Lata didi: Stoic child singer whose pitch for legendary status began in Pune
The disappearance of PUNE Lata Mangeshkar at the age of 92 brings back memories for Punekars. She lived the first years of her life in the city.
The Mangeshkar family had moved from Sangli to Pune in 1941 and lived in the Rajeevdekar chawl opposite the Poona guesthouse on Laxmi Road.
Their finances were running out, her father having invested in some film projects. The family organized musical programs to earn money.
According to senior film critic Sulbha Ternikar, although Lata Mangeshkar spent her early years in Pune, she was already making a name for herself at a young age. “Beginning on stage in Sangeet Natak of Balwant Sangeet Academy of her father Deenanath Mangeshkar at the age of 5, she performed in plays singing her father’s songs.”
Lata was around 11 years old when she entered a singing competition held at what was then called The Globe – later known as Shreenath Cinema Hall in Pune.
She won the first prize, winning her prize – a medal and a “Dilruba”, a musical instrument.
According to Ternikar, her father then said, “If Lata wants to be more successful, she shouldn’t settle for an instrument as a prize.”
She was only 12½ years old when she lost her father in 1942 and her financial situation worsened. Lata being the eldest of five siblings had found work. “Latabai joined Navyug, Master Vinayak’s company, as an employee and sang her first recorded song for Pahili Mangalagaur,” Ternikar said.
She had sung her very first song for the film Kiti Haasal for director Vasant Joglekar, but this song was never used in the film. Lata also acted as a child actor in the film and also sang the song Natali Chaitrachi Navlai in the film Paheli Mangala Gaur and his registered name was “Baby Lata”, said
Arun Kakatkar, a retired station manager from Doordarshan who later served as media manager for Mangeshkar-owned Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital.
“Lata Didi recorded her first non-filmi song for music director Datta Davjekar, Tujha swapni pahile re in 1945. She had a fantastic understanding of musical notes and a very strong voice. It was amazing that she was just a child,” Kakatkar says.
Critics claim that Latabai has this distinct voice that even though she was just a teenager, there was a maturity, like a person who sings classically after many years of training. “She knew almost 300 tukdas and could sing almost all kinds of songs at that young age,” Ternikar said.
Lata Mangeshkar left Pune in 1943, following Master Vinayak to Kolhapur, working in his company, singing in films like Chimukhla Sansar, Majhe Baal and Gajyabhau. She also sang and acted in a Hindi film Badhi Maa by Master Vinayak, for which Noor Jehan had traveled to Kolhapur for the recording.
According to Sudhir Gadgil, an emcee of his time, Lata Mangeshkar was a big foodie, even though she had little money for food as a young child. She loved trying new dishes and cooking.
“She was also a good photographer and often took pictures of her sisters. She also imitated people, loved cricket, and often went to see matches at Wankhede Stadium. When she was little, during her father’s sangeet natak, she would sit on the cash petti to keep the money, such was her devotion. Later Latabai also opened a restaurant in Aundh, Sarjaa, which still serves fantastic food. Before that, she often came to Shreyas Hotel on Apte Road and also invited people to Shree Mangesh near Sarasbaug.
She also liked to eat at Poona Guest House where she was often a visitor being old neighbors.
“Latabai liked Hridayanath Mangeshkar’s music not because he was his brother, but singing for him was the most difficult, besides working with music directors Madan Mohan and Sajjad Husain in Hindi; while in Marathi she liked Shrinivas Khale and Datta Davjekar. She also sang a bhavgeet for her sister Meena Khadikar’s debut as musical director,” Gadgil said.