History of Playback Singing in Hindi Cinema

Dr Archana Verma

I wrote this article in the form of a series of Facebook posts last year. However, I feel that it should be saved as an integrated article so that it won't get lost and it will be beneficial to the young generation of India and also to the people from other countries, who may not know much about this topic.
Part I (1930s) -
1931 - From 1913 to 1930 Indian cinema was silent, with dialogues appearing as subtitles on the screen. In 1931, Hindi cinema got sound and this meant that song, dance and music became an integral part of Indian cinema - something that perhaps no other cinema in the world has. This is because performing arts are so much a part of Indian lifestyle. Alam Ara, the first Hindi film with sound itself began this tradition, with 7 songs. Unfortunately, this film got lost by 1967 from the Film Archives of India. Now we have only a few still photographs from this momentous turn in Hindi cinema. From 1931 to 1934, actors and actresses used to sing directly into the camera themselves, songs being recorded onto the filmstrip in the same way as dialogues. There was no system of dubbing the soundtrack at this time. This caused a lot of problems, because film studios were equipped with very primitive technology. Often they had a single camera to shoot the film. So, if the characters moved on the floor for the shot while singing themselves, the sound effect wasn't very good. Besides, the camera couldn't be moved around easily.
1935 - Then in 1935, in the film Dhoop Chhaon, an idea was evolved that if the song was recorded first on the film and then it was played back for the visual shots, with the acting characters lip synching the song, then the sound effect would be better. This was tried with success in the following song for the first time. Because the recorded song was played back for the acting shots, this came to be known as playback singing. You can see in this first playback song that there is a single camera view, which remains fixed for long duration. Click on the link to see the lyrics and other details about singers, lyricist, music composer etc. The credits slide has been added later in the digitised version -

For many years the singers were not given credits in the films. More about this later. The song is about Lord Krishna coming to a devotee's house and his sorrows getting removed when he comes. This was a significant turn in Hindi film music. Now the playback technology was there, but for many years, actors and actresses themselves used to lip-synch on screen their own recorded songs. Please note that the desire to merge professional singers' voice with the professional actors/actresses' lip-synching on screen was not the reason behind the evolution of playback singing. This trend came about much later. PS- This was also around the time when the legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar, around 6 years old at this time, began to learn singing from her classical musician father. She began her career in film singing 7 years later. While this legend was being trained in singing, Hindi cinema was evolving the playback technology which she used to perfection!

Part II (1930s Continued) -

1936 - In 1935 the technique of playback singing had come in the Hindi cinema. A melange of artistes lip synching on screen the songs sung by trained singers as well as artistes recording their own singing in playback manner was used in the film Dhoop Chhaon. However, for many years, the acting artistes had to record songs in their own voices which were played back for visual shots. This was similar to the Western musicals that require the acting artists to record their own songs and they have to train very hard for this, because it's difficult to find a combination of acting and singing talents in the same person. Indian films in the 1930s also faced great difficulty because they had many good actors and actresses, who were no singers and they had a tough time recording songs in their own voices. One such major film was Achhut Kanya (1936), the story of romance between a girl from an oppressed caste and a Brahmin youth. The film questioned the caste hierarchy in an era when it was almost sacrilege to ask this question. This again refutes the allegation against commercial Hindi cinema that it's very conventional in its representations. Not only was this film made, but it was greatly successful. The audiences appreciated its theme very much. This was a path breaking film in many ways. In addition to using a revolutionary plot, it had Saraswati Devi as its music director. She was the first woman to compose music for a Hindi film, something that remains a rarity even today. Besides, it had Franz Osten as Director and Josef Wirsching as cinematographer, both Germans, who were associated with the studio that produced this film. There were several songs in this film and the music composer had a tough time getting the actors and actresses to record playback songs for themselves. She invented the strategy of covering the weaker parts of singing with music, so that the flaws in singing couldn't be detected. Besides, the tunes had to be kept simple so that untrained acting artistes could sing them. Further, the entire troupe had to practise hard and get the recording perfect in one go, because film budgets used to be tight in those days and the film artistes didn't have the luxury to take re-shots or waste long film strips on flawed recordings, which were done directly on film strips, because there were no recording tapes in those days. Here is a song which is associated with a stage performance in which the stage artistes enact a bangle seller and his troupe selling bangles. The song is recorded by the acting artistes themselves and then played back for visual shots. The playback singing technology was here, but professionally trained singers were not being used at this time. Click on the link to see the details about names of artistes, lyricist, music composer etc. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a version with English subtitles. But, it's fortunate enough for us that this whole film has at least come to the Youtube.

