Lata Mangeshkar : the voice of feminism in post colonial India

Lata Mangeshkar : the voice of feminism in post colonial India

By – Arundhati Mitra, Kolkata : The concept of a nation across cultures is essentially a feminine one  and its identity synonymous with that of a mother . As our  young and  newly independent nation was slowly shaping its identity  in its post colonial period , it needed a voice that could best contain its heritage , its culture , its historical legacy ,its art , religion and above all the aspirations of its people . 

And that voice was none other than that of Lata Mangeshkar ! 

Fondly called by the entire musical fraternity as Lata didi , ( a sister who nurtures and cares ) her pleasant demeanour, her dignified presence and her   ethereal voice sealed her place in the hearts of millions for ever .

Her personal life of struggle since the age of thirteen  as the single earning member of a family of a younger brother , three sisters and an ailing mother  got compounded with her professional  struggle to prove her mettle . Despite the initial rejection that she faced for her voice being “ too thin “ , she rose to unprecedented levels of popularity and stardom and eventually became the voice of feminism in India , at a time when  the latter word was not even heard of . 

It will be perhaps extremely pertinent to mention here that she not only lived her life  according to her own terms , but reached the pinnacle of success in what was otherwise a clearly male dominated industry . Needless to say this success was hard earned in an era when a woman had no voice whatsoever , let alone her ability to rightfully demand a fair share of money or recognition in her profession as against her male counterpart . 

As the mainstream  national Cinema started gaining momentum in the post colonial period ,  it posed a critical challenge to the established notions of patriarchy. Now heroines were visible on the sliver screen sharing public places with men , dancing around trees , walking hand in hand with them in parks and roads , falling in love and expressing the same. It was Lata ‘s unique performative style that heavily influenced the “ rising “ female autonomy and made women“ acceptable“ with greater ease in the public domain . 

Lata ‘s voice echoed simplicity  , innocence and serenity and irrespective of the heroine she lent her voice to , came to be perceived almost invariably as a “ good woman “ . Lata Mangeshkar inadvertently consolidated the position of women and channelised their dreams and desires in a subtle way . This was a time when her songs were written in private diaries of young women as they increasingly started identifying with her music . 

In those times , public singing of women  , unless associated with religion was not held in high esteem . It was either in the exclusive domain of the nautch girls or of the lower caste women . And the film industry was unquestionably a difficult place for women and a disreputable one too  in the public eye .Lata Mangeshkar completely turned the tables not only in her favour and in the favour of her women counterparts in the industry , but also won the fight for dignity and respectability in a world which is unfair and skewed to say the least . 

Her voice resonated with every one and there is no emotional chord in the plethora of Indian sensibility that she did not touch upon .There is no mood , no shade of human psyche that she did not give her voice to , and when it came to women , she was the epitome of their expression ! 

In the path breaking film of Dev Anand ‘s ‘Guide ‘ , Lata  became the voice of liberation through Rosie ( Waheeda Rehman ) who breaks her shackles from an abusive marriage to become an independent, professional dancer . Rosie not only ran away from her failed marriage , but she ran towards her art , only to regain  her lost identity . The film used Lata ‘s voice to break every convention and code of that time ! 

What could be more liberating than her high pitched voice singing ..

Lata Mangeshkar

“ Kaanton se kheench ke yeh aanchal
Tod ke bandhan baandhe payal
Koyi na roko dil ki udaan ko” ! 

In yet another cult movie Pakeezah , she lends her voice to a well known courtesan Sahebjaan ( Meena Kumari ) whose pain of confinement within the four walls of the brothel and her longing for love could only be captured in Lata ‘s emotive yet measured singing which is a clear aberration from the typical mujra style . She infused life and light to the  lyrics penned by the renowned poet Kaifi Azmi and  director Kamal Amrohi , bringing the brilliance of Urdu poetry to the masses . 

In Abhiman , she is Uma , the impeccable , supremely talented singer whose husband ( who is also a reputed singer ) is insecure of her rising stardom . Lataji’s voice gave an unexpected edge to the terrific acting of Jaya Bhaduri who is intelligent enough to understand the genesis of the problem, yet who suffers in silence . This movie is profound as it projects a woman ( Uma ) whose silence even when she is ill treated by her egoist husband , is not only her strength but her dignity too . 

Lata Mangeshkar is Pushpa in ‘Amar Prem’ , a simple village bride who is sold to a red light area but through out the movie she plays the role of a woman who is caring and full of empathy .Inspite of being a ‘public woman ‘when she sings “ Raina beete jayen , Shyam na aaye “ Rajesh Khanna tells her “ tumhara naam Pushpa kyun hai ? Meera Hona Chahiye ! “

That was the magic of Lata Mangeshkar who could transform the very narrative if she had to ! Lata Mangeshkar is a name that India ‘s popular culture spoke through . She almost single-handedly carried on her shoulders the humongous task of bearing the mantle of India ‘s tradition for close to eight decades as her voice kept echoing the collective consciousness of the nation with utmost purity .

Yet she was far ahead of her times who reinvented the notion of a powerful woman  whose determination and discipline as the leading lady in the world of popular  music was formidable . No one could question her hegemony and her national stature surpassed all material awards and honours that were bestowed on her as an artist . 

The nation will take time to come to terms with the fact that she is no more …probably it never will . She brought life and relevance to our dreams , channelised our desires and kept us rooted as one nation through her songs . For millions of Indians scattered all over the world , Lata ‘s voice will continue to bring them “ home “  for years to come . 

A voice such as hers will sing to eternity !

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