A tribute to a golden era of music was a treat for lovers of nostalgia, even if lovers of music were left wanting more
Towards the end of her tribute to the songs of Lata Mangeshkar, titled ‘Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh', Sadhna Sargam brought in a note of self-effacement. “It's really tough to sing her songs,” she said. “I'm just trying.” The question, though, was whether points should be given, on the concert stage of a prestigious festival, for merely trying.
One of the songs Sadhna rendered was Kuch dil ne kaha, the delicate Hemant Kumar creation from “Anupama”. Like she did with every other song, Sadhna gave this number her all — but can this fragile composition really sustain a full-throated rendition? Where was the hesitation, the holding back, the tentative tiptoe into a hitherto unfelt realm of emotion — and without these, was this really Lata's Kuch dil ne kaha or Sadhna's? While it's true that the effects in a recording studio cannot be duplicated in a live show, shouldn't there at least be a stab at an approximation?
The audience, however, responded lustily to the cavalcade of cannily chosen hits, though not as much as anchor Harish Bhimani hoped. After a medley comprising the foot-tapping Gore gore and Shola jo bhadke, he joked, “Had this not been The Hindu audience, there would have been a few Bhagwan Dadas dancing near the stage.” (Long-time Chennaiites were left smirking into their handkerchiefs at the blasphemous image of people cutting loose in the prim aisles of The Music Academy.) Before the medley, Bhimani situated Gore gore (whose Tamil equivalent, Ayya saami, was belted out by M.L. Vasanthakumari) in its moment in history.
Lata Mangeshkar was renowned for not accepting songs that hinted at ribaldry, and this number was about what Bhimani termed “Adam teasing.” The music director C. Ramchandra told Lata that she would be right to refuse to sing the song if she so desired, but then her fans would say that Lata always sings the same type of songs. That spurred the singer and a hit was born.
If the purpose of the concert was simply to remind us of an era of marvellous music, Sadhna Sargam and Harish Bhimani performed their parts with clinical efficiency. They were accompanied by the singer Chetan Rana, who sometimes struggled to maintain pitch. The performance began with Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai from “Guide”, and touched upon several hits — Aaja re pardesi, Kora kaagaz tha, Aap ke nazron ne samjha, Naam gum jaayega, Dil deewana, Chandan sa badan, Bindiya chamkegi, Kuch na kaho and Jai Jai Shivshankar. Some of the selections — Ek tu jo mila, Pardesiyon se na akhiyan milana, Tere liye from “Veer-Zaara” — were mystifying in their inclusion over so many more worthwhile compositions. But it was gratifying to listen to Ja ri ja ri O kari badariya, from “Azaad”, an ambrosial composition that doesn't feature much in compilations of Lata's hits. And when Sadhna launched into Suno chhoti si gudiya ki lambi kahani from “Seema”, I wondered why she didn't opt for Manmohana instead. There was no representation from Lata's prodigious classical-tinted output, and the absence was especially felt at the august stage of The Music Academy.