Music of India: Lata Mangeshkar

Lata Mangeshkar
b. September 28, 1929

Lata Mangeshkar

Lata Mangeshkar is the best-known and respected female singer in the history of Indian film music. She is probably best known as a playback singer for Bollywood films. Playback singers often record songs for use in films.

The Indian Hindi-language film industry is referred to as Bollywood and is based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and is one of the largest centers of film production in the world. The word is a portmanteau of “Bombay” and “Hollywood”. The most popular commercial genre of Bollywood is the masala film, which freely mixes action, comedy, drama, romance, and melodrama along with musical numbers. Masala films can generally be considered musicals. Indian cinema has been the largest producer of musicals in the world since the 1960s, when it exceeded America’s musical film output. Playback singers record songs for the film soundtracks, and the actors lip-sync said songs for the cameras.

Aap ki sewa mein poster

Poster for the 1947 Hindi film Aap ki sewa mein which features an early example of Mangeshkar’s work

Lata Mangeshkar is said to have recorded more film songs than any other singer. She has recorded songs in over a thousand (!!) Hindi films and has sung songs in over thirty-six regional Indian languages and foreign languages, though primarily in Marathi, Hindi and Bengali.

Music really has been the driving force in Mangeshkar’s life. Her father Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar was a classical singer and theatre actor. She received her first lessons in music from her father and was performing as an actress in her father’s plays by the age of five. She is the elder sister of singers Asha Bhosle, Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Usha Mangeshkar and Meena Mangeshkar, all accomplished musicians and singers in their own right.

In 1942 when Mangeshkar was 13, her father died of heart disease and Lata immediately joined the Bollywood film industry as an actress-singer to help support her family.

Here is a Youtube clip from Azaad a 1955 film which features Mangeshkar’s voice:

Lata Mangeshkar has received many awards and honors during the course of her career. India’s highest award in cinema, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, was bestowed on her in 1989 by the Government of India. She also has been awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor.

In 1974, The Guinness Book of Records listed Mangeshkar as the most recorded artist in the history, stating that she had reportedly recorded “not less than 25,000 solo, duet and chorus backed songs in 20 Indian languages” between 1948 and 1974. (The actual number of songs she has recorded is a matter of some dispute. Regardless, she is certainly ONE of the most recorded artists in the world.)

Here is a Youtube clip of the song “Tujhe Dekha To Ye Jaana Sanam” (“My love, when I saw you then I realized” per Google translate) sung by Mangeshkar and Kumar Sanu from the 1995 Bollywood film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (transl. The Big-Hearted Will Take the Bride, per Wikipedia):

In addition to singing, Mangeshkar has composed music for five films and also produced four films. Her career spans over seven decades now and she has only recently begun to show signs of slowing down (a bit) at the age of 91. Her influence on Indian film and popular music is profound.

Here is a small sampling of library resources concerning Lata Mangeshkar, Bollywood, and Indian popular music:

“Lata Mangeshkar”, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001) (Reference entry)
Global Divas: Voices from Women of the World (1995) (CD)
“Lata Mangeshkar”, The Palgrave Dictionary of Women’s Biography (2005) (Reference entry)
Bollywood Sounds: The Cosmopolitan Mediations of Hindi Film Song by Jayson Beaster-Jones (2015) (Book)
Rough Guide to Bollywood (2002) (CD)
There’ll Always Be Stars in the Sky: The Indian Film Music Phenomenon (2003) (DVD)
More Than Bollywood: Studies in Indian Popular Music edited by Gregory D. Booth and Bradley Shope (2014) (Book)
Focus: Popular Music in Contemporary India by Natalie Rose Sarrazin (2020) (Book)

Music of India