The Dilip Kumar-Lata Mangeshkar connection, Lataji on her Yusuf Bhaiyya
Over last few days a lot of monstrous misinformation masquerading as inside information has been shamelessly broadcast by writers trying to show their proximity to the Goddess of All Melodious Things
Over the last few days a lot of monstrous misinformation masquerading as inside information has been shamelessly broadcast by writers trying to show their proximity to the Goddess of All Melodious Things. The most evil and deceitful untruth about Lataji’s life is the one being propagated by “insiders” about her relationship with Dilip Kumar.
According to these know-alls, Lataji and Dilip Saab were at war for many years after she out-sang him in the duet Lagi nahin chute rama for Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Musafir in 1957.
This is a complete fabrication. Yes, Dilip Saab had requested Lataji to keep in mind the fact that he was no singer before recording the historic number. But there was no ill-will or grudge because she sounded better, much better.
As the film’s director Hrishikesh Mukherjee told me, “The greatest of singers in the world were nothing compared with Lata. That she would sing better than Dilip was a given, no one was surprised, least of all Dilip.”
The truth is, India’s most cherished singer Lata Mangeshkar and the country’s most accomplished actor Dilip Kumar doted on one another. Dilip Saab referred to his Choti Bahen Lata with the same affection that he would have for his biological sisters. And in fact, when Lataji gave her first live concert abroad at the Albert hall in London it was Dilip Saab who introduced his ‘Choti Bahen’ to the international audience comparing her voice to a baby’s cry and the sound of water streaming through a mountain.
“Yes, he spoke so beautifully about me when I performed live for the first time in London,” Lataji had told me, recalling, “We go back a very long way. He has been most instrumental in shaping my career. I’ll tell you how. When I was just starting out I was introduced to Dilip Saab as a new promising singer. That was the era when Noorjehan, with her full throaty voice, ruled. Dilip Saab asked where I was from. When told I was from Maharashtra he quipped, ‘Then the smell of chawal-daal will be heard in her singing’. That remark stung me. I decided I’d perfect my diction. I hired a maulvi to work on my Urdu. That’s how my pronunciation became what it did.”
In 1957 Lataji got the rarest of rare opportunities to sing a duet with Dilip Kumar.
In her words to me, “It was for Hrishida (filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukerjee)’s film Musafir. Salilda (Salim Chowdhary) composed the number Ja ja re sugna ja re…Laagi nahin chhute rama chahe jiya jaye. Singing with him was not like singing with a non-professional singer. Dilip Saab is a perfectionist and he practised for months for that duet with me.”
Apparently, Dilip Saab requested his Choti Bahen Lata to keep in mind the fact that he was not a professional singer while recording.
Said Lataji, “He has been my elder brother and I, his younger sister for decades now. I met him last a few years ago when I went to visit him. I thought he wouldn’t recognize me. But he did and here is what I did to jog his memory. I sat down next to him and said the opening words of our song, ‘Lagi nahi chhute rama’. He looked back at me and smiled and said the rest of the first line, ‘Chahe jiya jaye.’ There is a special place in his living room where Sairaji makes him sit when meeting guests. But he insisted on sitting next to me. He also insisted that I feed him with my hands. I fed him some paneer. Then it was time for me to go. He wanted to see me off. But Sairaji insisted she would do it. I wasn’t able to visit him after that, much as I wanted to.”
What about the comment that Dilip Saab made about the smell of daal-chawal in Lataji’s Marathi accent? It was because of his prompting that Lataji who was fluent in Hindi and Marathi and decided at a very young age to educate herself in the Urdu language.
The year was 1947 and both Lataji and Dilip Saab—she a struggling singer and he an aspiring actor—used to travel by local trains. One day Lataji was introduced to Dilip Saab on a train by composer Anil Biswas.
After the initial pleasantries when Yusuf Saab came to know Lataji was a singer he commented casually on how being a Maharashtrian she would have a tough time mastering the Urdu language.
Rather than hold a grudge for Dilip Saab’s critical remark, Lataji was actually thankful to him. “If I am challenged I have to prove the other person wrong. I took it up as a challenge to improve my Urdu. I employed a maulana to teach me the nuances of the language. And I made sure my diction and my pronunction were adequate.”
Lataji’s Urdu pronunciation in her Ghazals was considered flawless.
Said the Nightingale. “Thank you for saying that. For that, I have my Yusuf Bhaiyya to thank. From that meeting on the train in 1947, he has remained my brother. In recent years we don’t meet that often. But we care deeply for one another. Both Yusuf Saab and Sairaji are very dear to me.”