Part III (1930s) -
In the initial phase of playback singing in Indian cinema, there was a problem of finding a combination of acting and singing talents in a single person. This is because the acting artistes themselves used to record songs in their own voice and then these songs were played back for their own visual shots with lip-synching. The aspect of a professionally trained singer giving the playback for a professional acting artiste was not popular yet. Because of this, the few artistes who could both act and sing were in great demand. One of the first of such artistes was Khursheed Bano, the elder step sister of the highly acclaimed actress Meena Kumari. They both had the same father but different mothers. While Meena Kumari was born in Bombay and stayed with her father who found acting jobs for her when she was still a child, Khursheed's case was different. Her father had left her mother in Lahore and had moved to Lucknow, where he met Meena Kumari's mother before they moved to Bombay in the undivided India. According to some stray accounts, they also stayed in Delhi before moving to Lucknow. Khursheed grew up in Lahore and became a singing actress in Lahore and Calcutta before moving to Bombay in 1942, where she became a popular singer-actress. She had begun her singing-acting career in 1931, the year when the first Hindi film with sound was made. She recorded the following song for her own acting and lip-synching in Calcutta. In the image below, you can see the facial resemblance with Meena Kumari. Incidentally, this was also the year when Meena Kumari began her acting career as a child star in the film Leatherface in Bombay. Khursheed came to Bombay 3 years later and most of her career was built by herself, independent of her father's support. She emigrated to Pakistan in 1948. Meena Kumari and the rest of the family stayed behind in Bombay and Meena Kumari became the most highly acclaimed actress in the 1950s and '60s and one of the greatest actresses in Hindi cinema. Khursheed Bano represents that tribe of artistes who could both act and sing and who mostly recorded playback songs for themselves, which they lip-synched on screen for their own characters. Although most of these acting-singers were limited in their range, especially in the higher octaves, they were much more melodious than the non-singing actors and actresses. Hence, they were greatly needed in the Hindi films of this period. (As an aside, even Meena Kumari was a fine poetess and a singer. She cut an album called "I Write, I Recite", but she never sang in films.) More about such artistes in the next paragraphs on this topic.

Part IV (1930s-40s Continued) -

There are two themes that have been made into films innumerable times in India, not only in Hindi, but in many other languages. One is Anarkali, a courtesan associated with the Mughal Emperor Akbar. She had a relationship with his son and the crown prince Jahangir and was interred into a wall of the fort by the orders of Akbar. Many historians believe the story to be a legend. First film on this theme was made in 1928 in the silent film era. Ruby Meyers, the Jewish actress known by her screen name Sulochana played Anarkali in this film. She was an extremely popular actress and hence, when sound came to the Hindi cinema, many of her films were remade with dialogues, music, songs and dances. Anarkali was remade with her leading role in 1935. As was the practice at this time, she herself recorded the playback songs in the film for her own lip-synching on the screen. Unfortunately, none of these songs have reached the Youtube so far. This theme was to be immortalised by two films later, with Anarkali (1953), in which Sulochana acted as Jahangir's mother and Bina Rai playing Anarkali; and the 1960 blockbuster Mughal-e-Azam, in which Dilip Kumar and Madhubala played Jahangir and Anarkali. The other theme is Devdas, the case of a drunken youth who can't get married to a poor woman he loves and gets involved with a courtesan. This plot is from a famous novel by the prominent Bangla writer Sharat Chandra Chattopadhya and has been made innumerable times into films. The first film was again from 1928 in the silent film era. It was adapted into Bengali in 1935 with sound and playback song recordings. The Bangla film was remade into Hindi in 1936, with the great singer-actor KL Saigal playing the role of Devdas. KL Saigal recorded his own songs which he lip-synched for his own character on screen. He emerged as the biggest star of Hindi cinema after this film and his singing style became the index of male singers' style for many decades later. Every male singer of Hindi cinema has acknowledged Saigal's singing influence on his singing. The entire film has come to Youtube with English subtitles, which you can watch below. This theme of course was immortalised again in 1955 by Dilip Kumar. But this 1936 version shows the first beginnings of male playback singing in Hindi cinema in 1930s, with the actors themselves lip-synching their own songs.


