Star of the week: Lata Mangeshkar

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
11/3/2004 12:00:00 AM
This Diwali when Dilip Kumar and Shah Rukh Khan clash at the box office in "Mughal-e-Azam" and "Veer-Zaara" respectively, there'll be one link binding the glorious past and the glamorous present -- Lata Mangeshkar.

From Madhubala in K. Asif's "Mughal-e-Azam" to Preity Zinta in "Veer-Zaara"; from a love legend 44 years ago to another one in the new millennium -- the complete ethos and ambience of movie-making has changed.

But not Lata Mangeshkar. She's one of her kind; no two ways about it.

Lata Mangeshkar has broken every record and every law of human longevity by singing like an angel at age 75 for Preity Zinta in "Veer-Zaara".

"Angel?" she laughs her still-girlish laughter. "I don't know about that! What I do know is I've always done my work to the best of my abilities. And now if people are still talking about 'Mughal-e-Azam' so many decades after its release, then I guess the magic of the music lies not so much in my singing as in the melodies."

But modesty has its limits. And music composer Naushad has gone on record to say the melodies were made possible by the quality of singing provided by the singer.

The Nightingale laughs: "I still remember how we toiled over the songs. 'Pyar kiya to darna kya', 'Mohe panghat pe nandlal ched gayo re', 'Beqas pe karam kijiye', 'Mohabbat ki jhoothi kahani pe roye'... Singing for Madhubala was a pleasure right from the time I sang her first hit number 'Aayega aanewala' which catapulted her to dizzying heights of fame. I guess that song convinced her I was the voice for her and she insisted that only I sing for her.

"In 'Mughal-e-Azam' we took special trouble over the songs. The composer Naushad wanted to get that special epic quality into the music. Since there was no technological props we had to manage within our meagre methods to bring that bigness into the sound."

And now that same magic is on display in Yash Chopra's "Veer-Zaara" where Lata Mangeshkar sings for Preity Zinta. This isn't the first time she has done so.

"I sang for Preity in her first film 'Dil Se'. That song 'Jiya jale' became so popular. And now I've sung all the songs for her in 'Veer-Zaara'."

Having proved herself lucky for so many generations of actresses, will Lataji's songs for Preity Zinta prove to be as much of a turning point for the actress as the songs she did for Madhubala in "Mughal-e-Azam"?

The enchanting songstress laughs. "I really don't know about that. Legends, evergreens... these are not things that can be planned. They just happen. All I know is that for me singing for Madhubala in 'Mughal-e-Azam' was as big a challenge as it was for me to sing for Preity Zinta."

Interestingly, there's another bond between Lata Mangeshkar and the two films on release this Diwali linked only by that magical voice which has defined feminine beauty and mystique for so many years. It's the leading men of the two films. If Lataji shares a special rapport with 'Salim' Dilip Kumar from "Mughal-e-Azam", she also has a special fondness for 'Veer' Shah Rukh Khan.

"Yusuf Saab (Dilip Kumar) treats me like his younger sister. He has always showered me with love and praise, made me feel far more special than I really am. I remember how he once challenged me into bettering my language by commenting on my poor Urdu diction. I immediately got myself an Urdu teacher and worked on my diction."

Today, of course, it's said that the best way to improve your Urdu-Hindi diction is to listen to Lata Mangeshkar's invaluable melodies.

"I don't know about that," says the showbiz legend with the longest innings at the box office. "But I do know Yusuf Saab is one of the finest actors we have. And now we have Shah Rukh Khan."

A lot of people see Shah Rukh as the inheritor of Dilip Kumar's throne. Lata Mangeshkar agrees.

"Yes, they even look similar. In fact Yusuf Saab and Sairaji have commented on it. In my own humble way I feel privileged to be associated with two stars separated by four generations."

Film historians would continue to gawk at the sheer impossibility of one voice linking Madhubala and Preity Zinta on the same Friday.

Smiles the Nightingale: "There's a difference, though. Madhubala represents a generation I could identify with. We met socially, conversed over the phone and spoke about the songs that I sang for her -- a lovely girl! But today I sing without knowing the person who conveys my feelings on screen. I know Preity Zinta in 'Veer-Zaara' through Yash Chopra's vision of her."

Madhubala did "Pyar kiya to darna kya" and Preity Zinta is now lip-syncing "Tere liye hum hain jeeye har aansoon piye" -- through the same voice.

"I didn't even notice the coincidence until I was told about it," laughs the voice that has given the film industry a definitive shape and direction since 1949 when Nimmi ran across the fields singing "Hawaa mein udta jaye" with Raj Kapoor in "Barsaat". Today Preity Zinta runs across lush mustard fields in "Veer-Zaara" singing "Aisa des hai mera" with Shah Rukh Khan.

And the voice remains unchanged!