Remembering Lata Mangeshkar: Inspiring singers across generations — from Sujatha, Chinmayi to Shasha and Sanah
Women playback singers from down South speak of the enduring influence of the late legendary playback singer Lata Mangeshkar on their careers and lives
Legend. The word is overused today and hardly befitting the personalities it’s often tagged with. In the case of singer Lata Mangeshkar though—who died at the age of 92—it almost seems trifling. Dubbed the ‘Nightingale of India’, Lata was a key cog in the wheel of playback singing for over seven decades. Her work cuts across genres, across state borders, and is it a surprise then that even if she wasn’t exactly prolific when it came to singing contributions in South cinema, she, nevertheless, was still a household name. Among those inspired by her boundless energy and singing excellence are countless playback singers, many of whom enjoy successful careers today. We spoke to some women singers based in the South, singers who can’t help but wax eloquent about Lata’s legacy, and here’s what they had to say:
“I see flashbacks of my entire childhood when I think of her. It's a personal and emotional setback for me. Her songs were my first and consistent companion, and she was my guru, alongside Rafi Saahab. The connection I felt to her meant that I went back to her recordings from as early as the 50s, even as a child. I would religiously practise along, as her voice would play on my tape recorder for thousands of songs; my mother would write out these songs in notebooks with a pen. Once, my mother overheard me humming Lata ji's ‘Jao Re Jogi Tum Jao Re' while I was playing with my brothers, at the age of 5. This was the stepping stone to my career. This was from when I learned to develop aptitude, training, and step into music as a life path. Lata ji takes a part of my soul with her.”
“A true-blue legend, an encyclopedia for film singing and an immortal voice. The heights that she achieved can never be surpassed. Forever and ever her voice will be echoing in all our hearts.”
“Lata ji—for every female singer—is a maanaseega guru. There is no doubt about it. Whatever you learn from gurumukham with the guru in front you, that is the foundation of your singing. But the experience which these people have—from what they have sung in films—is what we get; this is the material that we go to when we get similar songs, be it a fast-paced song or a romantic melody. We seek references from the work of such icons.
We cannot fathom her repertoire because Lata ji has sung so many songs across all genres. Personally, an incident that I am reminded of is when I sang a song for AR Rahman, for the film, Pukar. It is a club-themed song with Madhuri Dixit singing, but she also has to show a lot of pain in her singing. It was a very complex emotion—love, yes, but at the same time, there is revenge, and yet, it must also sound like a song played in a club. So, I was quite confused. ARR simply gave me a reference of the song, ‘Aa Jaane Jaan’, (from the 1969 Hindi film, Intaqam). He said that is the emotion he wanted. The reference was perfect.
Over a period of time, Lata ji also grew, and there has been an evolution in her singing over the years. This is why they are gurus for the likes of us. I consider her to be an avatar in music. Even though she is gone mortally, her sound is heard everywhere in the universe every day. That is what she has left behind.”
“I think I speak for a lot of artists when I say that so much of what I am today, I owe to Lata ji. Growing up (in Canada), I didn't really know Hindustani music... I just knew her songs, her voice, and her singing. But it's one and the same... That's the power of her legacy. The music industry has lost a godmother today. I started my journey with Lata ji as my first guru without her even knowing, as I’m sure many others have too. It will be very hard to shake the feeling of this realisation that she has passed on. Her art and her voice will always be a reminder of her contribution to music, to Indian cinema, and to this world. It will continue to inspire us to practise discipline and devotion in music. Rest in eternal peace Lata ji.”
“I find it difficult to believe that Lata ji is no more. Throughout my childhood, I listened to her songs and wondered how someone could pull off such difficult songs with such ease and with as much soul. Even a lifetime isn't enough to experience and learn from the music and legacy she has left behind. This day marks the end of an era. I'm sure musicians and listeners all over the world will be feeling the same today. Her voice and her singing healed us, and it will continue to do so. Rest in peace Lata ji.”
“Lata didi was a celestial singer, who chiselled every song to perfection. It is an experience to live through her voice. With her divine voice, Lata didi seemed to be walking along with us every step of the way, and is with us always, in joy and sorrow. Her magical voice is a relief and a therapy for anguished souls. It is pure joy listening to her songs as a music lover. We cannot imagine anyone singing with such emotion and passion. Also, her pronunciation was perfect.
I was honoured with the Lata Mangeshkar Best Singer Award for 2011 by the Government of Andhra Pradesh. I received it from Lata didi’s hands, and I am blessed that she choose me for the honour. I still remember her saying, "Aap ki awaaz meetha hain" while presenting the award. Those words were like a Bharat Ratna to me.
I sang with Lata didi as a back vocal during one of the projects of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD). I felt really fortunate to see her perform live and also sing one of her hit songs in front of her at a concert in Shilpakala Vedika. I still ruminate about listening to her voice singing, ‘Tu jahan jahan chalega…’ and ‘Mere awaaz hi pehchaan hai…’… it was divine. Like Balu garu, Lata didi is a true karma yogi and she will be missed greatly.”
“She defined Indian playback singing—hers was the voice, the voice everyone wanted to have, one that showed mastery over a myriad of expressions, emotions… Also admirable was her discipline of practising well into her 80s. I am pretty sure she would have been singing before she fell ill. I also remember her for being critical of what she was hearing 'these days' in the name of singing. There's an image of hers that made the front page once—of her eyes and ears shut tight, with a grimace on her face. Some of us kept talking about it for days. She has lived close to a century, seen this country form and grow, and she has ruled our music and our hearts. It has truly been an honour to have been around when she was.”
“Lata ji remains eternal. As a singer and a musician, we have grown up listening to her songs and trying to sing them. Her singing—be it bhakti geet, romantic numbers, or patriotic songs—is the only important reference and will remain so. There is no replacement. I missed the opportunity to meet her twice, but her influence is tremendous in my life. A dedicated musician, her commitment was divine. Every song sung by her is an institution. Merely singing her songs well is good enough to qualify you as a musician. She was gifted; how she evolved in her journey is amazing.”
“Lata ji has had a big presence in our lives. Anybody, who has been born and brought up in India, cannot disassociate themselves from her. There is a song for every occasion, associated with her voice. Her songs have been an integral part of our lives, and in a big way. Unfortunately, she has left us, but her songs will be there with us forever. There is no way we can let go of her, as her work is very much a part of the collective consciousness. She has impacted the whole culture and nation in a strong way. A legend passes on, but she also lives on. I never got to meet her, like millions of people, but it doesn’t matter. Her music lives on.”
During school years, we would start preparing for upcoming cultural competitions almost 6 months prior. My guru, Ramesh sir would always choose a Lata ji number for me as a challenge. My favourite is Nainon me badra chaaye. Listening to them and learning her songs opened a new world of nuances and emotions that I carry so dearly with me even today. Thank you for the teachings, for being a source of solace, and for being a timeless origin of inspiration for us & many more generations to come.
- Inputs from Murali Krishna CH, A Sharadhaa, and Sajin Srijith