From Nargis to Aishwarya Rai, Lata Mangeshkar has rendered her magical voice to generations of Bollywood actresses. She has just been chosen for the prestigious French award, the Knight of Legion of Honour.
Every time one hears the strains of the Lata Mangeshkar song "Aayega aanewala... aayega", there is a feeling that can only be described as exquisitely divine, and one is reminded of veteran actress Nargis Dutt's words about this living legend: "Lata kisi tareef ki nahin, balki parastish ke quabil hain. Unki awaaz sunne ke baad kuch aisa aalam-tari ho jata hai jise bayaan karna bada mushkil hain. Yun samajhiye jaise koi dargah ya mandir main jaye, to vahan pahunch kar ibadat ke liye khud-ba-khud sar jhuk jaata hain aur aankhon se besakhta aasoon behne lagte hain".Nargis' tribute rang true when a person no less than Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was moved to tears when Lata sang "Ae mere watan ke logon" penned by poet Pradeep and tuned by C. Ramachandra at a function. For six decades, the nightingale has been embellishing popular Indian music with her magical, mellifluous voice. Accolades and honours galore have come her way including the Bharat Ratna and now the latest, the Knight of Legion of Honour, the highest French civilian award. Cine maestro Satyajit Ray is the only other Indian recipient of the topmost French honour. French ambassador in India, Dominique Girard will personally confer the honour on Lata Mangeshkar at a function in Mumbai next month.
But, all the awards pale in the light of the awesome beauty of her songs. Lata epitomises vintage Hindi film music and she has been the toast of the Indian marquee like none else. While traversing the memory lane, counting the endless list of golden melodies rendered by her, one can only echo her own words, `Guzra hua zamana aata nahin dubaara...' The magic of Lata's voice captured the soul of eternal love in that immortal song `Pyar kiya to darna kya' by Naushad in "Mughal-e-Azam"and continues to glow till today in songs like `Jiya jale jaan jale' set to the tune of A.R. Rehman and Jatin Lalit's `Tujhe dekha to ye jaana sanam' in "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge". The freshness of `Aaja re pardesi' in "Madhumati" sung for Salil Chowdhury resonates till today. `Pyar hua' was a sizzler in "Shri 420" by Shanker Jaikishen, but the breeziness and joi de vivre of Lata's voice was effectively captured in `Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai' in "Guide" and `Khaai hai re humne kasam' in "Talaash" by S.D. Burman. `Man dole mera ' in "Nagin" was a melting melody by Hemant Kumar while `Naina barse' and `Lag jaa gale' plumbed the depths of passion in "Woh Kaun Thi" under Madan Mohan's baton. Lata's voice smouldered in Roshan's `Jo vaada kiya' in "Taj Mahal". Who can forget the heart rending `Raina beeti jaaye' sung for R.D. Burman in "Amar Prem", or `Haye re woh din' where Pandit Ravi Shankar harnessed her honeyed voice. Lata has indeed been a tour de force lending the infinite beauty of her voice to three generations of actresses from Nargis to Aishwarya Rai, and her inimitable singing continues to enthral in `Hamko hami se' in "Mohabbatein" and the exquisite `So gayen hain' in "Zubeidaa". Lata took the master of romanticism, Gulzar's song `Tere bina zindagi se' in "Aandhi" and `Aaj kal paaon zameen par' in "Ghar" to new romantic heights. Renowned poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar reminisces the number from "Silsila", `Yeh kahan aa gaye hum...yun hi saath saath chalte'. In this song, there is a line which goes `Huyi aur bhi mulayam meri sham dhalte dhalte' which means `the evening became even softer as it faded'. Says Javed Akhtar, "I really wonder whether any singer in the world could sing the world `mulayam' more meaningfully than the way Lata sang it". But the fitting tribute to India's nightingale comes in the words of her brother and music composer Hridaynath Mangeshkar. "Lata is not a personality that comes along in every century, not even in two or three centuries. Her talent transcends time. Her command over the 12 notes without overdoing them is amazing. A talent like her comes along once in a thousand years. Nobody has heard the mythical Tansen. But to our good fortune we have heard Lata Mangeshkar. She has become a legend in her own lifetime".