“I couldn’t believe I was seated between Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, the two pillars of the music industry, at the premiere of my first Hindi film, Bees Saal Baad,” reminisces Biswajit Chatterjee on Lata Mangeshkar’s 92nd birthday, September 28, adding that the evening became even more magical when after the screening, she invited the film’s producer, composer and singer Hemant Kumar, his wife Bela and him to her home for dinner and hosted them with a lot of warmth.
The film has some Lata Mangeshkar gems, like “Kahin deep jale kahin dil”, which bagged her the Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback Singer. It’s one of Biswajit’s favourite songs by the Melody Queen. He remembers sitting in Hemant Kumar’s music room and watching him create the song, written first in Bengali by Gauriprasanna Mazundar, then translated in Hindi by Shakeel Badayuni.
“Aye mere watan ke logon”, which she sang live at the capital’s Republic Day function in 1963, commemorating the soldiers martyred in the Indo-Sino war, is another favourite, along with the patriotic song from Anand Math, “Vande Mataram” and Do Aankhen Barah Haath’s hymn, “Aye malik tere bande hum”.
The Manna Dey-Lata duet from Shree 420, “Pyaar hua ikrar hua”, Madan Mohan’s melodious “Aap ki nazron ne samjha” for Anpadh, “Ajeeb dastan hai yeh” from Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai and Asli Naqli’s “Tera mera pyaar amar” both scored by Shankar-Jaikishan, “Rangeela re tere rang mein” from another Dev Anand starrer, Prem Pujari, and Barsaat’s “Jiya beqaraar hai” are other songs on his playlist.
“There are more, many more, including Jaagte Raho’s “Jaago Mohan pyare” and Satyam Shivam Sunderam’s title track. I had watched Mahal and Anarkali during my college days and they had kindled in me the desire to become an actor, which is perhaps why “Ayeaga ayega, ayeega aanewala ayega” and “Yeh zindagi usi ki hai” still haunts me. Lata Mangeshkar is our Saraswati; God sent her to earth to sing,” the actor-producer says emotionally.
Biswajit is a singer himself and he remembers flying with her to London in 1990 for a Mohd. Rafi nite in London’s Wembley Stadium, organized by the late singer’s son. “There were other big names from Bollywood, including Shammi Kapoor, Jeetendra, Shabana Azmi, Farooq Shaikh, Sulakshana Pandit, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Mohd. Aziz and Shabbir Kumar. Ashaji performed at the other concert in Birmingham, Lataji didn’t sing, but she went on stage to light the ceremonial lamp to flag off the concert at Wembley,” he recounts, remembering how they had watched Rafi sahab sing “Suhani raat dhal chuki na jaane tum kab aaogi” on the big screen and Lataji murmuring, “Kya the Rafi sahab, kya gaana gaate the…”
On that occasion, former cricketer Raj Singh Dungarpur invited all of them to watch India play England as his guests at the stadium. “But England’s captain David Gooch scored a triple century in that Test and we were not interested in watching him hammer our bowlers some more,” laughs Biswajit, explaining why they declined the invitation.
He was with Lataji at another charity concert, this one organized by Saurav Ganguly in Kolkata. But the one interaction that remains memorable is an SD Burman recording. “I noticed that Lataji was wearing a beautiful ring with five stones. When I complimented her, she touched it to her forehead and confided that when she was a little girl, the great Kundal Lal Saigal had liked one of her songs and gifted it to her and that she had treasured it since,” he narrates.
Biswajit had invited her to attend his annual Durga Puja celebrations in 2006. “She could not come, but she sent me a personal note (see pic) which really touched me,” he shares.
When Lata Mangeshkar launched her Hindi album, ‘Shraddhanjali — My Tribute to the Immortals’, he was at a concert with Usha Mangeshkar who handed the phone to him saying Didi wanted to speak to him. “Lataji told me she had sung a song from one of my films (“Yeh nayan dare dare” from Kohraa as a tribute to Hemant Kumar) and wanted me as a guest at the launch function. I had a shoot in Kolkata and even though I tried hard, I could not make it much to my disappointment. However, I could attend another function at the Andheri Sports Complex in Mumbai. Lataji was on stage when I walked in to take my place in the front row. She spotted me and graciously greeted me with a namaste. I will always treasure that moment,” Biwajit signs off emotionally.