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It is almost impossible to imagine an Indian film without songs. Even arthouse filmsthat deviate from the genre of musicals usually feature some kind of background music including songs. This musical tradition dates back to India's first film, "Alam Ara," released in 1931, and it has remained crucial to a movie's success ever since. That is why movie directors, in addition to choosing a good scriptwriter, employ a lyricist (who are sometimes well-known poets), a music composer and a good singer for their songs.
In a country where film songs and their lyrics are seen by the masses as a channel to express happiness, frustrations, love problems, patriotism and anti-authoritarian ideas, the importance of a legendary singer like Lata Mangeshkar is immense, not least because of her monumental legacy. In a career spanning over seven decades, Lata Mangeshkar, who passed away on February 6, 2022, sang over 25,000 songs in over 2,000 films in many Indian languages, most commonly Hindi, Marathi and Bengali.
From a family of musicians
Mangeshkar was born on September 28, 1929 to a family of singers in Indore, part of a state in what was then British India. Her father, Dinanath Mangeshkar, was a renowned classical musician and stage actor. Initially called "Hema," Lata Mangeshkar was given her new name by her father after his play "Latika." She was the eldest of five siblings, including Meena, Asha, Usha and Hridaynath, all of whom became respected singers in their own right.
Mangeshkar began singing at an early age, learning from her father. However, his early death, when she was only 13 years old, forced her into singing for work. She moved to Mumbai and trained under several maestros of classical music, finally landing opportunities in Indian films.
Critics initially dismissed her voice as being too thin (Mangeshkar could sing in three octaves), but by the late 1940s, she had established her name, singing songs for Hindi films.
A rallying cry for lovers
Mangeshkar sang many songs that remain iconic for their respective generations of Indians. For example, the song "Aaega aane wala" ("The One Who Shall Come") for the 1949 movie "Mahal" was one of her first big hits, and is, even today, the quintessential song that brings to mind images of haunted villas and female spirits.
Her 1960 song "Jab Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya" (Those who love know no fear) for the film "Mughal-e-Azam" (The Mughal Emperor) narrates the story of the medieval Mughal Emperor Akbar's son Jahangir falling in love with a slave girl. The lyrics, written by the poet Naushad, became, and are even today, a rallying cry for Indian lovers of different castes, classes and religions.
Through the 1960s and the 1970s, Mangeshkar continued to dominate the Hindi singing scene, producing memorable songs together with other Bollywood legends, including singers Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey, Mohammad Rafi and numerous renowned composers. She also sang duets with her sister, Asha Bhonsle, also a famous Bollywood singer, who preferred modern singing compared to Mangeshkar's traditional Indian style.
Lata Mangeshkar's live performances were also never less than memorable. During the Sino-Indian war in 1963, she sang "Ae mere watan ke logon" ("O, People of my Country"), written by poet Kavi Pradeep to commemorate fallen soldiers, moving the then prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, to tears.
Nearly a decade later, in 1972, she performed at the Royal Albert Hall and became the first Indian artist to do so. She sang well into the 80s and 90s and the following decade, releasing her last album in 2012.
Along with numerous awards recognizing her work, she was conferred the highest civilian honor in her home country, receving the Bharat Ratna in 2001, and in France, becoming Officer of the Legion of Honor in 2009.
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