Favourite Lata Mangeshkar Songs: The Queen Of Everlasting Songs, Film Companion

There was an audio cassette called ‘Shraddhanjali’ that was played a lot in our home in my childhood. It featured 13 tracks—all covers by Lata Mangeshkar of songs originally performed by some of the greatest names in Hindustani film music: KL Saigal, Pankaj Mullick, Mohammed Rafi, Hemant Kumar, Mukesh, and Kishore Kumar. I needed no introduction to the lone female face on the cover or the voice that sang the songs—it would be like being introduced to a member of the family you’ve known since the day you were born. But this volume was another kind of introduction for me, a meet-cute with a world that would serve as a lifelong companion: old Hindustani film music.

And as I delved deeper into that world, I realised that the woman who paid rich tribute to the greats was also a big part of that world, that there was simply no Indian playback singing without her. Predictably, most of my favourite Lata songs are from the black-and-white era, but there are a few from the twenty-first century that make the cut for some specific reasons. I have listed these in chronological order for no real reason except that I cannot pick favourites among these. So, here goes.

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‘Chandni Raatein Pyar Ki Baatein’ – Jaal (1952)

Music & Lyrics: SD Burman & Sahir Ludhianvi

This song has a more famous twin—the Hemant Kumar solo, ‘Sun Jaa Dil Ki Dastan’. ‘Chandni Raatein Pyar Ki Baatein’ is technically a duet between Lata Mangeshkar and Hemant Kumar, but Lata does more of the heavy lifting. The song is about a woman missing her lover and the sweet nothings she shared with him during moonlit nights. There is a befittingly sweet indolence to this song; it is not as upbeat as its twin. And Lata delivers beautifully, infusing the song with nasal vocals that were uncharacteristic of her, but perfect for the nostalgia and breeziness of the song.

‘O Sajna, Barkha Bahaar Aai’ – Parakh (1960)

Music & Lyrics: Salil Chowdhary & Shailendra

If the previous song was perfect for moonlit nights, this one is perfect for the rainy days. Indian cinema has always associated rain with romance and nostalgia, often culminating in wonderful songs. ‘O Sajna’ is the pinnacle of this combination. Lata handles the classical Hindustani-inspired notes delicately, imbuing the song with an enduring sweetness.

‘Lag Jaa Gale’ – Woh Kaun Thi? (1964)

Music & Lyrics: Madan Mohan & Raja Mehdi Ali Khan

Is it possible to think of one’s favourite Lata Mangeshkar songs and not include this gem? In fact, is it possible to exclude this masterpiece from any list of the best songs Indian cinema has produced? ‘Lag Jaa Gale’ is the perfect combination of melodious music, meaningful lyrics, and impeccable rendition. It is the kind of track that has transcended its status as a song and become legendary. Iconic in every way.

‘Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai’ – Guide (1965)

Music & Lyrics: SD Burman & Shailendra

The soundtrack of Guide is magnificent. In addition to the wonderful popular numbers by the leading playback singers of the time, it even has two tracks sung by Sachin da himself. Of course, ‘Piya Tose Naina Laage’ is rightfully the most famous Lata track from the album if you don’t count her duet with Kishore Kumar, ‘Gaata Rahe Mera Dil’, an antakshari staple. But I adore ‘Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai’ for the sense of freedom and hope it evokes. It has one of the most innovative openings of all time, where it sounds like the singer has launched into the antara/anupallavi and then works her way towards the mukhda/pallavi. And Lata adds just the right amount of whimsy to turn it into an extremely memorable song.

‘Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha’ – Anupama (1966)

Music & Lyrics: Hemant Kumar & Kaifi Azmi

There is both a movement and a stillness to ‘Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha’. And when Lata sings ‘Aisi bhi baatein hoti hai’, it feels like she is whispering the words only for your ears. It is the kind of song that leaves me in a quandary after it ends because there is no playlist to build on it. There is simply no other song like it. But the dilemma soon ends, for I’ll just listen to ‘Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha’ again, thank you very much.

‘O Paalanhaare’ – Lagaan (2001)

Music & Lyrics: AR Rahman & Javed Akhtar

This one is extremely personal. Lagaan is my favourite film. I listened to its songs over and over and over when I got the cassette and learnt all the songs by heart. As a ten-year-old, ‘O Paalanhaare’ was my go-to for those ‘Beta, uncle-aunty ko gaana sunaao’ moments. This song, among others from the same time, also marks a shift in Lata’s career, when she went from being the voice of the heroine to limiting her presence in a soundtrack to just one song, but what a song that would be! Never mind that she was in her seventies by then, Lata perfectly conveys the devotion and desperation that the song required, giving it an ever so slightly haunting quality.

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‘Luka Chuppi’ – Rang De Basanti (2006)

Music & Lyrics: AR Rahman & Prasoon Joshi)

There are many songs about the bond between a mother and child, but ‘Luka Chuppi’ is in a league of its own. On its own, the song is deeply meaningful, but place it in the context of the film, and it is simply heart-breaking. The song plays out like a conversation between mother and son. Lata Mangeshkar’s and AR Rahman’s renditions are evocative and moving. The sargam towards the end leads to a crescendo by Rahman and finally tapers off gently with the mother pleading with the son to come back home. As the grieving mother, Lata is perfection in this song.

 The title of the cassette I spoke about earlier, Shraddhanjali, was followed by the tagline ‘My Tribute to the Immortals’. Through her body of work, the one who paid the tribute has also earned that title. Indeed, Lata Mangeshkar is immortal. We will always go back to her songs, for these are no longer just musical tracks; they are part of the heritage of this country.

Favourite Lata Mangeshkar Songs: The Queen Of Everlasting Songs, Film Companion

Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.

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