The Nightingale of Bollywood turns 80!

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Lata Mangeshkar has outlasted generations of heroines. As Madhubala gave way to Hema and Hema to Madhuri to Preity Zinta – the voice behind them has remained the same. Lata’s pure, dulcet voice has given life to thousands of songs and emotion to thousands of films and today we celebrate her 80th birthday!

Although she began playback singing in the 1940s, her first big hit – and Filmfare Award – was for ‘Aaja Re Pardesi’ from the film Madhumati. From then on, her place in filmi history was sealed and she remained at the top of the industry until the early 1980s. Her next big comeback was with the chart-busting ‘Dil Deewana’ from Maine Pyaar Kiya, which she has since said rekindled her love of film music. Lata has remained active in both playback singing and in private recordings and is still a very powerful voice in the industry. Fans can hear her next on the soundtrack for Madhur Bhandarkar’s Jail singing the prison anthem, ‘Daata Sun Maula Sun’.

In honor of such an esteemed performer, here are five of my favorite Lata Mangeshkar tracks:

1. ‘Mohabbat Ki Jhooti’ – Mughal-e-Azam (1960), music director Naushad

This song highlights Lata’s abilities as an actress as well as a singer. She captures the despair and heartbreak of poor Anarkali so well that I can’t imagine another singer even coming close to doing justice to this song.

2. ‘Tir e Nazar Dekhenge’ – Pakeezah (1970), music director Ghulam Mohammed

This one is another tour-de-force of emotion and vocal prowess. Lata is perfectly in sync with Meena Kumari’s tragic decline.

3. ‘Aa Jaan-e-Jaan’ – Inteqam (1969), music directors Laxmikant-Pyarelal

An unusual number for Lata, ‘Aa Jaan-e-Jaan’ is actually an item song picturized on Helen. Unlike the rhythmic gymnastics that Asha excelled at, this track uses Lata’s soaring voice to create an eerie and haunting atmosphere.

4. ‘Hay Hay Yeh Majaboori’ – Roti Kapada aur Makaan (1974), music directors Laxmikant-Pyarelal

Picturized on Zeenat Aman, ‘Hay Hay Yeh Majaboori’ is a slow, sensual song that still sounds just as fresh and spring-like as the day it was recorded.

5. ‘Didi Tera Devar Deewana’ – Hum Apke Hain…Kaun! (1994), music director Raamlaxman

Perfectly highlight the latter part of Lata’s career is this spunky and lighthearted song. It never ceases to amaze me that she managed to keep this eternally youthful and virginal voice even at 65, which is how she was at the time.

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