Part V (1930s-40s Continued) -

Till 1938, acting stars used to record songs themselves for their own lip-synching on screen. Rajkumari was a prominent star who could both sing and act. However, in 1939 she decided to stop acting and start giving playback songs for other non-singing actresses. Thus began a new era of combining a singing star's voice with lip-synching on screen by an acting star. This freed the non-singer stars from the difficult task of having to train for recording songs that they were not able to master completely. However, this trend came not because of the professional need to merge trained singers' voices with the lip-synching on screen by other acting artistes, but because an acting-singer decided to stop acting on screen. Perhaps those who could both sing and act had so far not given their voice to the non-singing stars' acting as a strategy to retain the acting roles for themselves. But Rajkumari's unwillingness to act came as a boon to the non-singing stars. From 1939 onwards, 3 main trends emerged in the playback singing in Hindi cinema -
1 - Acting-singers continued to act and sing for themselves. From 1942 onwards, Suraiya became the most popular acting-singing star in this tradition. She retained her top popularity till 1949, when Lata Mangeshkar became a raging success and completely changed the singing scene in Hindi cinema. Suraiya understood the immense potential of Lata. She used to openly praise Lata and towards the end of her career in 1950s, she in fact began to request that Lata should record songs for her lip-synching on screen! Of course, many film makers insisted that she should record her own songs, but she did manage to get a few songs recorded by Lata for her acting on screen.
2 - Singers who used to enact their own recorded songs, but also gave playback voices to other non-singing stars. The most famous name in this category was Noorjahan, who began to sing and act for Hindi cinema from 1942 onwards, when Suraiya also began to sing and act as a heroine. Noorjahan gave some of the most memorable songs till 1947, which she enacted herself and also gave voices to other actresses. In 1947 she left for Pakistan and continued her acting and singing career there. Some others in this category were Amirbai Karnataki and Zohrabai Ambalewali. After Noorjahan left for Pakistan, these others got more singing assignments as singing actresses who also lent their voice to other non-singing acting stars. Talat Mahmood was the male actor-singer in this category, who gave voice to others and also lip-synched his own songs in the 1940s and 1950s.
3 - Professionally trained singers who didn't act, but gave their voice to other acting stars. Begun by Rajkumari in 1939, this trend was made popular by Shamshad Begum from 1941 onwards. Geeta Dutt followed her from 1946 onwards. Because of these early singers, it became unnecessary for the same person to sing and act. Now the stars talented in acting could only act and those talented in singing could only lend their voices to the acting stars. Lata Mangeshkar belonged to this category, but more about her later. Amongst the male singers, Muhammad Rafi and Manna Dey were the early names who made non-acting playback singing popular in the 1940s. Manna Dey began to sing in 1941 and Rafi in 1944. So, in a sense, the three top ranking stars, Suraiya, Noorjahan and Shamshad Begum were not really competing against each other, because they were in different categories of expertise. Contrary to what has often been said, Lata Mangeshkar couldn't have gained from this because she was only giving voice to others, unlike Noorjahan, who also acted and sang for herself. Same can be said of others in the second category above vis a vis Lata Mangeshkar. The films in the period between 1939-49 used all three genres of playback recording, often in the same film. Hence, we have films in which all three categories of acting-singing stars have worked in this period. Thus, in Geet Govind (1947) we have Manna Dey, Geeta Dutt and Rajkumari singing for other acting stars, while GM Durrani acting and singing for himself and for others. Similarly, Anmol Ghadi (1946) has Suraiya acting and singing for herself, Noorjahan acting and singing for herself and also singing for others, Zohrabai Ambalevali acting and singing for herself, while Shamshad Begum and Muhammad Rafi only singing for others. See the videos below.


