Music icon

Why Lata Mangeshkar was an Indian music icon

Lata Mangeshkar, the Indian playback singer who lent her shy, feminine voice to Indian film heroines for more than seven decades and became one of Bollywood’s most powerful figures in the process, died in Mumbai on Sunday. The singer, 92, had been hospitalized since early January for Covid-19.

Indian cinema is so intertwined with its music – just look at any classic Bollywood film – that a film can be a hit or a bomb depending solely on the catchiness of its songs. So the directors went after Mangeshkar to bring their Busby Berkeley-esque song-and-dance numbers to life with his impossible high notes and emotive delivery. The singer, whose voice could span an impressive four octaves (for comparison, Mariah Carey’s range is five), is said to have recorded thousands of songs in more than 30 languages, from Hindi to Urdu. , from Tamil to Bengali, as well as his native Marathi. .

Upon news of Mangeshkar’s death, actress Kajol, who lip-synced to Mangeshkar’s melodious voice in the film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, shared a tweet suggesting how prolific the singer’s career has been. “If we play his songs one by one”, the the actress wrote“we could hear it for a month and never hear the same song again.”

Mangeshkar’s death was also greeted with the announcement of a two-day national mourning, and his star-studded state funeral in Mumbai on Sunday attracted political and Bollywood royalty, from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to movie star beloved Shah Rukh Khan.

The term “playback singer” refers to a background player who sings the songs written by composers and synced to the screen by actors, but along with a few other top South Asian singers, Mangeshkar managed to defy the role rules. . Although his songs appeared in Indian cinema, his rise to fame came largely in tandem with Bollywood’s explosion into an industry worth over $2 billion with a global audience, a fact which Mangeshkar seemed perfectly suited to. aware. Although her voice may be famous for its coquetry, Mangeshkar insisted on the singers’ right to profit from the songs they helped make famous, leading a battle for singers’ royalties that spanned much of of her career.

“What do I get out of it? I do not receive any royalties. Now there’s the Internet and the MP3 format,” she lamented in 2012 after her songs, which are not hers but owned by publishing houses, started appearing on various albums. In 2018, thanks in part to Mangeshkar’s decades-long call for change, female singers in India began receiving royalties, and Mangeshkar was branded a feminist for her calls for fair pay and her ambition.

Mangeshkar, whose father was a classically trained singer, entered film at age 13 in an effort to support her family after her father’s death. Nicknamed “Lata Didi” — eldest sister — and “Nightingale” or “Melody Queen” in the media and by many fans, Mangeshkar quickly became the songbird of India, her counterpart to Edith Piaf. Mangeshkar, however, stands out from the Western musical canon as much for her longevity as for her prodigious production: she has appeared on hit albums for four decades, and is said to have occasionally recorded several songs in a single day. “I recorded two songs in the morning, two in the afternoon, two in the evening and two at night,” she said.

His voice echoed (and still does) in Indian cinemas and televisions, in cars and wedding halls. Although her face has only appeared on screen a few times during her career – she has told reporters she hates performing – she has been featured on magazine covers as ‘The Incredible Singing Machine’ and was widely interviewed. After the end of British colonial rule, she proudly performed before the country’s new rulers, including Jawaharlal Nehru.

The directors declared her a distinct chameleon among the sea of ​​Indian playback singers, which included her own sister, Asha Bhosle. Love songs, like his 2006 Luka Chuppi, about a mother mourning the death of her son, have been made a little more heartbreaking, and romantic songs, like his famous Lag Jaa Gale, a little more soulful in the hands of Mangeshkar, while seductive numbers betrayed a unique character. vulnerability as the singer composed each character.

This weekend, Amitabh Bachchan, the legendary Bollywood actor whose films regularly feature Mangeshkar’s voice, took to his blog to acknowledge the value of Mangeshkar’s sacrifices. “The voice of a million centuries has left us…its voice now echoes in the heavens.”