For every Ajeeb daastaan hai yeh and Lag jaa gale, there are hundreds of Lata Mangeshkar songs that have disappeared into obscurity.
To most Indians, Lata Mangeshkar is an integral part of the family. She is, simply, Didi, the ‘voice of the nation’, an avatar of Goddess Saraswati, and someone who pours honey into their ears every day.
Only the second vocalist after Carnatic classical doyenne M.S. Subbulakshmi to be conferred the Bharat Ratna, she was also awarded the Legion of Honour, the highest civilian award in faraway France.
Yet, for all this familiarity, there is a forgotten Lata Mangeshkar — probably a factor of her sheer longevity (she’s been singing professionally since 1942) and her enormous output (some sources say she has sung over 25,000 songs).
For every Ajeeb daastaan hai yeh and Lag jaa gale, for every Raina beeti jaaye and O sajna barkha bahaar aayi, there are hundreds of songs that have disappeared into obscurity.
On the day she turns 89, ThePrint digs up some rare gems that deserve to be studded on the queen’s crown.
Manmohana bade jhoothe (Film: Seema, 1955)
There’s no doubt that among playback singers, male or female, few can match the classical proficiency of Lata. This Shankar-Jaikishan composition in raag Jaijaiwanti is among the shining examples of it, though not very well-known.
Apne saiyaan se naina ladaibe (Film: Ardhangini, 1959)
In the pantheon of Hindi film music composers, Vasant Desai is one who never gets due credit, despite giving us classics like Do Aankhen Barah Haath, Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje and Guddi.
This composition helps bust a double myth — that neither Meena Kumari nor Lata Mangeshkar can pull off a ‘playful’ number.
Bairan neend na aaye (Film: Chacha Zindabad, 1959)
Lata’s relationship with her ‘bhaiya’ Madan Mohan is well-documented — she was his favourite singer, and he probably her favourite composer.
The duo came together for some of the most memorable hits in Hindi cinema history, such as the aforementioned Lag jaa gale, but this classical gem, hidden in a laugh-riot movie, is barely remembered.
Mehtab tera chehra (Film: Aashiq, 1962)
Lata’s countless duets with Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar are some of the finest pieces of music in all of cinema history. But those with Mukesh aren’t far behind, especially because of the usual magnificence of Shankar-Jaikishan.
This one, featuring Raj Kapoor and directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, falls in the same bracket. Except that unlike its more famous siblings like Dam bhar jo udhar munh phere from Awara and Dil ki nazar se from Anari, you probably haven’t heard of it. Probably.
Bedardi dagabaaz ja (Film: Bluff Master, 1963)
Even Shammi Kapoor’s juvenile antics in this Manmohan Desai-directed movie can’t distract you from another Lata masterclass. Kalyanji-Anandji’s music, however, is remembered more for Govinda aala re aala.
Chori chori jo tumse mili (Film: Parasmani, 1963)
It’s a testament to Lata’s wonderful partnership with Laxmikant-Pyarelal that one has to struggle to find a little-known gem. This one comes from the composer duo’s first independent film, Parasmani.
This Lata-Mukesh duet is playful, chirpy, and only eclipsed by the brilliance of the film’s other songs, such as Hansta hua noorani chehra.
Khabar mori na leeni (Film: Sant Gyaneshwar, 1964)
Another early LP-Lata gem, this little-known haunting melody was penned by Bharat Vyas, who wrote many spiritually-inclined songs such as Aye maalik tere bande hum. Lata seems to have imbibed the despair in Vyas’s lyrics to sing this song, which makes it unforgettable.
Ye meri zindagi ek paagal hawa (Film: Ziddi, 1964)
For many years, Lata had her own territory (romantic, soft and sad numbers) while sister Asha was the chosen one for fast-paced, playful numbers, cabarets and mujras. Then Didi fell out with ‘Dada’, S.D. Burman, and thanks to patronage from him and O.P. Nayyar, Asha went full mainstream.
By 1964, the old firm of Dada and Didi had reunited. And the roles were reversed — it’s Lata, not Asha, singing this peppy number picturised on the ever-perky Asha Parekh.
O mere pyaar aa ja (Film: Bhoot Bungla, 1965)
In a horror-comedy film featuring songs as varied as Manna Dey’s Aao twist karein and Kishore Kumar’s haunting Jaago sone waalon, Lata’s pleasant solo is a breath of fresh air.
The young R.D. Burman’s composition and arrangement shines through, but not without the lustre of Lata.
Sapno mein agar mere (Film: Dulhan Ek Raat Ki, 1966)
There are a few songs that — even when you’ve only heard the first few bars — you can pin down as Lata singing for Madan Mohan. This classic, penned by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, belongs firmly in that category.
Koi bechara (Film: Sannata, 1966)
So rare that the only YouTube link we could find for this song was this three-songs-in-one opus! Though we have set the cue for Koi Bechara to play when you click, it would be worth your time to listen to the others too.
The trio that brought us a song as great as Humne dekhi hai from Khamoshi is magnificent here too. Gulzar’s typically unusual lyrics are matched by Hemant Kumar’s complex composition, but Lata is more than equal to the task.
Soch ke ye gagan jhoome (Film: Jyoti, 1969)
Staying with softness, this is Lata and Manna Dey at their finest, singing an S.D. Burman composition. Note how the two vocal maestros tide over Dada Burman’s deceptively difficult tune and rhythm, and produce a duet for the ages.
Pyaas liye manwa humara yeh tarse (Film: Mere Bhaiya, 1972)
It took a while for Salil Chowdhury to appear on this list — his songs with Lata are the stuff of legend. And even when he does appear, it is with a tune that virtually every Bengali-speaker is familiar with — Saat bhai champa jago re jago re.
The Hindi version is slower and more bhajan-like than the Bengali, and much, much more obscure.
Kanha bole na (Film: Sangat, produced in 1976 but unreleased)
Speaking of obscure, we bet you haven’t heard this one, and it’s a shame.
It’s from an unreleased movie directed by the great Basu Bhattacharya, composed by Salil Chowdhury, penned by Jan Nisar Akhtar (the famous Urdu poet and father of Javed Akhtar), and co-sung by Manna Dey.
It’s signature Lata — soft, lilting, melodious; it’ll just warm the cockles of your heart. Just keep your patience with the video above, it’s rare.
Phir kisi shaakh ne (Film: Libaas, produced in 1988 but unreleased)
There are many who believe that apart from Madan Mohan, the composer who got the best out of Lata was R.D. Burman. The partnership lasted from the first song of Pancham’s first release (Chhote Nawab, 1961) to the last song of his last completed film (1942: A Love Story, 1994), and left an indelible mark on listeners’ hearts and minds.
And then there is Libaas, an unloved (at the time), unreleased film on adultery directed by Gulzar which never saw the light of day, barring a couple of film festival screenings.
Each song is sung by Lata; each one is a gem. While Sili hawa chhoo gayi and Khamosh sa afsana are remembered somewhat, this song, more complex and haunting than either, featuring Didi at the absolute peak of her powers, is a Koh-i-noor lost in the dust.
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