Part VI (1942-48) -
A phenomenal singer joined the Hindi cinema in early 1940s, but her early years were not as momentous. In fact, there was every chance of her getting wiped out. Lata Mangeshkar was only 13 years old when her musician and theatre actor father died. She was the eldest child and hence, now responsible for bringing money to feed a family of 9 people including herself - her mother, aunt, 4 siblings of her own and 2 cousins from her aunt. Her father's theatre company had shut down and the family was in dire straits. Her only young brother was bedridden with TB. The day she went to work in the films, there was no food in her house. In the beginning, she began to work in the Marathi film studio of her father's friend in 1942. She got small roles and sang some stray songs in Marathi. Then, this studio shifted to Bombay in 1943 and she stopped acting and kept on singing. At some point, this father's friend died and this studio also shut down. Lata Mangeshkar was out of work and terribly in need of money to sustain her large family. She approached a contractor who supplied junior artistes to Hindi film studios. He introduced her to Ghulam Haider, one of the prominent music composers. He introduced her to film directors and producers. However, she was rejected because of her different singing style and voice and of course, because they had access to many established singers and acting-singers. With great difficulty, she got odd singing jobs to sing in choruses of songs. Sometimes she got to sing only 2 lines as a solo singer, rest as part of a chorus. Often, the songs she recorded were cut out of films while editing. She was competing against great names, many of whom could both act and sing, while she only sang, not acted. And she was just a teenager, with no great patron. Indeed, it's nothing short of a miracle that Lata managed to even survive this environment in a competitive film industry, let alone come to rule the film music industry, as no one else before or after her has done. Finally, in 1947, she got to record a solo Hindi song, which actually survived the editor's cuts in the film. After this, more solos followed. This was the phase when she tried to imitate the singing style of the established and famous singers of 1940s, just to survive in the film industry. However, even in these songs, her own voice and singing style emerge as very distinct from all other styles in vogue at that time. She said in an interview that at this time, she was introduced to Noorjahan, the reigning acting-singing star of the film industry. Listening to her singing, Noorjahan remarked that a day would come when people would forget Noorjahan and they would chase Lata's songs. Soon after this, Noorjahan emigrated to Pakistan. Ghulam Haider is also said to have remarked to one of the film producers who rejected her that a day would come when film directors and music composers would fall at Lata's feet and ask her to sing for them. Sure enough, almost a decade later, this same film producer went to Lata and said to her that he had made a mistake a decade earlier in judging her singing and he requested her to sing for his film "Nagin". Lata, by now well established as a playback singer, obliged and Nagin's songs sung by Lata have become immortal. However, throughout the 1940s, till 1948, Lata was a struggling fledgling teenager. Ghulam Haider gave her his songs to record in 1948-49 period but he too left for Pakistan. Thus, Lata was again left alone to find her own support in the Hindi cinema. Her first hit song came as late as in 1949. More about this in the next section. There are different ways of calculating which was the first song recorded by Lata Mangeshkar. Her first Marathi solo was in the film "Pahli Manglagaur" by her own account. In Hindi films, she recorded several songs that were edited out of the film and in some she sang mostly in chorus, with 1-2 lines as solo. Following is the first solo recorded by her which survived editing in the film "Aap ki Sewa Mein".

 Part VII (1949) -

Till 1949, a particular kind of female singing style was in vogue in Hindi cinema, characterised by grainy voice and mostly sung in lower octave notes, because most of the female singers were not able to maintain a tenor in higher octaves. Although this style produced some great music it caused restrain on the repertoire of music directors. Lata Mangeshkar had expertise in singing in higher octave which she had brought to perfection and she could easily transcend between higher and lower octave notes. However, during this period, she was often asked to imitate the singing style of older singers because the producers were not sure that her different voice and singing style would be accepted by the audience. Lahore, released in 1949, was perhaps the last film in which Lata seems to imitate the older singing style. With Mahal released in the same year, she rewrote the singing style of Hindi cinema. More about Mahal in the following paragraphs. Before that, let's look at some specimens of singing styles in vogue up to 1949 and also Lata Mangeshkar's singing in Lahore.

