After discovering Lata Mangeshkar's early output in the 1940s, literally gushing through the 1950s and 1960s, exploring the 1970s, and all but cursing the 1980s, I turn my attention to her songs in the 1990s. As she moved into the seventh decade of her life immediately after the phenomenal success of Maine Pyar Kiya in 1989, she continues to churn out hits after hits. Her rapidly deteriorating, sub-par voice quality notwithstanding, film producers and composers alike continued to make her sing. After reaching its nadir in the late 80s, there was only one way Hindi film music could go. Up. The quality of compositions started improving and melody made a reluctant return, although some music composers seemed to be in a terrible time warp making Lata sing really atrocious songs where she was made to sing for heroines one third her age and mouth lyrics that just didn't suit her ageing voice. Why she agreed to sing them remains the biggest mystery to me. At the same time, composers like Hridayanath Mangeshkar, Bhupen Hazarika and Vishal Bharadwaj were able to find good use of her degraded tonal quality by composing songs that would suited her. This list of my favourite Lata songs from the 1990s, that I present below, should be looked at from an overall composition point of view rather than the quality of singing, because barring an occasional Lekin, the deterioration of her vocals was a given.
1990: This year had a hang-over of the late 80s. In other words, Lata's songs released this year had a high noise factor. The success of Chandni in 1989 led to a situation where it became almost mandatory to have all choodi songs sung by her. Her biggest hit of the year was Gori Hai Kalaiyan (Aaj Ka Arjun, Bappi Lahiri). Bappi Lahiri also composed songs like Na Ja Re (Aaj Ka Arjun), Maahiya Teri Kasam Jeena Nahin Jeena (Ghayal), Aur Bhala Kya Maangoon Main Rab Se (Thanedaar). Riding on the high wave of success, Anand-Milind composed a Lata-SPB duet Maine Tujhe Khat Likha (Mera Pati Sirf Mera Hai), which also became quite popular. Rajesh Roshan had Krishna Krishna (Kishen Kanhaiya), while Raamlaxman copied a Pakistani song lock stock and barrel for a Lata-Amit Kumar duet in Police Public - Main Jis Din Bhula Doon.
Rahul Dev Burman's fortune was clearly on a decline, as he composed an average Lata-Amit Kumar duet in the unreleased Tadap. This rare song - Jise Pyar Zamana Kehta Hai - is definitely not bad, but coming from RDB it's a tad disappointing.
Anu Malik still stuck to his L-P style orchestration in Awaargi. However, the two Lata songs from the film had good tunes. Aye Mere Saathiya was slightly reminiscent of LP's Zindagi Har Qadam from Meri Jung, but I like the other song somewhat especially because of the opening alaap. Again it's not a great song, but given the other Lata songs from this year, it would be my pick of the year. I'm talking about Baali Umar Ne Mera, a duet with Mohd. Aziz.
Baali Umar Ne Mera (1990 - Awaargi - Anu Malik - Anand Bakshi)
1991: A very interesting year. Lata gave playback for multiple generation of actresses, from Waheeda Rahman to Dimple Kapadia to Sridevi to Madhuri Dixit to rank newcomers like Raveena Tandon, Chandni, Zeba Bakhtiar, Sheeba and Manisha Koirala. The songs she sang ranged from pure pain to melodious masterpieces; the composers were veterans as well as newcomers. The bhed-chaal mentality of Hindi filmmakers often results in replication of past success formulas. So we had Bappi Lahiri taking a cue from the kabootar of Maine Pyar Kiya to create the insipid Tota Tota Sajan Se Kehna in First Love Letter, which also had other Lata numbers like Deewani Deewani and Jab Se Mile Naina. Dev Kohli reshuffled the words of his hit MPK number to write Deewana Dil Bin Sajna Ke for Rammlaxman to tune in Patthar Ke Phool. The same film reduced Lata and S P Balasubramaniam to mere tourist guides in Tumse Jo Dekhte Pyar Hua or film historians reeling out names of films in Kabhi Tu Chhalia Lagta Hai. The choodi success of Chandni and Aaj Ka Arjun led to Sawan Kumar Tak asking his composer duo Mahesh-Kishore to create Choodi Maza Na Degi (Sanam Bewafa), which was again a hit!! The same film also included shrieky Lata songs like Mujhe Allah Ki Kasam and Tune Dil Mera Toda, which sounded even worse thanks to a bad co-singer.
