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Who Was Lata Mangeshkar’s Favourite Co-Singer?

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Lata Mangeshkar

Lata Mangeshkar out-sang  every co-singer on this planet .And the truth is, many of them while enjoying the challenge of being pitched against the  finest voice God  ever  created,  were also wary  of her  endless resourcefulness in rendition.

Manna Dey with whom  Lataji sang some of her most beautiful duets like Yeh raat yeh chandni phir kahan and Soch key yeh gagan jhoome, once told me, “Lata has a very rare  remarkable talent. I remember  I was  recording the song Aiso re paapi  bichua with her for Salil Choudhary  in Madhumati when during the  final take she came up with a harkat (innovation)  that went Oye hoi hoi hoi.We were all stunned. Where  did that come from?”

There was  huge admiration in Manna Dey’s voice. Mukesh  too felt   a deep sense of gratitude for being able to  share  the microphone with her.

“I am  grateful to be able to sing so many lovely duets with Lata. Wohhumein sambhal leti hai(she  supports me in our songs together).”

 Not all  co-singers  felt equally  benevolent about Lataji’s  effortless supremacy. Mohammed Rafi would  get very upset when Lataji would introduce  a  murki  or  harkat(ornamentation)  in the  final take.

Yeh kahan se  aa gaya? Yeh toh nahin ttha(where did this come from? This  was  not there before),”  Rafi would say during the recording, hurt by what he saw as a  betrayal.

But   excellence  was  not one of the  options for Lataji.  It  was her  only option.Many times she confessed to me  she had  no idea what she  was   doing  while singing a song, or why the harkat  or the  alaap would show up unannounced  during her  final take.

   In 1957  Lataji got the rarest of rare opportunities to sing a duet with Dilip Kumar. It was for Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film Musafir . Salil Chowdhary composed the number  Laagi naahin chute rama chahe jiya jaye. Dilip Saab was   a perfectionist and he practised for months for that duet .Apparently Dilip Saab requested his Choti Bahen Lata to keep in mind that the fact that he was not a professional singer while recording. But he finally felt she out-sang him and was unhappy about it. He  didn’t speak to Lataji for two years after their song  together.

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Kishore  Kumar loved Lata Mangeshkar and  openly acknowledged her vocal  superiority. “She  knows what I  feel about her talent,” he once said affectionately . There was a healthy  spirit  of   competitiveness between the two. He  would try to distract her  before their duets  together  with his antics and jokes. She would  playfully rebuke  him. “Kishoreda, gaana pehle phir masti.”

 Kishore was very competitive with Lataji. Whenever he  sang the  solo version   of   song  which had  a female  version by Lataji , he would insist that  she sing it first. He would then  hear her singing and then  sing his own version. R D Burman’s Mere naina sawan bhadow in Mehbooba was recorded in this way.

When Kishore Kumar was approached by a video magazine for an interview he  insisted he  would do  the  interview only if Lataji  was the interviewer, She agreed. It turned  out to be the  last interview  of his life.

The competitive spirit  that  co-singers  felt towards Lataji  sometimes took a slightly  alarming turn.  Lataji once  recorded   a duet with Uma Devi who  later became the comedienne Tun Tun. Uma Devi was as khatipeeti back then as a singer as she was later as an actress. So there they were, the two  of them singing into the same mike.Back then duets were recorded on  one  mike. Lataji , a frail reed-like pintsized girl , Uma Devi  quite formidable in her physical  presence. Lataji   was given a stool to stand on ,as she  had a problem reaching the mike. She  sang her  lines and then when Uma Devi moved forward to sing into the mike and nudged Lataji  shoulder, she fell right to the ground.

Who knows whether that  was a  friendly nudge or something else?