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I must start by stating the obvious. Every actress wanted Lata Mangeshkar to sing for her. So if we try to play our ‘paired associate’ game to link an actress to a playback singer we would find a many-to-one mapping always pointing towards Lata Mangeshkar!

But let us start our game anyway with the beautiful Madhubala. When Madhubala was in a playful mood, Asha Bhosle’s voice seemed to fit her the best.  Especially in duets like haal kaisa hai janaab ka from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, achcha ji mai haari from Kala Pani, ek pardesi mera dil le gaya from Phagun or the utterly delightful solo aaiye meherbaan from Howrah Bridge. Geeta Dutt’s voice worked just as well; just listen to thandi hawa kali ghata or chal diye banda nawaz to see how well Geeta adapts to Madhubala’s many moods in Mr and Mrs 55.

But if you close your eyes deeply and try to visualize Madhubala singing, you’ll probably hear Lata’s voice singing either aayega aane waala, guzra huwa zamana, bekas pe karam kijiye … or of course this immortal song:

Let us now look at Vyjayantimala, and I’m trying to think of songs picturized on her but not sung by Lata Mangeshkar. There was a lovely song from Bahar, saiyan dil mein aana re sung by Shamshad Begum, there was daiya re daiya sung by Asha Bhosle in Leader … why we even had titli udi sung by Sharda in Suraj.

However it is Lata once again who has sung the best songs for Vyjayantimala. It started with mana dole mera tan dole and mera dil ye pukare aaja from Nagin. There was ghadi ghadi mora dil dhadke from Madhumati, dhundo dhundo re sajana from Ganga Jumna, the slightly outrageous main ka karoon ram mujhe buddha mil gaya from Sangam and the sensuous tadap ye din raat ki from Amrapali. But my pick for the best Lata-Vyjayantimala song would still be this:

We now turn our gaze towards Nutan. Nutan acted in far fewer films than some of her contemporaries, but still leaves behind memories of some outstanding performances especially in films directed by Bimal Roy. Although Nutan probably favoured Lata — and Lata most definitely liked singing for Nutan because of her splendid lip-sync — we have some great Nutan songs not sung by Lata. For example kaali ghata chaye sung by Asha Bhosle in Sujata, and nigahein milane ko jee chahta hai again by Asha Bhosle in Dil Hi To Hai — where Nutan doesn’t look too comfortable dancing.

But Nutan-Lata offers an infinitely richer choice: mana mohana bade jhoothe from Seema, chupke chupke rukte rukte from Paying Guest, baaje payal chhun chhun from Chhalia — which was very much a Nutan-kind of song — mora gora ang lai le from Bandini and the delightful duet woh chand khila from Anari. But my best Nutan-Lata pick is another chand song:

Mention Waheeda Rehman and many would pair her to Lata Mangeshkar from any of the classic songs from Guide; aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai or piya tose naina laage re. Or kahin deep jale kahin dil and sapne suhaane ladakpan ke from Bees Saal Baad or the mesmerizing o bekaraar dil from Kohraa (that will remind Bengali readers of a much-loved Hemanta song). We also have several delightful songs sung for Waheeda Rehman by Asha Bhosle: bhanwara bada nadaan hai from Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam,  pan khaye sainyaan from Teesri Kasam… and none more delightful than sach hue sapne tere from Kala Bazar.

But Waheeda’s best performances have arguably been in her films with Guru Dutt: Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool and Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam, in which Geeta Dutt was often the lead female playback singer. Think of jaane kya tune kahi … or think of this hauntingly memorable poem by Kaifi Azmi which is my best Waheeda-Geeta pick.


I had so many choices for the fifth actress in this list: Saira Banu, Asha Parekh, Sharmila Tagore, Mala Sinha … but I eventually picked Sadhana because she had many more solo songs picturized on her: Think of mila hai kisi ka jhumka and o sajana from Parakh, tera mera pyaar amar from Asli Naqli, main to tum sang nain milake from Manmauji, mere mehboob tujhe from Mere Mehboob, naina barse from Woh Kaun Thi, Or Asha’s memorable kaun aaya ke nigahon mein from Waqt and jhumka gira re from Mera Saaya.

Sadhana therefore has a fair collection of solo songs sung by Asha Bhosle, including this Sadhana-Asha duet that must rank as one of Asha’s best ever solos.

Indeed, right through the 1950s and 1960s Asha sang a series of delightful songs, but they were seldom for the leading lady unless it was a composition by O P Nayyar or Ravi (or by S D Burman during the days he had a tiff with Lata). At best Asha sang duets — which I want to exclude as far as possible in this compilation.The real Asha came to the forefront only in the 1970s with some splendid compositions by R D Burman and those magical songs from Khayyam in the 1980s for Umrao Jaan.

8 thoughts on “She sings for her

  1. What an impressively researched post Srinivas! Thank you for reminding me of so many lovely songs! I’ll have to think hard if i want to demur with any of your choices I think…you have made some excellent picks. My only complaint is that you have left Geeta Dutt singing for Madhubala – I think they were beautifully paired even though the number of songs are limited. Why did you leave Geeta out? She had such a delightful voice! Trying to track down all Geeta-Madhubala songs, , i did a google search and came upon this very interesting article : http://www.geetadutt.com/blog/?p=574. The writer seems to agree with me re Madhubala & Geeta!

  2. Very nice Srinivas. And a very beautiful choice of songs. Lata is undoubtedly our pride and joy, but I am glad “Waqt ne kiya” and “Adhuri pyaas …” made the cut. You don’t think the Parakh song “O Sajana” is the best on Sadhna?

  3. Pu La Deshpande, in a 1967 appreciation, wrote:
    “Lata is blessed with a voice box that can hit the centre of ‘the circle of rhythm’ while picking even the millionth smidgen of its flowing harmony. Not only the consonants but also the vowels in her song are full of texture. Lata sings a lullaby, “धीरे से आ जा“, where the light sprinkling of harmony, as if touched by the divine, begins soon after “आ जा”. Any artist will find it difficult to capture those bearings. It is not easy to juggle the notes at the right spot. I find her singing exceptional during such moments. Just like the sprinkling of notes in this solo, a lullaby that shakes you up from your sleep, are innumerable others that are hidden in every pore of the hundreds of vinyls that play her songs. It is difficult to express what is sharper, the tip of the stylus that turns in the pores of microgroove record while playing her songs, or the melody that comes out of those pores.
    In ‘the dawn song(भूपाळी)’ by Honaji Bala, the words ‘आनंदकंदा प्रभात झाली‘ are completed with the ‘eee’ sound which penetrates the Shadja (षड्जं) exactly like the tip of the aforementioned stylus. There is a similar spot in ‘जा जा रे जा साजना‘. In ‘कैसे दिन बीते कैसी बीती रतियाँ‘ after ‘हाये’ there is a similar scattering of melody. There are plenty of other examples! Madgulkar, in his poem called ‘जोगिया’, describes the melody coming out of heroine’s throat as ‘स्वरवेल थरथरे फूल उमटले ओठी’ (when the ivy vine of melody shivers, a flower blossoms on her lips). Lata’s voice often remind me of this line. Her songs are like the flower on the vine of melody. Hundreds of such flowers have blossomed in the past 25 years, and how so simply. This is a garden of several flowers where words, melody and rhythm appear in amazing sizes, smells and colours.”

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