Of late playback singers ,specially the women, have been exceedingly vocal about getting their share of public attention.
However the Voice Of India Lata Mangeshkar says she never saw the need or the opportunity for media attention. “When I began singing I didn’t even know about the media or how to get written about. Mujhe toh sirfgana ttha(all I had to do was sing).After my father’s untimely death I was the sole breadearner of the family. I had no time to think of anything except how to look after my siblings. The only thing I could do was sing. So I sang.I’d leave early in the morning and commute by train(in Mumbai) from studio to studio meeting music directors hoping to get work.”
It all changed in 1947 when the voice of Lata Mangeshkar exploded in India cinema wiping away all other singing prototypes.
The Nightingale recalls those heady days of initial success with sheer gratitude. “I think in 1949 I sang around 100-120 songs .A majority of them from films like Mehboob’s Andaz and Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat were big hits. In 1949 I had 40-50 chartbusters including Hawaa mein udta jaye , Jiya beqaraar hai(Barsaat), Aayegaaanewala(Mahal), Lara lapaa(Ek Thi Ladki) , Chup chup khade ho(Badi Bahen) and Sajan ki galiyan chhodchale(Lahore).”
She recalls her relationship with actresses with much fondness. “During those days playback singers were called ‘ghost voices’ because we really were like ghosts..totally invisible to the public. Even my name was not printed on the records. It was the name of the character that the heroine played which was printed on the record. In the song Ayega aanewala for Mahal the name on the record was “Kamini” which was Madhubala’s name in the film.”
Apparently all the major heroines of the earlier times from Madhubala and Meena Kumari to Nutan and HemaMalini insisted on only Lataji’s voice for their playback. Some of these , like Madhubala, even states this in their contract.
Says Lataji, “What you have heard is true. But I never thought of my voice as being bigger than the film . In fact I sang my songs keeping the heroine’s personality in mind. There was no desire to be heard beyond the screen. In fact for many years I desisted from doing live concerts.”