Lata M: Then and now

Posted on September 26, 2004

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Picture courtesy: newindpress.c

THEN AND NOW

Lata Mangeshkar reunites with Madan Mohan. It’s time for nostalgia… and a reality check.

SEPT 26, 2004 – BACK IN THE DAYS BAPPI LAHIRI was doing to Hindi film music what the villain usually did to the hero’s younger sister, Doordarshan screened Ashiana – one of those ghostly, Madhumati-like love stories of the fifties, where Nargis lip-synced to Raj Kapoor a haunting Lata Mangeshkar solo, music-directed by Madan Mohan. The composition was so exquisite, the voice so ethereal, the words didn’t seem to matter at all… Apparently they didn’t, for I soon forgot the lyrics, and every closet bathroom singer knows the futility of enquiring about a song when you only remember its tune. What are the opening lines, someone would ask, and I wouldn’t know. Hum the initial bars, they’d suggest, and I’d politely refuse – this is, after all, an intricate melody we’re talking about, not everybody dance with pa pa pa.

So the tune lay stuck inside my head, until the Internet came along and all those free music providers – who, bless their souls, are surely destined for a place in Heaven, with nary a kaanta lagaa remix in sight – began hosting golden era movie melodies. I finally located the Ashiana song: mera qaraar le jaa, mujhe beqaraar kar jaa

I was a bit hesitant to play it immediately. You know how it is when something is so much a part of your rose-tinted memories – the meeting point of pent-up expectation and cold reality is often only a shade less disappointing than the latest Jatin-Lalit soundtrack. But then I heard the song, and it was all there, ethereal and exquisite as ever – the teeny flute flourishes, the melancholy-tinged lushly-stringed interludes, the percussion rippling beneath the main melody like rhythmic waves rocking a sailboat… and in the midst of all this compositional brilliance, the emotional impact of a touched-by-God voice, capable of reducing lumberjacks into blubbering little girls.

Something shifted in the universe when Lata Mangeshkar met her Madan bhaiyya. Enough eloquence has been waxed about Ashiana and the fifties, but pick anything from the sixties (lag jaa gale Woh Kaun Thi; tu jahaan jahaan chalega Mera Saaya), or the seventies (baiyyan na dharo Dastak; do dil toote Heer Ranjha) – you’ll sense, maybe, that whenever she stepped into the recording studio for one of his songs, some never-before planetary confluence was occurring overhead. The perfection of his tunes and arrangements, the purity of her singing… if there was an explanation for this, it was not of this world, and if he stopped sketching melodies for her voice to colour, it was only because he left this world.

And now he’s been resurrected. Unused tunes of his have found their way into the soundtrack of Veer-Zaara, Yash Chopra’s much-publicised return to directing after some six-odd years, featuring Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukerji, and – most importantly – the late music director’s muse. Lata Mangeshkar and Madan Mohan together again after all this while, making you wonder… Will time stand still? Will the earth move?

The earth moves all right – it makes you wish it had opened wide enough to swallow all existing copies of the soundtrack, so that no one would remember Veer-Zaara as (probably) the final Madan Mohan-Lata Mangeshkar collaboration. Oh, it isn’t bad, merely disappointing – but considering your expectations exceed the high C’s she so easily used to scale, you’re not closing your eyes, enjoying the music; you’re closing your ears, hoping to exorcise it.

I know I’m in the minority. Even today, there are more Lata loyalists than there are fans of Shah Rukh, Aamir, Hrithik, Salman and the Hutch commercial pug put together, and they’re sure to say it’s just like the days of old. I’m happy for them, but to these ears, it’s just… old, and no song disappoints more than kyon hawa, which has Lata going ah-ha-ha in the interludes. It’s just a simple, slow progression of notes – not the greased-lightning taans that Shankar-Jaikishen put her through at the breathtaking end of man mohana (Seema); not the soprano-style obstacle course of notes that Salil Chowdhury had her hit (apparently effortlessly, at a pitch that could crack light bulbs) in woh ik nigaah (Half Ticket) – but the voice never really takes off.

It’s grounded by age, that heaviest of weights – and it tells you why some things are best left to Jaimala programmes on the radio, Golden Collection CDs, or simply that space between the ears. Where would we be, otherwise, if no one wanted to let go of the past? Will Rajesh Khanna jump into a jeep in a movie tomorrow, keep nodding at Sharmila Tagore in a train, and expect us to stand in line?

Copyright ©2004 The New Sunday Express