When Lata Sang With Dilip Kumar

Subhash K Jha remembers Dilip Kumar on the screen legend’s first death anniversary, July 7.

Within a year, we lost the two most influential artistes of Hindi cinema: India’s cherished singer Lata Mangeshkar and accomplished actor Dilip Kumar.

Dilipsaab referred to his choti bahen Lata with the same affection that he would have for his biological sisters.

In fact, when Lataji gave her first overseas concert at the Albert Hall in London, it was Dilipsaab who introduced her to the international audience, comparing her voice to a baby’s cry and the sound of water streaming through a mountain.

‘Yes, he spoke so beautifully about me when I performed live for the first time in London,’ Lataji had once told me.

‘We go back a very long way. He has been instrumental in shaping my career. When I was just starting out, I was introduced to Dilipsaab as a new, promising singer. That was the era when Noorjehan, with her full throaty voice, ruled. Dilipsaab asked where I was from. When told that I was from Maharashtra, he quipped, ‘Then the smell of dal-chawal will be heard in her singing.’ That remark stung me.”

“I decided I’d perfect my diction. I hired a maulvi to work on my Urdu, and that’s how my pronunciation became what it did.”

In 1957, Lataji got a rare opportunity to sing with Dilip Kumar.

‘It was for Hrishida‘s (film-maker Hrishikesh Mukerjee) film, Musafir. Salilda (Salil Chowdhary) composed the number Ja Ja Re Sugana Ja Re… Singing with him was not like singing with a non-professional singer. Dilipsaab is a perfectionist and he practised for months for that duet with me,” Lataji recalled.

Apparently, Dilipsaab felt she out-sang him and was unhappy about it.

“He has been my elder brother for decades now,” Lataji had said.

“I met him last a few years ago when I went to visit him. I thought he wouldn’t recognise me, but he did. Here is what I did to jog his memory. I sat next to him and said the opening words of our song, Lagi nahin chute rama…”

“He looked at me, smiled, and said the rest of the line, Chahe jiya jaye.”

“There is a special place in his living room where Sairaji (Banu) makes him sit when meeting guests. But he insisted on sitting next to me. He also insisted that I feed him with my hands.:

“I fed him some paneer. Then it was time for me to go. He wanted to see me off, but Sairaji insisted she would do it. I have not been able to visit him after that, much as I’ve wanted to.”

Now, sadly, Dilipsaab and Lataji are both gone.

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