Visual Notes

Written by Nasreen Munni Kabir | Updated: May 31 2009, 06:16am hrs
Lata Mangeshkar
I worked hard, recording songs from morning to night. Running from one studio to another. I never felt like doing anything else. I ended up going hungry all day because I didnt even know recording studios had canteens and I could buy something to eat to get some tea. I often went without food and water for the whole day. If someone happened to mention there was a canteen in the studio, then Id eat something. The only thought that preoccupied me was how to look after my family. Somehow.

No, this is not about a struggling starlet but the prima donna of Indian playback singing, Lata Mangeshkar. Her place in Indian cinema is unchallenged, but there has been remarkably little documentation about her. The author of Lata Mangeshkar... In Her Own Voice, (Niyogi Books) Nasreen Munni Kabir, has extended her own pioneering work, a six-part documentary of the same name made for the UKs Channel 4 in 1991.

Kabir, a former governor of the British Film Institute, has added information for this book. She spoke to Lata Mangeshkar over the phone for four months in the middle of 2008 and kept the conversational style for this book. The book is descriptive, often transporting the author to the heyday of Indian film music, when we spent time together, visited each others homes and ate together.

Her memory is remarkable and even reading about the times when music was recorded live, when stars travelled by local trains from studio to studio and playback singers were not even credited are sure to create a wistful longing for Indian music aficionados. There are many anecdotes of times she spent with the legends she worked with, was closest to Ghulam Haider, Khemchand Prakash, Anil Biswas, Naushad, Majrooh Sultanpuri... Her co-singers, Mukesh, Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar find special mention. Though the books comes right up to her recent work, a larger part of the book is fittingly on her initial decades of work, and the photographs recreate the period remarkably. Is there as much as one would want to know about the doyenne You get to know that she loved bicycles but never got to own one, though she uses a Mercedes today! Does that help