1) Main pal pal tumhein rijhaaun.. (Singer: Sumitra Devi?- Meenakshi -1942)
2) Phagun ki rut aayi re..(Singers: Sitara & Amritlal - Holi -1940)
3) Gaaye ja tu apne geet..(SInger: Rekha Mallick - Hamrahi -1945)
4) Bhool jana chahti hun..(Singers: Parul Ghosh & Chitalkar - Jwar Bhatha -1944)
5) Woh din na rahe raaten na rahin apne bhi hue begaane (Ila Ghosh - MANZOOR 1949)
6) Saajna...hum tum bin bhaye udas (Singer: Kalyani - Holi -1940)
7) Dil mei tu, aankhon mei tu...sanson mei tu..(Singer: Menka -1- Pukar -1939)
8) Beena madhur madhur kachhu bol (Singer: Saraswati Rane - Ram Rajya -1943)
9) Mast pawan shaakhen lehraaye.. (Singers: Kanan Devi & Pahari Sanyal - Haar Jeet -1940)
10) Payaam-e-muhobbat sabaa la rahi hai..(Singer: Sadhana Bose? - Wasiyatnama-1945)
11) Nagri meri kab tak yunhi barbad rahegi..(Singer: Sitara Kanpuri - Man Ki Jeet -1944)
12) Hawa..tum dheere baho..mere aate honge chittchor..(Singer: Leela Chitnis - Kangan -1939)
13) Unka ishara jaan se pyara..(Naseem Akhtar - Pehli Nazar -1945)
14) Hai dukh ki ghataa hai chhaayi (Shanta Apte - RAJPUT RAMANI 1936)
15) Albela mastana...ek hanso ka joda...(Suprova Sarkar - Wapas -1943)
16) Koi roke use aur yeh keh de..(Amirbai -Sindoor -1947)
17) Naval naveli nyaari...hum kunwari baari..( Devika Rani, Meera, Lalita & Vimla - Vachan -1939) 18) Unhein bhi raaz-e-ulfat ki na hone di khabar maine..( Zohrabai -Nateeja -1947)
Part VIII (1949) -

Lata Mangeshkar's first big success came in 1949 with this song below. But even this success didn't come easily. In those days, singers didn't get any mention in the credits slide of the film. So, this song was released with the name of the character whose role the heroine, Madhubala was playing on the screen while lip-synching this song. However, All India Radio used to play this song on popular demands from the people and the office of the AIR was flooded with phone calls from people who wanted to know who sang this song. Finally, AIR had to announce Lata's name as the singer and the HMV records had to print her name on the next round of records of this song. She got the mention of her name because the song became a raging success and people were gripped with a madness, wanting to know who had sung this song. The recording of this song itself was an ordeal. The music Director wanted that Lata's voice should appear in the beginning as if it was coming from a far off place. However, in those days there was no technology to modulate the recorded sound in high or low volume according to the need. Hence, Lata had to come walking towards the microphone from a distance, singing the first lines of the song and begin singing the refrain when she reached the mike. She said in several interviews that to get the timing right, she had to practise it at least 25-27 times before recording took place, because even now, the recording was being done directly on the film strip. But after this song took the subcontinent by a storm, Lata had no looking back. At this point, she asked that singers should be given credit for their songs in the films. Hence, from her next film onwards, she and other singers began to get credits. With this song, Lata gradually began her ascendancy to the top position in Hindi film industry, a position that she retained for more than half a century. However, her popularity didn't translate into financial prosperity for quite some time. Other singers had continued to sing for most of the 1950s and some even continued to sing into 1960s, although they began to get less and less number of songs as most music Directors wanted to record maximum number of songs with Lata. However, she was paid a paltry sum even in the 1950s as compared to other singers, who had been established before she arrived. Singers like Shamshad Begum and Amirbai Karnataki were paid around Rs 1000/- per recording, which was a princely sum in those days. Lata in comparison was paid Rs 50/- per recording even after this song became a rage. Suraiya, who acted as well as sang, famously asked for - and was paid - an exorbitant price of Rs 100,000/- for a film, which became a scandal in those days. Lata's charges rose to Rs 100/- towards the end of 1950s, but other singers kept on charging their original high rates. So, eventhough Lata was rising in popularity, she lived in poverty, having to take care of her large family. She used to walk long distances because she didn't have the money to pay for a taxi or a horse drawn carriage. She often didn't have the money to eat her regular meals and dressed up very simply. It was only from the end of 1950s onwards that she could save the money to build a better life for herself an her family. She usually worked for 20-22 hours daily, leaving the house at 6am and returning at 3am.

