Sunday, May 01, 2011

Lata –Voice of The Golden Era

When I first heard about a new book on Lata Mangeshkar, I wasn’t too excited. Enough is already known about the legendary singer, and there’re still a lot of mysteries, which have little chance of getting unraveled given the stoic silence the lady maintains about certain controversial aspects of her life. If one wants a hagiographic account of her life, there is always Harish Bhimani’s In Search of Lata Mangeshkar to turn to. For controversial events, malicious rumors and tons of information thrown randomly (and written in the most convoluted and reader unfriendly style), there is Raju Bharatan’s biography and several articles he has written over the decades. For the statistically inclined, there is Vishwas Nerurkar’s Gandhar Swaryatra. There is no better book than Ajatshatru’s Baba Teri Son Chiraiya for a detailed analysis of some of Lata Mangeshkar’s rarest of songs. And if you wanted to hear some thing from the horse’s mouth, Nasreen Munni Kabeer’s documentary and a subsequent book Lata- In Her Own Voice had already covered that.

So what new insights could this book offer? ?

Prior to the release of the book, the author – Dr. Mandar V. Bichu – started a group on Facebook where he uploaded the scanned contents of the books… and my interest was piqued. I hadn’t seen an account of Lata’s collaboration with all major composers at one place before. I knew of a similar book by the same author, but since that was in Marathi I could never have read that. Moreover, a composer-wise analysis is also of great personal interest to me and I have made some attempts at that on this blog. Of course, I wouldn’t even dare to call my blog posts as analysis of any kind, for they are more a random listing of some songs I like. Anyway, after seeing the contents, I was sure I wanted a copy of the book…. even though the price tag was very high! As soon as the book was available for purchase, I booked my order online and received the book in 3 days.

My first reaction on getting the book was – “ Wow, this is one heavy book!” What else can you expect from 415 page hard-bound book printed on high-quality glossy paper? This meant that I did not have the luxury of cursorily reading it lying on a bed. This, actually, proved to be a blessing in disguise because if I wanted to read it I had to sit on a desk with no other distraction. While this took me a while to finish the book, the book had my complete attention while I was reading through it.

I knew this was the book for me when I read the author’s “Prelude” to the book. Some words rang so true that it almost felt as if they were my words. I quote – “I feel my main qualification to write about Lata is my steadfast refusal to block my appreciative ears just because a particular song belongs to a particular era or a particular composer… In fact, by remaining aware of all the phases of Lata’s output in her six decade long career, I feel I am in a much better position to analyse it in totality” I completely subscribe to this view. In order to write authoritatively about a person one has to have a thorough exposure to the person’s complete career span. And that is what makes this book so balanced.

A major portion of the book is dedicated to an account of Lata’s partnership with most major composers. For most part, the author has not got swayed by either quantity or quality. So highly prolific composers like Laxmikant Pyarelal, Shankar Jaikishan, Rahul Dev Burman and Kalyanji Anandji find a chapter dedicated, as do composers like Jaidev, Khemchand Prakash, Khaiyyam and Hridaynath, whose output with Lata in Hindi films was somewhat limited. And one finds the same depth of analysis while talking about prolific but much-reviled-among-the-cognoscenti composers like Laxmikant Pyarelal and Kalyanji Anandji, as those like Jaidev who have a very small, but critically acclaimed, collaboration with Lata.

Following a detailed account of Lata’s output with 17 composers, the book has two more chapters on her work with other noteworthy composers of the “golden era” as well as the “post-golden era”.

My only grouse is that Chitragupta, a terribly under-rated music composer who, as luck would have it, got confined to mostly B and C grade films, but hardly ever compromised on quality to produce some really melodious songs for Lata, did not get a separate chapter in the book. In my opinion, he deserved it! Some years back when I had included Chitragupta in my blog about Lata’s collaboration with “lesser known composer”, many people protested that he did not belong among lesser known composer. The fact that he is again relegated to a few paragraphs in this major book, vindicates my stand. Having said that, the selection of composers for detailed analysis was the author’s prerogative and maybe someday we will find him writing in detail about the marvelous Lata-Chitragupta collaboration.

One of the other interesting parts of the book is the author’s 17 year old telephonic interview with Lata Mangeshkar. While the interview doesn’t reveal any earth-shattering, hitherto unknown facts (you can’t expect that in any Lata interview), it does have some interesting tidbits like Lata’s surprising views about Vasant Desai’s music, her sarcastic reaction to Anuradha Paudwal’s early 90s effort of paying tributes to Madan Mohan, Shankar Jaikishan, and her take on her tandem songs where the male versions were usually more popular.

Another interesting chapter is the one where the author talks about why Lata continues to sing way beyond her prime. And he finishes this chapter with a reference to the song she rendered exactly a year ago on Maharashtra Day (apparently recorded a few days earlier, but still by an 80+ Lata). His reaction, like many others who heard her sing that day – “Thank God, she continued to sing!” Here is a clip:

The book ends with my most favourite chapter – the author’s take on what actually makes Lata ‘Lata’. He neatly sums up with an either/ or reasoning for why just about every composer (even the most obscure ones) has at least one amazing composition for Lata…. “so either we could say that they all had reserved their best tunes for her, or we could say that she inspired them to come up with their best tunes and then mad them better!”

The author has revealed his answer in the book. And I’m sure you too have your answer in your mind.