Happy Birthday, Lata ji

Okay, I am not really that much of a Lata Mangeshkar fan – yes I belong to the other camp! However, having said that, since I do love old Hindi film songs and her contribution to that genre can’t be ignored either. And to be honest, despite loving Asha Bhosle to the core, there are many Lata songs that I am very fond of – both solos and duets.  So here is a list of some of Lataji’s solo numbers – on the occasion of her 85th birthday.

O Sajna Barkha Bahar Aayi (Parakh, 1960): The Lata -Salil da combo packed quite a few lilting melodies. This wonderful ditty from the 1960 Bimal Roy movie was one such number. As with most of his numbers, Salilda had composed this in Bengali as well – not sure whether the Hindi one preceded the Bengali number or vice versa. And both the versions are equally alluring!

Some time back I lived in a country where it rained all the time. The people there were sick of the rains and longed for some sunshine. Some of my friends there just couldnt associate my fascination with the black looming clouds or the first drops of rain and then the downpour! Ofcourse this fascination died once I experienced a typical storm there. But before that, I just couldn’t explain how rain reminds me of the fresh smell of wet sand, the cool breeze on my face and garam chai and pakora. What they did not understand that in a country like India, rain symbolised new beginnings as the parched earth breathes in some respite from the scorching heat. Not surprising that it plays an integral part in Indian cinema and music as well.

Coming back to the song, O Sajana Barkha Bahar Aayi is a sweet rain song without the heroine getting drenched and dancing in a wet saree! Sadhana watches the downpour standing in her verandah. As she stands watching the rain and singing to her Sajana, the same Sajana is in house standing and watching it from the window. This is one of Sadhana’s early movies and she does not sport the trademark fringe that came to be associated with her. When I first watched this song, I was struck by how much Sadhana reminded me of my favourite actress, Nutan; may be it was because of the angles in which Sadhana was shot. There was something about the whole song that reminded me of Nutan.  Digression aside, this for me is one of Lata Mangeshkar’s best! Salil Choudhuri’s music has a western classical influence and the ups and downs of the notes are difficult to sing. Lata ji does absolute justice to that amazing composer. It was with great pleasure that I chanced upon an article in todays Hindustan Times that they have unearthed an unrecorded tune composed by Salil da that will be recorded by Lataji. However much I do not like her singing any more, I will look forward to this song.


Another Sadhana number; but this time composed by Lataji’s moonh-bole bhaiyya, Madan Mohan. And yes another rain connection in the lyrics! The number is Nainon Mein Badra Chhaye (Mera Saaya, 1966). Mera Saaya had AMAZING music – be it the title track or the hit Jhumka Gira Re by Ashaji. Also Madan Mohan has composed several lovely melodies for his didi. I personally find this the best number that Lataji has sung for Madan Mohan.

There is an indescribable purity in this number. Not sure whether it is the sitar or the lyrics or just the heavenly singing! Sunil Dutt remembering Sadhana in the beautiful locales of Udaipur (is it?). Simply lovely!

Okay, for some reason I seem to like Lata singing about the romantic rains. This one is filmed on Nanda and is from the film Pati Patni (1966). Kajre Badarwa – the dark clouds thunder, the winds blow and the sky bursts into a heavy downpour as the heroine ( a newly wed woman guessing by the big Bindi on Nanda’s forehead and the fact that she is engaged in chores like laundry, making the bed and getting ready!) exults. She wets her hand as the rain drops fall on to her balcony and bursts into song. The happiness is evident and she is thinking of her loved one – Sanjeev Kumar in a photo looking nice and young. She is lovingly cursing and calling the rain as being Zulmi as she is worried that she will reveal her true feelings! I hadnt seen the song till sometime back and am not too fond of the picturisation – maybe because I am not fond of Nanda but still ranks as one of Lata’s best.

Bane Ho Ek Khaak Se & Kabhi Toh Milegi Kahin toh Milegi ((Aarti, 1962) : Another one of those movies that had fabulous songs. This was a very tough one to pick. When I was younger, I loved Kabhi toh Milegi more than Bane ho ek khaak se but now I prefer the latter.  The lyrics of both the songs are meaningful and evocative;  The lyricist is none other than the genius, Sahir Ludhianvi. I adore Meena Kumari and this trio (Ashok-Meena-Pradeep) made some very good films in the 1960s – mainly Muslim socials and that wonderful Chitralekha.

Sansaar Se Bhaage Phirte Ho Bhagwaan Ko Tum Kya Paaoge (Chitralekha, 1964): I first watched this movie when I was a serious 14 year old and boy, what an impact it had! The movie is based on a novel – which I had been planning to read and this post reminded me of my plan- based in the Mauryan times and reflected on the philosophy of love, sin and renunciation. Meena Kumari plays a dancer and Pradeep Kumar is a soldier who is in love with her. Ashok Kumar plays a sanyasi who heads an ashram. If I remember correctly, at one point in time, Meena Kumari disillusioned by her life as a dancer, decides to renounce the world and take up sanyas. But to her shock, the head Sannyasi (Ashok Kumar) falls for her and is unable to resist the temptation. This song is played when Ashok Kumar denounces Meena Kumari for her “wicked, sensual ways” and this is her rejoinder to him. Sahir is at his finest – but then when is he not? He captures the epicurean philosophy of the courtesan in this soul-searching number as she contrasts her ways with that of the ascetic. The moral in the end is probably that an excess of anything is bad and its the middle path that should be chosen. The courtesan was wrong but so was the ascetic.

Roshan’s music as required by the theme of the movie is steeped in Hindustani classical music tradition – be it this one or the Kahe Tarsaye Jiyara  or the Ae Ri Jaane Na doongi. To my utter surprise some years back, I heard the old bandish from which this has been adapted in raag Kamod sung live by Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra: yet to lay my hands on the bandish though.

This movie also has the song that was voted the best song of all time by an Outlook poll some years back – the matchless Man Re Tu Kahe na Dheer Dhare sung by the peerless Mohd Rafi. Sahir’s lyrics have never sounded more poignant as Rafi saab croons Utna Hi Upkaar Samjh, Koi Jitna Saath Nibha De Janam Maran Ka Mel Hai Sapna, Yeh Sapna Bisra De..Koi Na Sang Mare……

Coming back to the Lata list, one last song: Rahe Na Rahe Hum (Mamta, 1966) : Again a Roshan number – where he rehashed his own composition that he had used in Chandni Chowk (1955) – Tera Dil Kahan Hai sung so beautifully by Ashaji.

Tera Dil Kahan Hai probably had sunk into oblivion thanks to having featured in a not so successful film; allowing Roshan to re-use this gem of a melody. This time, it met with much success as it was picturised on Suchitra Sen in her hit film Mamta.

The song to me is the essence of what Lata Mangeshkar means to Hindi music.- Rahe Na Rahe “Woh”, she will always be shining as a beacon in Hindi film music. The volume and quality of work she has behind her is unmatched and unparalleled. And this is an Asha fan saying this….soo…. Heres wishing her many more happy, healthy years to come! Happy Birthday, Lata ji!

One thought on “Happy Birthday, Lata ji

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