A voice that enthralled generations

Lata Mangeshkar, Prasoon Joshi and A.R. Rahman
Lata Mangeshkar, Prasoon Joshi and A.R. Rahman

Summary

‘I can’t think of a musician anywhere who remained active for so many decades and gave voice to the dreams, joys and sorrows of so many generations’, Prasoon Joshi said

Like Indians everywhere today, I’m deeply anguished by Lata ji’s departure. She was an artist whose accomplishments have no parallel, both in the breadth of work and the depth of sentiment she took listeners to. I can’t think of a musician anywhere who remained active for so many decades and gave voice to the dreams, joys and sorrows of so many generations.

I was fortunate to know her and to have worked with her, even though she had started to become less active by the time I started writing for films.

Photo: HT
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Photo: HT

We have, in fact, been working on a song together for the last year-and-a-half.

Sadly, she had not been in good health, and we could not make progress. It was supposed to be a song dedicated to the daughters of India.

She had this intense feeling about being a desh ki beti (daughter of the nation). She took great pride in it and wanted to sing about its beauty her desire to take birth again as a desh ki beti. Mohe janam janam bitiya ki ho is the song that she meant to dedicate to India’s daughters.

That would have been our last song together. Our first song together, which was also my first song in movies, was also on women’s empowerment.

This was the title track for Rajkumar Santoshi’s Lajja (2001), named Kaun Dagar Kaun Sheher, composed by Ilaiyaraaja. It’s a tremendous stroke of good fortune that I got to work with two legends in my very first song.

I remember that experience very distinctly. I was in my early twenties and working with O&M (the advertising agency). I was shooting for an ad in Goregaon, and I got a call from Mr Santoshi’s office saying Lata ji has started for the studio in Worli and you need to get there in half an hour. I ran as fast as I could, jumped into a train, switched to another train and somehow managed to reach there, sweating and panting.

Lata ji had reached by then. I ran into a washroom, freshened up a bit and then went to meet her, fully nervous.

She put me at ease completely and talked to me about the song and its nuances. I had used the word pawan for hawa. She wanted to know if pawan was masculine or feminine. That’s how she went into the depths of the soul of a song. She paid attention to every word cared about every syllable. She wouldn’t just come, sing and leave. She would get really involved.

Years later, we worked together on Luka Chuppi for Rang De Basanti. This was not a planned song. A.R. Rahman and I were in the studio together working on the background score, and when we reached the part where Waheeda Rehman was watching her son’s body, I was very moved by the chords he had composed. So I discussed this idea of a mother and son playing hide-and-seek with him, and I wrote that song right there in the studio.

I remember Lata ji came to Chennai, and for four days, she stayed there. Every day, she would come to the studio and rehearse, and she would say, I’m not ready. It was only on the fourth day that she agreed to do the take. It went on to become a classic.

Can you imagine an artist of her stature spending four days to get a song right? It was not as if she was uncomfortable with technology, or she couldn’t just sing her part in Mumbai. Instead, she preferred to do it the old-fashioned way, working with everyone involved in a song.

That generation was different. There is a lot to learn from the way they worked. She carried the great values of that generation. She cared about all the artists who worked on a song. She carried herself with tremendous grace and humility, but she also had great authority. You couldn’t take her presence lightly.

She was a bridge between generations of singers, writers, directors and composers. She will always live among us.

Prasoon Joshi is a poet-songwriter, communications professional and screenwriter.

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