Laxmikant Pyarelal composed really sub-standard songs like Badli Hai Na Badlegi (Banjaran) and Jind Tere Naam (Pyar Ka Devta), while producing slightly better Lata songs for Subhash Ghai in Saudagar - Teri Yaad Aati Hai and Radha Nachegi. It was painful to hear Lata sing something as frivolous as Saat Kunwaron Mein for Bappi Lahiri in Farishte. Rajesh Roshan's Khat Likhna Hai (Khel) wasn't as bad as some of his other songs during that period, while Ravindra Jain dug into Punjabi folk music to compose Chhalle Pade Baalon Mein for Yeh Aag Kab Bujhegi.
This brings me to the top three soundtracks of 1991, all of which had most of the songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar. The first is Ravindra Jain's Henna, a typically RK soundtrack, with melodious songs like Main Hoon Khushrang Henna, O Jaanewale, Bedardi Tere Pyar Ne, Der Na Ho Jaye and Anardana. The best song from this film was the evocative Chithiye, a song I can listen anytime anywhere.
Then there was Shiv-Hari's Lamhe, which in my opinion is a complete soundtrack. It included quintessential Yash Chopra romantic numbers like Kabhi Main Kahoon and Yaad Nahin Bhool Gaya, as well as wonderful folksy compositions like Megha Re Megha and Morni Baagaan Ma Bole, a lori - Gudiya Rani, and a krishna bhajan - Mohe Chhedo Na.
The best of this year, and in my opinion the best since Pakeezah in 1972, was Hridaynath Mangeshkar's Lekin. Each song from this amazing soundtrack is a masterpiece by itself and Lata also sounds extremely good. Gulzar's lyrics added to the classy feel of the soundtrack. It was surprising that a classy song like Yaara Seeli Seeli became extremely popular as well. The tune of Yara Seeli Seeli was actually a re-working of Hridaynath's earlier song in V. Shantaram's Chaani (1977) - Tumhi Ho Mere Apne, which in turn was based on Punjabi folk. Lekin had other gems like the classical Ja Ja Re, the heartbreaking Main Ek Sadi Se Baithi Hoon, and the brilliant maand - Kesariya Baalma. Kesariya Baalma had two versions, both apparently recorded at different times as is evident by Lata's tonal quality and vocal calisthenics in the two versions. Tumse Laage Nain pre-dates Baawri Bolein Log and includes more elaborate harkats and murkis. Finally, there's the song that I pick as the best of 1991 - Suniyo Ji Araj Mhari. The opening alaap of this song is one of the best I've heard in any Lata song.
Suniyo Ji Araj Mhari (1991 - Lekin - Hridaynath Mangeshkar - Gulzar)
1992: The days of Laxmikant Payelal's suzerainty in the Hindi film music industry were well and truly over by now. Their compositions were becoming increasingly monotonous and had to bear. In 1992, they composed Rab Ne Banaya and Ranjhna Ve Ranjhna in Heer Ranjha, Kitni Jaldi Ye Mulaqat and Mushkil Mein Hai Kaun in Angaar and Tu Mujhe Qubool in Khuda Gawah. None of these songs had anything unique to offer, except for the flute motif in Angaar. Sawan Kumar Tak went back to Usha Khanna, who composed Ye Dil Bewafa Se Wafa and Hum Jaisa Kahin Aapko for his regressive love triangle Bewafa Se Wafa. Anu Malik got a big opportunity in Radha Ka Sangam, which had Lata singing Do Bol Kah Ke, O Radha Tere Bina and.Bichhua More Sajna Ka Pyar. Maybe it was the theme of the film, but Anu Malik's tunes and arrangement style seemed to be in a time warp of sorts. The film was a disaster and got negative publicity due to Gulshan Kumar's act of getting Lata's songs dubbed by Anuradha Paudwal. Raamlaxman's compositions for Saatwaan Aasmaan had one nice Lata-Udit Narayan duet - Tum Kya Mile. I liked it because the tune was ear-friendly and it was unusual to hear lines like aji izzat-afzaaee ka shukriya, is na-cheez ko aap ne qaabil to samjha in the songs of that era.
