘Maharashtra State Award’ as the ‘Best Composer’ for the film ‘Saadhi Maanse’ (1965).

Every possible major musical and lifetime achievement award at the regional and national level has been bestowed on her at some time or the other. In 1989, she received the Dadasaheb Phalke award for her path-breaking contribution to Indian cinema. After earlier giving her the prestigious ‘Padma Bhushan’ (1969) and ‘Padma Vibhushan’ (1999) awards, the Indian government ultimately conferred upon her the highest civilian honour – the ‘Bharat Ratna’ in 2001. Later, she also went on to receive the prestigious ‘Legion of Honour’ award from the Government of France. Such is the cultural impact of her monumental musical contribution that three state governments – Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa – have each separately instituted an annual ‘Lata Mangeshkar award’ for honouring senior artistes in popular music for lifetime achievement.

While choosing her as one of the four ‘Indians of the Twentieth Century’ along with Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekanand and Dhirubhai Ambani, ‘The Times of India’ said: “All of them are self-made individuals; they did not have the advantage of wealth, aristocracy or caste; they fought adversity and believed in action - karmayogis in a true sense. They made India proud and gave the world new ideas, dreams and hopes.”

Nothing can describe Lata Mangeshkar, the legend, any better!

(*Source: Lata-Voice of the golden era by Dr. Mandar V. Bichu, Popular Prakashan)