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Lata Mangeshkar, the Nightingale of India, passed away due to Corona related complications on Sunday, Feb 6. Ninety-two-year-old Lata started singing for films when she was barely 13. In her 80-year career, she has sung thousands of film songs in perhaps all the languages of India. She left an imprint in Tamil too, with a few unforgettable numbers.
Lata Mangeshkar’s first song for a film made in Tamil was in 1987. The movie was Anand, and the song Aararo, that has since become go to lullaby for many Tamils. The composer was Ilayaraja. Yet, even as far back as 1952, her voice rang in Tamil. Mehboob Khan’s Aan was dubbed and released in Tamil. The Tamil lyrics were written by Kambadasan and the music was by Naushad. Lata sang the songs, Izhanthen Unai Anbe, Indru Enthan Nenjil Saki and Nagaru Nagaru in Tamil version. However, her Tamil pronunciation was not up to the mark, so the songs were recorded again in the voice of MS Rajeswari. Tujhe Kho Diya Hamne, Aaj Man Mein Sakhi, and Gao Tarane Man Ke were the Hindi equivalents of the three songs that Lata sang.
When Sivaji Ganesan came home after finishing a film shoot, Lata Mangeshkar and her sisters hugged him in tears. Only then did Sivaji’s family come to know that he was the spitting image of her father Dinanath Mangeshkar. Since then, the two families have remained close.
Instead of Shamshad Begum, Soolamangalam Rajalakshmi sang her songs. Ezhanthen Unai by Lata is still there on YouTube.
Naushad’s Uran Khatola was released as Vaana Ratham in Tamil. While T A Mothi substituted for Mohammed Rafi, Lata sang most of her songs in Tamil too. Enthan Kannalan Karai Nokki Pogiran, Enai Kande Eghuvay, En Ullam Vittu Odathe were rendered in Tamil in her childlike voice.
While Lata grew up listening to Marathi, Gujarati and Hindi songs, her Urdu diction was found below par. She therefore made it a point to learn the language to improve her pronunciation. Although she didn’t make that effort in Tamil, Ilayaraja was able to overcome the challenge her diction posed. Sivaji Productions, which produced Anand supported the idea of Lata singing in Tamil. And there’s a backstory to it.
Sivaji and Dinanath Mangeshkar
Lata Mangeshkar lost her father Dinanath Mangeshkar when she was 13. Her siblings, Meena, Usha, Asha and Hridayanath were all younger to her. The five who grew up seeing their father largely only in photographs saw the film Paava Mannippu in Mumbai. Struck by the movie, they flew down to Chennai and went straight to Sivaji Ganesan’s house Annai Illam.
Sivaji’s mother, brother and sisters thought Lata had come to discuss a film. Lata and her siblings hadn’t told about why they came. When Sivaji came home after finishing a film shoot, they all hugged him in tears. Only then did Sivaji’s family come to know that he was the spitting image of Dinanath Mangeshkar. Since then, the two families have remained close.Sivaji’s son Ramkumar recalled this at an event.
For Sivaji Productions, getting Lata to sing in Tamil was only natural. The lullaby she sang, Aararo, was a duet, Lata’s soothing voice pervades in that song.
After Anand, Lata sang the song Engirintho Azhaikkum Un Geetham in the movie, En Jeevan Paduthu. In the film, the hero is dead and the heroine still loves his soul. Though her love for her man never dims, the heroine knows her love would remain unfulfilled. Lata effortlessly conveyed that sense of loss and forlorn quality of the song.
The youth in her voice
The love song Valai osai in the 1988 film Sathya still remains the hallmark for romance in Tamil films. Sung by Lata and SPB, the song has an interesting back story. Apparently, Ilayaraja had composed the tune for his album, How To Name It, but didn’t use it. When Kamal Haasan listened to it, he asked for that song for Sathya. Lyricist Vaali used repetitive words stacked one after another to keep up the tempo in the song.
Ilayaraja had his doubts about giving the song to Lata as it had tough Tamil words. Vaali insisted that the lyrics should be retained and he wouldn’t simplify it. But Lata rendered it with aplomb. Till today, the song is the essence of romance. For couples, it means togetherness. Lata’s lines and SPB’s lines would mesh seamlessly.
Lata’s pronunciation of the Tamil letters la, lla and zha may not have matched that of Tamil singers. But her voice and the feeling she brought to the song more than made up for her limitations. The song picturisation by Suresh Krishna also helped to lift the song.
The love song Valai osai in the 1988 film Sathya still remains the hallmark for romance in Tamil films. Ilayaraja had his doubts about giving the song to Lata as it had tough Tamil words. Lyricist Vaali insisted that the lyrics should be retained and he wouldn’t simplify it. But Lata rendered it with aplomb.
When Ilayaraja got the Padma Bhushan, Lata Mangeshkar, in her speech, talked about the genius in the composer. She said that more than singing in Tamil what was challenging was singing to Ilayaraja’s standards.
Lata outdid herself in Tamil through the song Inge Ponveenai Enge Sangeetham in the movie Kannukkoru Vannakkili. But the film was never released. The song remains a standout number. It seemed to capture Lata’s personality and her life too. She was the golden veena of the song.
Tamil singers Jikki and Rajeswari have voices similar to Lata. But it was S Janaki who could create the same resonance as Lata. Jiya Jale in the movie Dil Se was rendered as Nenjinile by Janaki in Tamil. Two women who had crossed their 70s had lent their voice to a Preity Zinta who was only in her 20s. Only the discerning could spot the difference between the voice singing the Hindi song and the voice rendering the Tamil version.
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