I really took to Anand Milind's Vansh in 1992, despite the fact that they borrowed liberally from Illaiyaraja's Tamil tunes. The film itself was a remake of Mani Ratnam's Agni Natchathiram. This soundtrack had 3 Lata songs - Main To Deewani Huyi, Ye Bindiya Ye Kajra, and Aa Ke Teri Baahon Mein. Among these, my favourite and my selection for this year is the SPB-Lata duet Aa Ke Teri Baahon Mein, which had some nice lyrics by veteran Prem Dhawan.
Aa Ke Teri Baahon Mein (1992 - Vansh - Anand Milind - Prem Dhawan)
1993: Though this year didn't have a masterpiece like Lekin, it was still very similar to 1991. On the one end of the spectrum you had unremarkable Lata songs in films like Lootere, Dil Ki Baazi and Anmol, while there were solid soundtracks like Maya Memsaab and Rudaali at the other. Yash Chopra films like Aaina, Darr and Parampara fell somewhere in between in the at-least-one-decent-song category.
Anand-Milind composed two bland, but successful songs for Lata in Lootere - Mere Dil Pe Tune and Ae Sawan Baras Zara. Raamlaxman just didn't seem to get out of his MPK hangover and continued to produce similar songs in most of his films. The only difference was that he turned to the golden oldies for inspiration resulting in completely unimaginative rip-offs. The antara of Batao Tum Kaun Ho (Anmol) was a carbon copy of the antara of Kalyanji-Anandji's Ye Sama (Jab Jab Phool Khile). This could possibly be explained as Manmohan Desai's 'gift' for his special friend Nanda, but what is the reason for yet another version of Thandi Hawayen (Naujawan, Sachin Dev Burman) in Kaha Tha Jo Tumne in Dev Anand's Pyar Ka Tarana? Raamlaxam's other compositions like Tum Saaz Chhedo (Dil Ki Baazi), Sun Sun Sun Mere Saathiya (Anmol), and Dil Ki Lagi (Anmol) were in the MPK template.
L-P's Dil Na Kisi Ka Jaye (Kshatriya) paled in comparison to their Ye Isaq Dank Bichhua Ka for J P Dutta's previous film Batwara, even though it was designed pretty much in a similar fashion. Rajesh Roshan's Is Jahan Ki Nahin (King Uncle) was below par as well. Some of the relatively better songs this year came from the YRF stable. Dilip Sen- Sameer Sen found an entry into YRF with Aaina, which had the popular Goriya Re Goriya, but I prefer the other songs like Dil Ne Dil Se Kya Kaha and Aaina Hai Mera Chehra. The best song from this album was Ye Raat Khushnaseeb Hai, which is one of the rare cases where Sameer has penned meaningful words. Unfortunately, the lyrical brilliance of the mukhda is watered down by the relatively tame antaras. Shiv-Hari's Darr had the interestingly structured Tu Mere Samne, while their Parampara had the nice Tu Saawan Main Pyaas as well as the wince-worthy Hum Banjare. Parampara was almost identical in its theme and content (and even some actors) to J P Dutta's Kshatriya. Both films flopped miserably.
Basu Chakraverthy (RDB's assistant) composed very melodious songs for an unreleased film called Nargis. The soundtrack included Lata solos like Are Tu Pawan Basanti, Kisi Aashiyane Mein and Kaahe Abke Ae Bahar, as well as a lovely duet with Jagjit Singh - Dono Ke Dil Hain.
Bhoopen Hazarika's Rudaali was one of the best soundtracks of the year. Lata Mangeshkar's Dil Hum Hum Kare was the best song of the track, while Jhooti Mooti Mitwa and Samay O Dheere Chalo were classy as well. Unfortunately, the picturisation of Jhooti Mooti Mitwa was at odds with the realistic feel of the film, what with the cameraman going overboard with back lighting and soft focus cameras. So while the song looked 'beautiful' on screen, it stood out like a sore thumb amid the gritty texture of the rest of the film.
