Rahen na rahen hum mehka karenge – A tribute to Lata Mangeshkar (28 September 1929 – 6 February 2022)

A few days back, the strains of a song, old and forgotten, wafted through the windows, filling my senses with not only its plaintive melody but also bringing with it many many memories. As the song and its sounds faded away, it hit me once again that the singer is no more. And it has been a year since!

Lata Mangeshkar and her songs have been a kind of mainstay, along with those of Asha Bhosle, Mohd Rafi, SPB, Yesudas, through my growing years. In the case of legends like Rafi and Mukesh, they had passed away either before I was even born or was very young, in Lata ji’s case it has been different. Her songs sung in the 80s and 90s played a major part during my growing up years. Therefore her demise hit hard.

The passing of an era, a lifetime, a childhood when Lata Mangeshkar passed away the morning of February 6, 2022. With it, came to an end, an extraordinary life – not only one of talent and musical brilliance, but one of grit, determination and a never-say-die attitude. It was truly the end of an era.

While I have always preferred Asha Bhosle to Lata Mangeshkar, as a Hindi film music lover, there are so many songs of Lata’s that are etched into my consciousness. A singer par excellence, a voice so mellifluous, the voice of the nation who enthralled millions for seven decades, what more can be said about the Nightingale of India. Reams have been written about her unmatchable talent; whatever has to be, has been said. I don’t have anything to add.

This long overdue post, started and stalled a million times, (simply because how does one encapsulate / capture such a brilliant lifetime of music into 10 songs) is but a small tribute; here is a list of 11 songs, the first of many, for it is impossible to compress 30K songs sung over 4 decades into one.

All the songs in this post are from 1949-1961; each filmed on a different actress, and from a different year.

  1. Uthaye Jaa Unke Sitam (Andaz, 1949, Naushad):

Starting this list with this lilting number composed by the maestro Naushad, and based on Raag Kedar. 1949 in many ways was the year that “established” Lata Mangeshkar. It was the year when Mahal, Andaz and Barsaat, all became blockbusters, and the one thing they had in common was the 20-year-old singer, Lata Mangeshkar. Once criticised for her high-pitched thin voice, she soon enthralled the nation. This song, set in Raga Kedar, has 3 different antaras, and see how skilfully Lata Mangeshkar sings each one of them. The song is picturised on a very charming Nargis, who was also 20 at that time. While there are so many other songs from this decade that I like – Rasik Balma (Chori Chori, 1956), Yeh Shaam ki tanhaiyan (Aah, 1953) and Unko yeh shikayat hai (Adalat, 1958), picked this one because of the three different antaras.

2. Tum na jaane kis jahan mein kho gaye (Sazaa, 1951, S.D.Burman):

This “love triumphs against all odds” movie starred a young Dev Anand, Shyama (stunning) and Nimmi (very young and sweet) and was directed by Fali Mistry. SD Burman composed the music and there are other melodious songs in the movie, namely Aa gup chup pyaar karein (Hemant Kumar and Sandhya Mukherjee duets), Lata solos, Ho gayi re main toh ho gayi, Dhak dhak dhak jiya ra kare dhak. In the year, Lata Mangeshkar continued her ascent to the top belting out many memorable songs such as Sapna ban sajan aaye (Shokhiyan), Ghar aaya mera pardesi (Awaara), Bol papihe bol re (Tarana). Picking one song was rather tough. Dil dhadke nazar sharmaye (Albela), picturised on a vivacious Geeta Bali, an actress I like more than Nimmi, was a song that got dropped in favour of this.

3. Mohe bhool gaye saawariya (Baiju Bawra, 1952, Naushad):

The earliest Lata song I remember hearing. Both on the radio/ TV and also in my mother’s mellifluous voice, albeit with an accented Hindi. This Naushad number, and also the other songs from this Bharat Bhushan-Meena Kumari starrer, were constant favourites. My father’s favourite, which meant that it would be played on loop, on our cassette player, and my mother would automatically start humming. One of Lata’s finest songs, a lament of a forgotten lover, Meena Kumari looks oh-so-young in this song.

