HomeUncategorizedNa Jeona: Lata Mangeshkar and the Bangla connection

Na Jeona: Lata Mangeshkar and the Bangla connection

The Wikipedia entry on Lata Mangeshkar covers almost every aspect of her vast and diverse career, from her early start at the of 13 following the death of her father Dinanath Mangeshkar, to her brief career as a composer in Marathi cinema, even to the four films that she produced in the 1950s and then in 1990. The entry mentions that she has sung in 36 Indian languages, dominated, of course, by Hindi. And yet, tucked away on the page is a brief section titled ‘Bengali career’.

The truth is, other than Hindi, the one Indian language in which Lata Mangeshkar sang the most number of songs is Bengali. This, despite Marathi being her mother tongue. While Salil Chowdhury, Sachin Dev Burman, and Hemanta Mukhopadhyay (Hemant Kumar in Bollywood) remain the composers she mostly collaborated with, not many remember that she made her debut in Bengali with in 1956 with the song ‘Aakash Prodeep Jwole’, composed by Satinath Mukhopadhyay. That same year, she recorded the superhit ‘Rongila Banshite Ke Daake’, composed by Bhupen Hazarika.

Throughout the late 1950s, Lata gave her listeners one Bengali hit after another, such as ‘Jaare Ude Jare Pakhi’, ‘Na Jeona Rajani Ekhono Baki’, and ‘Ogo Aar Kichhu To Noy’, all composed by Salil Chowdhury, and later adapted into Hindi as ‘Ja Re Ud Ja Re Panchhi’, ‘Tasveer Tere Dil Mein’, and ‘O Sajna’ respectively. In the 1960s, she delivered hits like ‘Ekbar Biday De Ma Ghure Ashi’ (composed by Pitambar Das), ‘Saat Bhai Champa’, ‘Ke Prothom Kachhe Esechhi’, ‘Nijhum Sandhay’, ‘Chanchal Mon Anmona Hoy’, ‘Asharh Srabon’, and ‘Aaj Mon Cheyechhe’ by such celebrated composers as Sudhin Dasgupta, Hemant Kumar and Salil Chowdhury. Yet another frequently found name on this list was Bireswar Sarkar.

Over the years, she polished her Bengali diction and accent to the point where it was often hard to tell that she was not a native Bengali speaker. And she developed a love for both the language and the culture, which was a definite plus in her work with Bengali composers. With characteristic sincerity, she even requested noted Bengali filmmaker Basu Bhattacharya if he would teach her the language properly, even trying to learn how to read and write Bengali. 

Of all the Bengali composers she worked with, Lata was perhaps closest to Salil Chowdhury and Hemanta, often publicly speaking about Chowdhury’s “rare talent”. As for ‘Hemant dada’, he was more like a family member. 

In a 2011 interview to the Press Trust of India, Lata regretted having lost touch with Bengali, saying, “I have sung many songs in Bengali with Salilda and Hemantda. But now I can’t speak much in Bengali. I have lost touch with Bengali after their deaths. Since my first Bengali song with him, ‘Na Jeyo Na’, Salilda used to tell me that I should speak in Bengali instead of Hindi. Till they were here, I could speak Bengali well. But now, I have no one to speak to in Bengali and I am sorry for that.”

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