After Lekin, Gulzar and Hridaynath Mangeshkar collaborated once again to create a knock-out soundtrack in Maya Memsaab. In terms of the overall feel of the music, however, there was no similarity between the modern sounding tracks of Maya Memsaab and the traditional compositions of Lekin. With songs like Ek Hagen Nigaah Ka, Khud Se Baatein Karte Rehna, Mere Sarahne Jalao Sapne, Ye Shehr Bada Purana Hai and O Dil Banjaare, Maya Memsaab is a must have for any Lata fan. My favourite songs from 1993 is Khud Se Baatein Karte Rehna.
Khud Se Baatein Karte Rehna (1993 - Maya Memsaab - Hridaynath Mangeshkar - Gulzar)
1994: This was the year when the whole nation just went crazy about an extended wedding video that might well be titled Two Weddings (Fourteen songs) and a Funeral. Hum Aapke Hain Koun became the biggest hit in the history of Hindi film industry. With songs taking more than a third of its running time and wedding ceremonies the remaining, it wasn't surprising that songs about wedding rituals and familial relationships became extremely popular, namely Didi Tera Devar, Samdhi Samdhan, Lo Chali Main Apne Devar Ki, Wah Wah Ramji, Joote De Do. Raamlaxman 's predilection for making Lata sing inane songs manifested itself in the irritating Chocolate Lime Juice Ice Cream (!!) In this Lata dominated soundtrack the ones that I found relatively better were the title song, Mujhse Juda Ho Kar, and Maye Ni Maye. Raamlaxman composed a relatively better Lata-Sanu duet in Kanoon - Main Bani Hoon Sirf.
Raamlaxman was not the only one to make Lata croon weird lyrics. Mahesh-Kishor's I'm Very Very Sorry (Chaand Ka Tukda) gets the 'honour' of being the worst Lata song of this year - possibly the worst Lata song ever! The other song from this film - Aaj Radha Ko Shyam - wasn't bad though.
Dilip Sen Sameer Sen's second association with YRF resulted in a decent soundtrack in Ye Dillagi, but the songs didn't have much shelf life. I liked listening to Hoton Pe Bas, Dekho Zara Dekho, Gori Kalai, Lagi Lagi Hai Ye Dil Ki Lagi when they were released, but not any more. Interestingly, YRF tried to save a few bucks by making the group dancers in Gori Kalai wear the same costume as they did in Goriya Re in Aaina the previous year.
Jatin-Lalit composed their first number for Lata in Gangster - Maine Pyar Kisi Se Kiya, while Shyam Surinder also got their first opportunity to make Lata sing their composition in Elaan - Nainon Ko Baatein Karne Do. This year also saw Aadesh Shrivastava composing 3 duets for Lata in the unreleased Jaan-E Tamanna - Suniye Ji Kahiye Ji with Kumar Sanu, Ek Dil Ki Ek Dil Se with Udit Narayan and Mujhe Laagi Prem Dhun with Roop Kumar Rathod.
My favourite Lata number from this year is from Rahul Dev Burman's swan song 1942 A Love Story. Though the Kumar Sanu version of Kuchh Na Kaho is better, the wonderful tune more than makes up for Lata's not-so-good rendition.
Kuchh Na Kaho (1994 - 1942 A Love Story - Rahul Dev Burman - Javed Akhtar)
1995: Not many Lata songs this year. What was Rajesh Roshan thinking when he made Alka Yagnik sing for Raakhee and Lata for Mamta Kulakarni in Karan Arjun? Ek Munda Meri Umr Da was an unbearable song. Incidentally, this song was shot at the same place where I spent my childhood and where Simti Huyi Ye Ghadiyan from Chambal Ki Kasam was shot. Naushad came up with an apology of a soundtrack in Guddu, where the only 'decent' song was a Lata bhajan - Mere To Radheshyam Re.
This year belonged to Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, the longest running Hindi film ever. Jatin-Lalit's music in this Yash Raj film was melodious, even though Lata sounded jaded. The soundtrack included Lata songs like Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye, Ho Gaya Hai Tujhko To Pyar, Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna and my pick for the year - Tujhe Dekha To Ye Jaana Sanam, which I think is the best romantic track of the 1990s and 2000s.
Tujhe Dekha To Ye Jaana Sanam (1995 - Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge - Jatin-Lalit - Anand Bakshi)
1996: This year marked Lata Mangeshkar's last collaboration with Laxmikant Pyarelal, with whom she had sung the maximum number of songs (close to 700). It was good that L-P gave her a song that suited her age. Main Kamzor Aurat from Prem Granth was a good way of rounding off a long standing collaboration that resulted in superlative and pathetic songs alike. Raamlaxman composed some forgettable numbers for Lata in Megha, while Shyam Surinder's Vishwasghaat had equally unremarkable songs.