Part IX (1950s-60s) -  The Golden Era

Lata Mangeshkar began her ascendancy to the top position from 1950 onwards. Other female singers began to get less and less songs to record and gradually, by mid-1960s, most of them faded away from the film music industry. In 1962, there was reportedly an attempt to finish off Lata by giving her slow poison in her food through her cook, who had also worked with some other film personalities. Renowned Hindi writer, Padma Sachdev, who was close to Lata Mangeshkar, has mentioned this incident in her book "Aisa Kahan se Laun". Fortunately, Lata's life was saved and she continued to retain her top position for many decades, right till the first decade of the 21st century. In 1950s, her younger sister, Asha Bhonsle also began to sing and both sisters also sang about a 100 duets. Amongst the male singers, Muhammad Rafi had a phenomenal success. More about Muhammad Rafi in the next secton. Now, with these singers in top positions, it was established that the acting and singing were two different specialised talents and no artiste had to combine the two. These years of 1950s-60s are referred to as the Golden Years of Hindi film music, as practically every song recorded during these years has been immensely popular and has become immortal. With the bifurcation of acting and singing professions, now the film makers could use a much wider range of acting artistes, who didn't have to know how to sing. This also had a refining influence on the acting quality in Hindi cinema. However, the playback technology remained very primitive. Throughout the 1950s, songs were still recorded directly onto the filmstrip as there was no recording tape. It was only in 1960 that the recording tape came in Hindi cinema. Now the song could be separately recorded on the tape and it could be replayed for visual lip-synching shots on the film strips. This made the playback recording much easier. However, throughout 1950s and most of 1960s, there was only one microphone which was set to capture the voices of the singer(s) as well as the music from the orchestra, which used a limited number of instruments. It was the genius of the music directors, lyricists, musicians and the singers, that even with this kind of primitive recording technology, they managed to produce film songs that have become immortal. In comparison, Western world also produced musical films, which continue to be made even today. However, Western musical films kept on losing popularity amongst the audience. Gradually, the Western film makers moved away from musical films and began to focus more on realistic films. I think one reason for the losing popularity of musical films in the West has been that the Western film makers have insisted that the acting artistes must sing their own songs. This means that very few acting artistes can perform in these musical films and they need long days of practice before their songs can be recorded and the films can be completed. Then, if the film doesn't do well enough, it's a great loss to the film makers. In a sense, Western cinema abandoned the challenge to make film music popular. Indian cinema accepted this challenge and solved this problem in a completely different way, by gradually separating the acting and singing artistes, by using the best available talents in both fields, so that the most attractive results could be created. And the contribution of Lata, Rafi and Asha is phenomenal in this direction. Indian film industry has never hidden the fact that the songs have been lip-synched by other artistes and the singers and the acting artistes are not the same people. The audience also naturally understands this. Film songs in India are in fact a flourishing industry in their own right, even apart from the films in which they are recorded. Many times, films are forgotten, but the songs are immortal. Sometimes, even if the film doesn't do well, songs save the film makers by generating a revenue.
Part IX (1950s-60s) - The Golden Era Continued