4. Yeh Zindagi usi ki hai (Anarkali, 1953, C. Ramchandra):

Another lament, this time picturised on Bina Rai, again very young from the film Anarkali. The song has two parts: Part one in which Anarkali sings in court remembering Salim, much to the annoyance of his father, Emperor Akbar; and the other when she is being buried live in a wall; her final farewell to her lover. Lata Mangeshkar’s voice sounds divine.

5. Phaili huyi hain sapno ki baahein (House no 44, 1955, S.D. Burman):

Unlike most of the other songs in this list, this is one song I hadn’t seen (until when I started making this list). Even though I havent watched this Dev Anand -Kalpana Kartik movie, it is one of my all-time fave soundtracks. Each and every number of this S.D. Burman score is much loved – be it the Hemant Kumar solos – Chhup hai dharti, Teri duniya mein jeene (the humming by Asha Bhosle at the beginning clinches this one). This song is an evergreen melody – evoking bliss and peace in nature. Sahir’s lyrics and Lata’s sweet voice make this a classic.

6. Guzra hua zamana aata nahin dobara (Shirin Farhad, 1956, Ghulam Mohammad):

Picturised on a beauteous Madhubala, this enchanting song evokes all the pathos of a sad parting. Lata’s voice and talent add chaar-chand to Tanvir Naqvi’s poignant lyrics. Truly unforgettable..

7. Aye malik tere bande hum (Do Aankhen Barah Haath, 1957, Vasant Desai):

A song laced with many childhood memories. One of my father’s favourite. He made us watch the movie when it was aired on DD. A tough call to choose between this one and the lullaby, Main gaoon tu chup ho ja, which he would croon to make us fall asleep! Lata sings this hopeful prayer with devotion oozing out of each enunciation. What a masterpiece.

8. Zulmi sang aankh lade (Madhumati, 1958, Salil Chowdhury)

Each and every song of this Bimal Roy classic would by themselves make it to such a list. Ghadi ghadi mora dil dhadke, Aa ja re pardesi, Chadh gaya paapi bicchua. But this one is my pick – Lata’s voice, Vyjayanthimala’s beautiful dance and Dilip Kumar’s bashful, playful smile. I love this song!

9. Banke yeh pancchi (Anari, 1959, SJ):

Ok, this one sneaked its way into this list. This isnt the song I would have normally picked as my fave Lata song picturised on Nutan from the 1950s (the songs of Paying Guest (1957) – Chupke chupke rukte rukte or Chand phir nikla; or the songs from Seema (1955) would have fit the bill; however this self-imposed rule of 1 song from 1 year meant that those couldnt be accommodated.) And this joyous song, invoking the anticipation and excitement of youth – in this case the possibility of meeting someone and falling in love- make the cut! Nutan looks charming, as ever; and Lata Mangeshkar sounds mellifluous as ever.

10. O Sajna barkha bahar aayi (Parakh, 1960, Salil Chowdhury):

My favourite Lata Mangeshkar song. Perhaps Salil Chowdhury’s best composition. Be it in Hindi or the orginal Bengali, Na jeyo na rajani. Need I say more? As for the picturisation, it is filmed on a beautiful, simple Sadhana in one of her early movies. An absolute classic.

11. Jaa re jaa re udja re pancchi (Maya, 1961, Salil Chowdhury):

Another Salil Chaudhury song – one capturing heartbreak and sorrow perfectly (in Hindi). Mala Sinha is poignant and Dev Anand charming! As usual, Lata Mangeshkar aces the vocals, be it in Hindi or Bengali (Jaa jaa re udja re paakhi)

This list hardly does the legend any justice; well, no list (best-of) can do justice to the Nightingale. This is merely a small tribute savouring a fraction of her songs that have provided much joy and solace over the years.

Thank you so much for the music and memories, Lata ji.

2 thoughts on “Rahen na rahen hum mehka karenge – A tribute to Lata Mangeshkar (28 September 1929 – 6 February 2022)

  1. Thank you for this wonderful list. I am especially grateful for the song from “House no. 44,” which I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. Hard to believe it has already been a year ) ‘:

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