The soundtrack of the year was Vishal Bharadwaj's Maachis. While writing a review of the film in 1996, I had written - "The music of Maachis is simply divine, undoubtedly the best of 1996, Papa Kahte Hain, Bhairavi and Khamoshi: The Musical notwithstanding. Rarely does one come across a score that is a near perfect amalgamation of poetry, music and singing. The music of Maachis has this haunting quality about it that goes well with the grimness of the theme. Lata Mangeshkar, Hariharan and the criminally neglected Suresh Wadkar do full justice to the complexities of the tunes and give perfect expression to Gulzar’s meaningful poetry. It is commendable that Vishal has refrained from rank commercialism while composing the score, be it the songs or the evocative background score. The end result has not only found a place for itself on the charts, it can easily qualify as one of the best film scores of this decade." I stand by every word even12 years later. Each song from this soundtrack is a gem. The Lata numbers included Aye Hawa Kuchh To Bata (which was not used in the film), Bhej Kahaar, Tum Gaye Sab Gaya, Yaad Na Aaye Koi, and my favourite Paani Paani Re.
Paani Paani Re (1996 - Maachis - Vishal Bhardwaj - Gulzar)
1997: By this time, Lata's output had reduced significantly. In 1997, Aadesh Shrivastava composed two highly ordinary songs for Lata in Salma Pe Dil Aa Gaya. Raamlaxman committed a crime of sorts by asking Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle (both 60+ by this time) to sing for children (!!) in Lav-Kush. The film however had a decent SPB-Lata duet Barson Ka Rin Chukane, which was thankfully picturised on Jeetendra and Jaya Prada playing Ram and Sita. The soundtrack of Yash Chopra's Dil To Pagal Hai was a big hit, with Uttam Singh composed songs like Dil To Pagal Hai, Are Re Are and Pyar Kar turning out to be chartbusters.
My pick for this year is another Vishal Bhardwaj creation from the film Betaabi - Tum Mere Ho. I choose this song despite some uncomfortable singing by Lata because of its unconventional (typically Vishal) tune.
Tum Mere Ho (1997 - Betaabi - Vishal Bhardwaj - Sameer)
1998: The team of Gulzar and Vishal Bhardwaj created Geela Geela Paani and Tu Mere Paas Bhi Hai in Satya. However, Vishal's composition for Lata in Sham Ghansham - Tum Dono Ho Ek Se was disappointing to say the least. Uttam Singh created easy-on-the-ears tunes like Awaaz Do Humko, Pyar Ko Ho Jane Do and Chitthi Na Koi Sandes in Dushman. Jatin-Lalit composed an extremely melodious Lata-Sanu duet - Madhosh Dil Ki Dhadkan - in Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai.
This year marked Lata Mangeshkar's first collaboration with A R Rahman in Dil Se. The result was Jiya Jale Jaan Jale. Lata's voice might have sounded too old for 20 something Preity Zinta, but this song with its innovative use of chorus in Malayalam and Gulzar's great lyrics is one of my favourites from the 1990s.
Jiya Jale Jaan Jale (1998 - Dil Se - A R Rahman - Gulzar)
1999: After an OK Betaabi and disappointing Sham Ghansham, Vishal came up with good compositions in Jahan Tum Le Chalo and Godmother (for which he got the National Award) and above-average songs in Hu Tu Tu. Shauq Khwab Ka Hai (Jahan Tum Le Chalo) and Maati Re Maati Re (Godmother) were very good compositions. Hu Tu Tu was a mixed bag, but still quite good. Chhai Chappa Chhai had an interesting arrangement, while Itna Lamba Kash, and Ye Aaankhen (not used in the film) were decent compositions as well. Jai Hind Hind was the only disappointing song in Hu Tu Tu.
My favourite Lata song is a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan composition in Kachche Dhaage. This song - Oopar Khuda - was recorded after Khan Saheb's death and was arranged by Amar Haldipur.
Oopar Khuda (1999 - Kachche Dhaage - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Anand Bakshi)