THE LEGENDARY LATA MANGESHKAR
'Older films more heroine-centric'
BY ADIL RASHEED / 8 February 2005
Imagine! Anarkali having the voice of Lata Mangeshkar and the charms of Madhubala and still failing to make an impression on Emperor Akbar, the great patron of the arts. The celebrated song sequence from Mughal-e-Azam is the most willing suspension of disbelief in Bollywood history.
City Times got a chance to ask some questions about this epic film from none other but the living legend Lata Mangeshkar herself. The movie, in its all-colour and digitally enhanced version is set for release in Dubai soon.
Have you seen the new-look Mughal-e-Azam?
Unfortunately, I have not been able to see the new version of the movie until now. But I have been awestruck by the changes Naushad saab has so painstakingly and so successfully made through the new digital recording. I have a cassette of the newly treated music of the movie. It's splendid. The quality of the music has been enhanced and in some places chorus has been introduced. What is amazing is that my voice in the songs remains the same. I did not have to go and record the songs again. What is also remarkable is that the essential quality of the music has been retained.
In fact, the whole exercise of reviving the movie with the help of modern technology for a new generation of audience has proved to be very successful. It has been extremely well-received and I have been hearing a lot of praise from all quarters. It seems as if new life has been breathed into this almost 50-year-old movie.
The movie set a new benchmark in your illustrious career. Out of its 12 legendary songs you have sung nine. It's a remarkable feat considering that other stalwarts as Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Shamshad Begum and Mohammed Rafi had just one or two songs in this epic.
The credit definitely goes to the filmmakers and to Naushad saab. You see in those days, directors used to make a lot of heroine-oriented films. So, there were a lot of songs for the heroines. Mughal-e-Azam was no exception. This is the reason why I had more songs than the male singers.
Again, Naushad saab wanted that all songs sung by Madhubala, who played Anarkali in the movie, should be sung by one singer only in order to give consistency to the voice. Earlier, music directors were very particular about these things. Now-a-days, sometimes I sing a few songs for a heroine in a film and others are sung by Alka (Yagnik), which is fine. But earlier this was not the case. I guess, this is the reason why I ended up singing so many songs in the movie.
Did you try to make your voice more sprightly and vivacious to suit Madhubala's character in the movie?
Yes, it turned out well. A lot of people ask me if I change my voice in order to match it to the personality and style of the actress playing the part. I think I do not modulate my voice to an extreme. I, however, keep in my mind who am I singing for. Before the recording of a song, I make it a point to know who is the actress for whom I am singing and what is the situation in the movie for which the song is being sung. Sometimes a song is being sung in a serious tone, but the actor enacts it in a cheerful manner. These are things one should be careful about.
Your songs in Mughal-e-Azam have a lot of variety. You have the classical Mohe Panghat Pe Nandlal, the Qawwali Teri Mehfil Mein Qismat Azma Kar, the Naat Bekas Pe Karam and the daring Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya. There is a lot of depth there.
Yes. You see Naushad saab was very particular about the fact that the music of the historical film should reflect its time and setting. Almost all the songs of the film are based on classical raagas for example Mohe Panghat Pe. Though in Pyaar Kiya to Darna Kya western instruments such as violins have been used, they evoke a completely Indian and a historical feeling. Similarly, Naushad saab used classical music for his movie Baiju Bawra which was a big hit of its time.
A lot of hard work used to go into the music of films in those days. I remember, we used to rehearse for eight to ten days before the recording of songs and Naushad saab used to explain to us the story of the movie and the situation of the songs, until we all got it very clearly in our minds.
There are many singers in the Hindi film industry who have come and gone. Many of them were very talented and even popular but they did not have the profundity and longevity to match with your eminent status. What is the secret of your everlasting appeal?
I do not know. I can only say that I have been singing since I was five years old, when my father used to teach me classical music. After he passed away, I learnt music under Aman Ali Khan saab and then I started singing for films. I can only say that I am an honest artiste. Some people call it professionalism, others call it a single-minded approach, but for me music is my only wealth. Of course I have such wonderful fan following. But I never looked for anything in life beyond my music.
Do you think the remix industry is popularising old songs for the new generation or is it doing a disservice to the cause of Indian music?
I think it is doing more of a disservice. They are destroying the beauty of the old songs and promoting indecency. Upstart singers dancing in skimpy clothes with little talent and training can hardly promote the cause of Indian music. It is sad that the young generation is being given a heavy dose of Western music by our media and the youth are generally ignorant and uninterested in learning Indian music, especially classical Indian music. The exponents of classical music are few and are ageing and the danger is that this great heritage of our country may not pass on to future generations.
Do you plan to come to Dubai for the premiere of Mughal-e-Azam?
I am sorry I cannot come this time. There is a marriage in our family and I have some commitments that I had set aside for the month. But, I would like to come over to Dubai in the future.