As we move beyond 1975, Pancham continued to compose lovely melodies for Lata Mangeshkar. Unfortunately, Lata’s voice quality had started going down due to age and she sounded a tad tired in some of those songs. How one wishes all these delightful compositions had come at least a decade earlier. And as we moved into the 1980s, Pancham’s compositions also started becoming a little repetitive, although one did not see any compromise on the melody front, at least in the songs he composed for Lata. There were many RDB soundtracks in the late 1980s that were eminently forgettable, and there are very few Lata-Pancham songs worth mentioning.
Pancham was quite disappointed by the failure of Shakti Samanta’s Mehbooba in 1976, and although it had a very good soundtrack, the songs did not get their due when the film was released. The piece-de-resistance of this Lata dominated soundtrack was the haunting Mere Naina Sawan Bhado, a tandem song based on Raag Shivaranjini. Both the versions - by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar - have their own charm.
Pancham might have composed more songs written by Anand Bakshi, Majrooh Sutanpuri or Gulshan Bawra, but if there is one lyricist with whom he had a special tuning, it is Gulzar. Whenever the two came together, the result was consistently good. And the Lata-Pancham-Gulzar trio rarely disappointed. In my opinion, some of the best Lata-Pancham songs are written by Gulzar.
It was around mid-70s that Gulzar started work on his interpretation of Devdas, starring Dharmendra, Sharmila Tagore and Hema Malini. Unfortunately the film never got made, and the songs that were recorded for the film never got released.
Kinara was another Gular movie with great music. Ab Ke Na Sawan Barse was a pathos-laden song rendered beautifully by Lata, this song can also be seen as a tribute by Pancham to his father. Notice the Din Dhal Jaye portion in the second stanza.
Ghar was one of the soundtracks that saw Lata-Pancham-Gulzar at their very best. The film had one of the best arLata-Kishore duets ever Aap Ki Aankhon Mein Kuchh. True to his style, in Aaj Kal Paon, a Lata solo, Gulzar literalized the proverb Paaon Zameen Par Nahin Padna (English: to be in seventh heaven) and turned it into a cute question that the heroine asks the hero. The initial humming by Lata (which, unfortunately, is not there in the film clip below) is sublime.
It is said that the music one hears between the ages 5 and 15 years stays the longest. If there is one song that evokes the maximum sense of nostalgia, it is Sawan Ke Jhoole Pade from Jurmana. I cannot say for sure, but I think my personal liking for Lata and Pancham probably has its root in this song.
If Shankar Jaikishan created the maximum number of Lata-Rafi tandem songs, Pancham probably created the most Lata-Kishore tandems. For no explicable reason, while I almost always prefer the Rafi version to Lata’s rendition of a tandem song, in the case of Lata and Kishore, my preference is mostly for Lata versions. Here are two such songs.
Another genre where Pancham turned mostly to Lata was, what I call, morning songs. these are songs, typically sung by the badi bahu/ bhabhi of the family when she starts the day with pooja and other household chores, before anyone else in the family wakes up. Rather, I should call them ‘wake-up’ songs. Here is one from Aanchal.
Right from the path-breaking Aayega Aanewala from Mahal (1949), Lata Mangeshkar had become almost synonymous with the genre of ‘haunting songs’. When it came to becoming literally a ghost voice, composers looked no further than her. The lady-in-white in real life became the default voice of the lady-in-white of screen. In a recent interview to a TV news channel, Lata jokingly said that she has sung the maximum number of songs for ‘ghosts’. So it isn’t surprising that when Pancham got the opportunity to compose such songs for horror/ suspense films, Lata was his choice, as is evident from the following 2 songs.
The following song from Harjaee is a personal favourite. It is difficult for me to pin-point the reason why I like this particular song. I feel that this songs literally drips romance from every note.
After Lata turned 50, there was a dramatic change in her voice quality. It became thicker and noticeably shrill in the high registers. If there was one actress on whom this voice fitted very well, it was Rakhee.
The following song from Basera is one of my favourites. Portions of this song are pitched quite high, and it is to Lata’s credit that she managed those portions quite fairly despite a deteriorating vocal capacity.
Ae Ri Pawan from Bemisal is another beautiful composition by Pancham that fitted like a T on Rakhee.
The following song is almost in the same template as the Harjaee song listed above. Not a masterpiece, yet this is a pleasing tune, unmistakably Pancham in terms of arrangement.
Here comes another ‘morning song’ used during the opening credits of the film (the video is not available).
The 1980s saw the launch of star-sons like Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt and Kumar Gaurav. All their debuts had one thing in common - they all has music by Pancham and Lata was the lead heroine’s voice. Since most of the Lata songs in their debut films were duets, I’m not listing them here. But Lata did sing some nice solos for the new generation of actresses in other films of these star sons. For example, Amrita Singh in Sunny and Anita Raj in Zameen Aasmaan.
As we progress into the latter half of the 80s, it is difficult to find noteworthy Lata-Pancham songs. They’re mostly listless. Any song by the duo that I hear from this period leaves me dissatisfied. Pancham’s compositions lack the wow factor, while Lata sounds tired. Listen to this song from Namumkin, for example - a decent tune (specially the stanzas), but it simply falls short somewhere.
While Pancham was almost down and out, his collaboration with Gulzar remained strong. All the songs of Gulzar’s Libaas were sung by Lata, and will definitely count among the trio’s best. Unfortunately, this film did not get a proper theatrical release, although it ran through the festivals circuit in 1991-92. I was lucky enough to watch this film at a film festival in Bangalore in January 1992.