Hema Malini: Will someone please sign me to play Lataji in her biopic?

Dream Girl Hema Malini admits Lataji’s songs went a long way in making her look like a dream on screen. “In my first film Sapnon Ka Saudagar I had the privilege of Lataji singing two songs for me.”

Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Subhash K Jha

Dream Girl Hema Malini admits Lataji’s songs went a long way in making her look like a dream on screen. “In my first film Sapnon Ka Saudagar I had the privilege of Lataji singing two songs for me Seekha nahin sabak tu ney pyar ka and Nadaan ki dosti jee ki jalan.”

She actually remembers her songs from her first film? “Of course! It was a big privilege to have Lataji sing for a new Tamil girl in her Hindi debut. When I heard my songs in Sapnon Ka Saudagar I began listening to her old songs to understand how deep her talent ran.”

Over the years Lataji not only became indelibly associated professionally but also personally with Hema Malini.

Sighs Hemaji, “I was blessed. She was really really fond of me. Both me and my husband Dharamji. I was the recipient of many gifts from her. She would send me beautiful handpicked sarees. Once she even sent me coffee mugs with my face on them. For someone who barely stepped out of her home it must have taken her so much effort to get the custom-made mugs. But that’s how she was . I have never seen such talent and on top of it such generosity in anyone.”

Hemaji and Lataji were WhatsApp friends. “She sent me so many songs of hers, many of them I had never heard. They are a treasure that I’ll cherish forever. I would also send songs sung by me. She would reply, ‘Kitna achcha gaati aap. Kitni achchi hain aap.’ She was so innocent and so sweet. I am feeling so bad that we only chatted on social media. Why didn’t we meet more often personally? Why do we wait so long to reach out personally to people who matter to us? Now it’s too late.”

I tell Hemaji that The Goddess felt Hemaji was the best person to play ‘Lata Mangeshkar’ if a biopic was made and that she found Hemaji incredibly beautiful.

Hemaji, tired after travelling from her constituency Mathura to Delhi for hours, perks up. “Really?! That Lataji found me beautiful, I know. She would tell me. ‘Aap bahot Sundar hain.’ Coming from the most beautiful voice in the universe, it felt heavenly. But I didn’t know she wanted me to play her in her biopic. I wish some reputed producer would sign me to play her. It would be an honour.”

Hemaji remembers every song that Lataji has sung for her. “She sang beautiful songs for all the heroines. But I’d like to think what she sang for me is a bit more special. From Duniya ka mela mele mein ladki to Do nainon mein aansoo bhare hain, what range of songs she gave me! I am so so thankful to her. I owe my Dream Girl label to her. Some of my favorite songs sung by Lataji for me were Mose mora shyam rootha and Babul pyare in Johny Mera Naam, Aayegi zaroor chitthi and Govinda gopala in Dulhan and most of all Naam gum jayega chehra yeh badal jayega in Gulzarji’s Kinara. That song has become Lataji’s signature tune. I am so proud that I sang it on screen.”

Speaking of Gulzar brings Hema to the saddest incident in her career with Lataji. “My most cherished dream of playing Meerabai came true when Gulzarji made Meera. It was producer Premji who made many hits with me and Dharamji, to whom I suggested a film on Meerabai. Premji readily agreed. He asked me who the best director would be. I suggested Gulzarji. That’s how my dream of playing Meerabai came true. But when Lataji refused to sing the Meera bhajans the project was ruined. Lataji had been my voice all through my career. Now when I was doing my most cherished role she opted out!”

What happened? Hemaji, blunt as ever reveals the truth for the first time. “I personally requested Lataji, ‘Please please aap gayiye. Nahin to Meerabai ki awaaz nahin hogi’. She politely refused saying she had vowed not to sing Meera Bhajans after having sung them for her brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar. ”

Eventually, Pandit Ravi Shankar composed the Meera Bhajans for Meera and Vani Jairam sang them for Hemaji.

Says Hemaji, “I wasn’t even told that Pandit Ravi Shankar was composing for Meera. I got to know later. Vani Jairam is a fine singer. But her voice didn’t suit me. It will remain my one abiding regret that Lataji didn’t sing for me in Meera.”

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