These two decades have produced the most enchanting Hindi film songs and are knows as The Golden Era of Hindi film songs. As Lata Mangeshkar began her ascendancy to the top, many heroines began to get it written in their contracts that they would lip-synch on screen only the songs sung by Lata. Besides, many producers began to record songs in her voice for every female character who was supposed to lip-synch songs on screen in a film. Earlier, the usual practice had been to employ a different singer to sing for every character lip-synching songs on screen. But such was the mass frenzy and demand for Lata Mangeshkar that now she was singing for every female character in a film, with only some songs going to some other singers. Just as Lata was established in these years as the chosen voice for the female characters, Muhammad Rafi eliminated all competition from other male singers and emerged as the top singer for the male characters. There were aesthetic reasons for the ultimate ascendancy of these two singers, who continued a duet singing partnership right till Muhammad Rafi's death in 1980. There were many established female singers when Lata joined the Hindi film industry, who faded away in '50s-60s. Similarly, around the time Muhammad Rafi joined the industry, several other male singers were there. Saigal died in 1947, but Manna Dey was already there. Soon to arrive were Talat Mahmood, who sang in a mellifluous Ghazal style, Mukesh singing in his deep voice and Mahendra Kapoor, who sang so much like Rafi that in some of the songs he recorded, one feels that it would be better if Rafi had sung these songs. Hemant Kumar was a music composer, but also sang many songs. However, through the 1950s-60s, all these singers began to get less and less songs to record and Rafi emerged as the top male singer. If a duet was to be recorded, it had to be done in Lata's and Rafi's voices and everytime the duet became a massive hit. The reason for the music direcors and film producers preferring these two singers was that although others sang well,they all could sing in a limited range of octave notes. Some had difficulty in singing complex classical tunes and for them, tunes had to be kept simple, eventhough the music composers were capable of composing very complex tunes. This constrained the creativity of music composition. But both Lata and Rafi mastered the entire range of all 4 octaves. Lata could sing the highest octaves with ease, which was no simple feat and then she could easily descend to the lower octaves in no time. They both were well trained in classical singing, which made it easy for the composers to give them any complex tunes, which they sang with ease. This led to a lot of innovation and creativity in musical compositions in these two decades, which had never been possible before. Besides, they required much less time to practise the song before recording. While others took a week or more to practise before recording, Lata especially could master the same song in a day's time. Rafi could also pick up the tunes quite fast. This meant that the recording time was cut down and the film could be completed much faster than before. And the effect they produced was always magical. Recording technology slightly improved in the 1960s. Earlier, a single microphone was used to record the singing as well as the orchestra's music. Now, they made a partition between the singer(s) and the orchestra with each section getting a microphone and the people in neither of the two sections could hear the sound in the other section. This made the recording quality much more refined than earlier. But the number of musical instruments was still limited and effects such as echo, reverberation etc had to be produced while singing itself. Sometimes, singers sang in one room while the microphone and the recording tape were kept in another room to produce these kinds of effects. After the success of her first song in 1949, Lata Mangeshkar had got the film makers to give credit to the singers. But the singers were still not getting any royalty, while the music companies such as the HMV and the film makers were reaping gold harvest from film songs sung by Lata and Rafi. So, around 1961-62, Lata demanded that all singers should be paid royalty from the profits made from their songs. She was vehemently opposed by almost the entire industry including film producers, directors, music composers and even some singers. This was because the producers and directors didn't want to share the royalty with the singers and others, including the singers who were dependent upon them for their livelihood had to pay lip service to the mighty forces in the industry to survive. Lata fought this battle almost alone, to defend the rights of the singers. She was particularly upset because Rafi, who was in a strong position and could have supported her, also deserted her side and stood with her opponents on the royalty issue. Perhaps he didn't want to make many enemies just to side with Lata, a lonely woman fighting this huge battle against an entire mighty industry, or perhaps he couldn't understand the issue of royalty much, or he was being manipulated by some people, as Lata said later in one of her interviews about this issue. Whatever be the case, this led to a bitterness between them for sometime and for around 3 years they didn't sing any duets together. Lata finally won the royalty battle, because the films ran to packed houses partially because of her songs and even if they didn't, her songs brought the revenue. Hence, the film makers couldn't afford to alienate her. This was demonstrated in the case of Raj Kapoor, a big producer, director and actor, who decided to not use Lata's songs in a couple of his films and sure enough, his films flopped and he couldn't get any profit from Lata's songs either, because he hadn't used her voice. He incurred huge losses during this period. So, he came back to Lata and agreed to give her the royalty. The people of India wanted to listen to Lata's songs and that alone decided the matter in her favour. This is a mark of Lata's courage that she risked her career and took on the entire film industry, despite being opposed and severely maligned and called greedy for money etc. But when Lata and Rafi were not singing together, this gave an opportunity to some other singers, who began to use the situation to their advantage. Hence, Rafi and Lata decided to come together again and continued their dueting partnership as long as Rafi sang in films. Another female singer who was successful in this period was Geeta Dutt. However, she began to have marital problems with her film producer-director husband Guru Dutt, who became involved with actress Waheeda Rehman. Guru Dutt died after this with an overdose of sleeping pills. Geeta Dutt became very depressed, stopped singing, turned an alcoholic and died. In any case, Geeta Dutt mostly sang in her husband's films only. Asha Bhonsle, Lata's younger sister also came up as a successful singer in this period. Her "wine-intoxicated" voice was greatly used in dance songs.

