When Lata Mangeshkar almost lost her voice

It is said that jealous rivals had arranged to poison her voice. That’s how she almost lost it in 1961

Lata Mangeshkar
Lata Mangeshkar

Subhash K Jha

Meri awaaz hi pehchan hai…The voice that has defined beauty, harmony, grace, and humanism for millions of Indians for over seven decades almost got stilled.

The year was 1961. By then Lataji had already become the voice of the nation, the first choice for every heroine. Top leading ladies like Nargis, Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Nutan, Vyjanthimala and Waheeda Rehman wanted no other voice. Many of them said so contractually.

Such success is bound to have its share of animosity. Sure, enough Lataji’s voice began to trouble her to the extent that recordings began to be cancelled. Though she blamed it on a serious sinus infection the truth is, a lot of her well-wishers believe she was being slow-poisoned.

At this juncture composer-singer Hemant Kumar stepped in with the haunting Kahin deep jale kahin dil for the ghost story Bees Saal Baad.

Recalling the nightmarish time Lataji said to me, “Many thought it was the end for me. I just couldn’t sing! Thrice I tried to do Hemantda’s song Kahin deep jale kahin dil. Each time I found I my voice faltering. There was something seriously wrong. I told Hemantda to go ahead and record the song with someone else. But he was adamant. ‘It will be you, or no song at all. I’ll wait.’ He gave me strength to recover. He wasn’t alone. The entire entertainment industry prayed for me.”

Sure, enough Lataji’s voice recovered and she gave a rousing performance singing that exquisite composition.

And to think doctors had warned he she would not be able to sing again!

Lataji said to me. “If you want something done from me all you have to do is tell me I can’t do it.I cannot accept a ‘no’ for anything. It was a very challenging phase for me. I could have given up my career so early. But I refused to listen to what others said.”

It is this resilience that now holds Lataji in good stead as she recovers from her illness. She has pulled out this health crisis because she won’t allow herself to go before, she wants to. There is a lot of unfinished business to attend to. Lataji is not going anywhere.

Kahin deep jale kahin dil fetched Lataji her second Filmfare award. She accepted only one more Filmfare award (for the song Aap mujhe achche lagne lage in the film Jeena Ki Raah) before bowing out of the Filmfare awards.

“I wanted other singers to get a chance to be recognized,” she explained.

Isn’t this thought in direct contradiction to the allegations of monopoly that followed Lataji’s career right till present times? In fact, it is said that jealous rivals had arranged to poison her voice. That’s how she almost lost it in 1961.

She replied softly, “I’ve heard these rumours too. But I refuse to accept that anyone would want to harm me. Far from discouraging other singers I always tried to encourage new talent. When I couldn’t sing a particular song, I recommended my colleagues. But if composers wanted only my voice, there is little I could do to change their mind.”

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