[This post originally appeared here.]
From 1945 to now, Lata Mangeshkar‘s career has clocked more than 70 years and more than 5000 songs. Such is her impact in the Hindi film industry and so deep is her discography that it’s very likely that almost every post in this series has one or more songs by her. Given that there are so many facets to Lata Mangeshkar’s songs, this post will cover just one – her duets with male singers. Here are my favorite duets of Lata Mangeshkar with 10 different male playback singers:
Before R.D. Burman, it was C. Ramchandra who experimented with various non-Indian genres of music, drawing influences from jazz and rock n’ roll. In “Shola Jo Bhadke”, he really strayed from the mainstream and went Hawaiian! The thing that really stands out in the song isn’t the melody or even Chitalkar and Lata Mangeshka’s singing, although they’re perfectly respectable. It is the foot-tapping beats. Geeta Bali looks comely performing Hula-like moves and Bhagwan does his own thing with moves that became Amitabh Bachchan’s trademark three decades later.
There’s probably more ethereal beauty packed in this song than any other on this list. Anil Biswas’ haunting melody, Talat Mahmood’s whispery voice and Lata’s restrained singing enunciate some lovely lyrics by Prem Dhawan.
The depiction of a couple sharing an umbrella in a heavy downpour in “Pyar Hua…” is one of the most everlasting images of Hindi films. The chemistry in Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar’s singing is as potent as Raj Kapoor and Nargis’ onscreen chemistry. This was not accidental. Raj Kapoor and Nargis actually enacted the song in the recording room for the singers to get a sense of the song’s mood. In a time when Mukesh had established himself as Raj Kapoor’s voice, Manna Dey bagging a chance to sing for the actor was a stroke of luck for the struggling singer. Mukesh had to walk out of “Shree 420” after recording just two songs because of a contract he had signed for another film, which barred him from other singing assignments till it was released.
Bimal Roy signed Salil Chowdhury for “Madhumati” against the recommendation of the film’s star, Dilip Kumar, and the film’s distributors – they did not consider the genius composer to be commercially viable. The high quality of music Salil Chowdhury delivered for the film despite the tremendous pressure on him is awe-inspiring. “Dil Tadap Tadap..”, one of the many gems from the superlative album, was a very clever adaptation of a popular Polish folk song “Szla Dzieweczka” but still a Salil da original and an evergreen classic.
The success of Madhumati brought Salil Chowdhury the attention he deserved and offers rained down on him. He composed some of his finest music in the wake of Madhumati. “Maya” was among his best scores from this period. “Tasveer Teri Dil Mein” is an example of how challenging Salil Chowdhury’s compositions could be for singers. In this song at least, Rafi seems measure up to the challenge a little better than Lata. It was around this period that Rafi and Lata had a big disagreement and did not work with each other for a few years. Thankfully for music lover, they resolved their differences and started working together again in 1967.
Based on Raag Yaman, simply arranged using a cymbal (manjeera), a sarangi (or violin?) and a flute and with lyrics evoking themes like devotion, submission, the temple lamp, sin, offering of flowers, ash (raakh as a substitute for vibhuti?), “Chhupa Lo..” is a deeply spiritual song posing as a romantic ditty. Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics are so powerful that one almost forgets to pay attention to how soulful Roshan’s tune is and how well Hemant da and Lata Mangeshkar have sung it. This 3 minute song is packed with so much goodness that one has to listen to it several times to take in everything it has to offer.
“Parichay” was a significant film. It was the first time R.D. Burman and Gulzar worked together. They hit it off both as professionals and friends and a parade of successful collaborations followed. R.D. Burman had earned the reputation as a composer who worked with modern sounds but periodically, with songs like “Beeti Na Bitai Raina”, he proved that he was equally adept at compositions based on classical music. This lovely duet showed how good a singer Bhupinder was. To be able to sing with the country’s premier singer and hold his own was no mean feat. Lata Mangeshkar may have deservedly won the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer for the song, but it is Bhupinder and his smooth as silk transition into the song in the middle of the first antara that takes my breath away every time I hear it.
While Lata Mangeshkar treated Mukesh Bhaiya with respect, Kishore Kumar was like the naughty younger brother. Kishore Kumar, on his part, was in awe of Lata Mangeshkar. The story of how he asked R.D. Burman to first record Lata’s version of “Mere Naina Sawan Bhadon” so he could learn from it and then sing his version, is the stuff of legends. This is the most challenging pick for me because Kishore Kumar happens to be my most favourite singer and boy has he sung some beauties with Lata Mangeshkar! Just one film, “Aandhi” (1975), has as many as three lovely Kishore-Lata duets. Thankfully, the personal meaning “Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi” has for me, eases the choice a little.
With languages and several years separating their singing careers, Lata Mangeshkar sang only a handful of duets with Yesudas. There’s not much to choose from but Khayyam and Sahir Ludhianvi’s “Aapki Mehki Hui” is nice and leaves us wanting for more.
In my opinion, Lata Mangeshkar’s voice sounded the best in the 1950s. That said, she was the Hindi film industry’s best female singer through the 1980s. She continued to record memorable songs beyond the 1980s but they were few and far between. One of my most favourite Lata Mangeshkar duets from this period is “Lukka Chhupi” with A.R. Rahman. What makes this song really work is that the Lata Mangeshkar gave voice to the grieving, elderly mother played by Waheeda Rehman. We are fortunate to have witnessed two fantastic musicians representing the old and new come together like this.
Here’s a longer list of Lata Mangeshkar’s all-time great songs.