So how does one pick the top ten? Why does one like a song? What are the drivers that influence one’s choice?
I’m sure drivers vary from person to person. The raag fanatics probably enjoy a faithful realization. Accomplished singers might like a song more because they know how hard it is to sing it. Others might like it simply because it is composed by their favourite music director.
So what are my drivers? I like melody, lilt and songs that stir emotions: both the joie the vivre stuff and the melancholy stuff. I am also influenced by the way a song is ‘picturized’; so if the heroine is looking stunning beautiful a good song can become great. I also like a song if it is associated with strong personal memories. Sometimes I like a song because someone very dear likes that song.
The opposite criterion is also valid. Sometimes I like a song because someone I know does not like the song. I know this is being mad, quirky and irrational. But so bloody what? After all, the world has never been iid or logical.
So here we go. We are blessed to live during the time that Lata Mangeshkar lived. Has any singer given us greater joy? How do I find words to express that joy? I probably need a language that has wazan. I probably need to say it in Urdu. But why say it myself when he can say it?
Listen to this tribute first, and then we’ll move on.
Now we are ready to start!
Ajeeb dastaan hai yeh
There’s something about 1960. Lata was singing her best; as indeed was Rafi. The composers were in splendid form, and there were so many of them! I’m glad I was living then, although I was barely 4 years old. There’s something about this song that stirs me. They are on a boat, they are celebrating. The doctor Raaj Kumar is going to marry a rich and eligible girl (Nadira). The poor nurse (Meena Kumari), who secretly loved the doctor, is distraught. They play a ‘passing-the-parcel’ kind of game in which the loser must sing. The loser is poor Meena Kumari. And she sings this song questioning the meaning of life. This song is heavenly!
Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, Shankar-Jaikishan, 1960
They say that back in the late 1960s, Lata herself picked her selection of favourite songs … and this song topped the list! It is easy to see why. Lata is singing so very well; perhaps because she had already sung na jeona by then. Even as she starts ‘o sajana’ followed by the twang of the sitar, there’s a rush of blood that goes straight to the brain. It is heady; it is magical. And then there’s Sadhana looking unbelievably lovely in the rain. Aur kya chahiye mian?
Parakh, Salil Chowdhury, 1960
Kuchh dil ne kahaa
When the film was first released it was the other Lata Anupama song (dheere dheere machal) that topped the charts. But listen to this … listen to the delightful light music, listen to how beautifully Lata articulates every word, look at Sharmila blushing, look at the utterly handsome Dharmendra. And the lyrics: kaliyon se koi puchhta hai, hasti hai woh ya roti hai?. Is it any wonder that my sister-in-law absolutely adores this song?
Anupama, Hemant Kumar, 1967.
We were over three years into B.Stat. and our dear friend Anirban DasGupta hadn’t seen a single Hindi film. Clearly a cholbe na situation. So when Do Raaste showed up at the cinema hall next door, we dragged Anirban forcibly despite his most vehement protests. Then he saw the film, saw Mumtaz and was besotted! I love this song for its energy and because it is quintessential Laxmikant-Pyarelal. The unmistakable LP ‘dhin-chik’ is at its best and Lata’s voice has changed a wee bit, but is still amazingly good. I’m not surprised this song topped the Binaca chart of 1969.
Do Raaste. Laxmikant-Pyarelal, 1969
Tum na jaane kis jahaan
This is one for the heart. When you feel sad, or feel that agonizing pain at the loss of a loved one, this is the song that starts playing in the inner sanctum of your heart. And don’t miss that still girlish streak in Lata’s voice, which appears a trifle incongruous since she seems too young to pine for a lost love. But an absolute masterpiece that announced Lata’s ascent on the pedestal vacated by Noor Jehan. She would stay up there for three decades!
Sazaa. S D Burman, 1951.
Aapki nazaron ne
They associate Madan Mohan and Lata with the most enchanting ghazals … and I think this is their best offering together. When an average singer sings, she simply pronounces the word. When a great singer sings, she caresses every word exhibiting amazing vocal variations … can I say she almost makes love to every word? Hear this song again. Sing it privately to yourself. Then hear Lata sing it. Just hear her sing yeh hame manzoor hai aapka yeh faislaa … oh, it is ecstasy, it is the ultimate bliss!
Anpadh. Madan Mohan. 1962
Dam bhar jo
I had to pick this song because I think it is one of the most passionate Hindi film songs ever picturized. There’s the moon acting as the intermediary, there are those ripples in the moonlight-bathed sea but it is mostly about the passion in Nargis and Raj Kapoor’s eyes.
Awara. Shankar-Jaikishan. 1951
This is my ultimate melody pick. It helps that Vyjayantimala is dancing with infinite grace, but this is about what Salil Chowdhury could achieve with Lata Mangeshkar. When you compose a tune like this, you know instantly that it is a winner; like Sachin probably knows when he just taps into that straight drive heading straight to the long-on boundary. Salil knew it too. That’s why he introduced this tune in the middle of aaja re pardesi to embellish that song even more.
Madhumati. Salil Chowdhury, 1958.
Mohe bhool gaye
It was one of those wintry nights on B T Road in Kolkata (Calcutta, those days). There was some kind of celebration on. Folks had assembled, with shawls wrapped around because it was kind of cold. Soon enough the celebration metamorphosed into a singing show. Most songs were in Bengali, most were Rabindrasangeet. And then this young research scholar from Andhra Pradesh stepped forward, and suddenly burst into song. She sang a Hindi song that I could immediately relate to! I must confess it was the first time I had heard this Naushad-Lata classic. I must have since heard it 1000 times … make it 1001 because I’ve just clicked again on the link below. Such a pristine pure voice of anguish!
Baiju Bawra. Naushad. 1952
Hum thhey jinke sahaare
This is the sort of song that came very easily to Lata. No great musical complexity or singing gymnastics here … just a simple lovely song. They must have finished the recording very quickly. I picked this because of the touching lyrics and the way Lata embellished these words of despair. Listen to ret ki hai deeware, jo chahihe gira de. This is one Kalyanji-Anandji wall I would never break down.
Safar. Kalyanji-Anandji. 1970