Part X (1970s Onwards) -  Turning a Corner

By the end of the 1960s, many older music composers and lyricists had either become too old or died. A new crop had come into the Hindi film industry. RD Burman, son of SD Burman, although trained in classical music, preferred to use Western dance musical beats in his compositions. Kishore Kumar had been in the film industry since 1946, but mostly as an actor and an occasional singer. He got these assignments in the beginning mainly because his elder brother, Ashok Kumar, was a great film actor and he had bought Bombay Talkies, one of the first film studios from its owner Devika Rani, who was a major actress and producer, but decided to get married to Svetoslav Roerich, a Russian painter and leave the film industry after her first husband, film producer Himanshu Rai died. But Kishore Kumar managed to attract the film audience because of his acting style which was unique. He also sang some songs, but he was not trained in classical music and had a unmodelated voice, especially in the higher octave ranges. Since classical notes ruled the Hindi film songs till the end of 1960s, he didn't get many singing opportunities. In one of his films, he even lip-synched a song sung by Muhammad Rafi, the top ranking, classically trained singer. At that time, no one had imagined that from 1970s onwards, Kishore Kumar would emerge as a major singer, with his major hit film Aradhana, where he shared the singing assignments with Muhammad Rafi and for a few years after this, he even usurped the top position from Rafi! Rafi began to lose his confidence in himself, taking a few years to regain his top position and confidence only after the great music composer Naushad took him for singing in his films and told him not to regard Kishore Kumar as a threat because he wasn't classically trained, while Rafi was classically trained. But Hindi film music had turned a corner in this decade. After 1970, some experimental films were made patterned on the Western realistic films without any songs. They were called "parallel cinema." These were highly acclaimed by the critics, but were not appreciated by the audience, who wanted songs in their films and who didn't want to see so much of depressing realism in films. These films were commercially not viable, hence this experiment was abandoned after a while. Classical-based songs continued to be made and become popular, but Western dance beats began to rise in numbers and this changed the Hindi film music by mid 1980s. By the 1990s the film music was not the same as it used to be earlier. The stalwarts began to complain and even the audience agreed that the gradual decline of classical base had harmed the film music considerably. And this was true. Indians appreciate the Western dance beats very much, but if they have to listen to this kind of music, they always have the access to the Western songs. Indian cinema had its advantage in using the kind of music that only India produced. Decline in its use cut down the musical advantage of films and sure enough, Hindi films began to lose their popularity, although songs sung by Lata still generated revenue. This was because Lata Mangeshkar is not only a great singer, she also acted as a watchdog to ensure that high quality film songs were composed. If she didn't like the music or the lyrics of a song, she refused to sing it. This kept the lyricists and the music directors on their toes to see that they produced high quality songs. But by 1990s film makers began to give the argument that the young generation preferred the Western dance beats, which was not always true. And Lata demonstrated this by her own effort to produce a film herself. This was the award winning film "Lekin", co-produced by Lata, who sang all its songs based on classical ragas, composed by her younger music director brother Hridaynath, with its lyrics written by the renowned poet Gulzar. The film was a resounding success and proved beyond doubt that the younger generation was waiting for this old magic to be recreated. And this wait continues to this day. Perhaps, we need another Lata Mangeshkar, who has the courage to face opposition, vicious competition, infuse sheer hard work and dedication in her singing, take a tough challenge and meet it hands down. She is 88 now and hence, no longer sings in films. I wish she would at least compose music for a few films. Singing talents can be found in a performing arts-rich country like India. Many of her songs which were edited out of films can now be used in new films.
But the wait still continues...