Being a fanatic follower of Indian cinema history, I have been involved in enough discussions with people interested in the same, especially the film music of yesteryear. Inevitably, at some point of time that hypothetical question always rears its – I wouldn’t call it ugly – head. Would Lata Mangeshkar have succeeded the way she did if Noor Jehan had not chosen to make Pakistan her home following Partition?
I’d say this. With both women rightfully regarded as undisputed ‘queens of melodies’ in their two countries, why compare? In any case, their voices and styles of singing are so different from each other. However, some music lovers do feel that Noor Jehan did lose out to Lata Mangeshkar in one respect. Her repertoire of film songs in Pakistan, great as it was, is perhaps more limited, based largely within the Urdu based ghazal style or otherwise depending on strong influences from Punjabi music. Lata, on the other hand, had the advantage of singing under composers who came from all parts of India and thus had a musical base with a much higher degree of variety. Some, of course, feel this is not so as they contend that Noor Jehan, too, sang her share of songs, which covered a pretty large spectrum. And so it continues.
That said, in her early years, I do find a hint of Noor Jehan in Lata’s singing in films like Andaz (1949), one of her breakthrough films. The influence is especially more pronounced in her throw of words particularly in the Thod Diya Dil Mera song. According to historian Raju Bharatan, Lata did mention to Screen in the early 1950s that Noor Jehan was indeed her initial inspiration. However, he adds that once she made it big, she denied she had ever said that.
Today, thanks to YouTube, one can watch/listen to practically everything. Among the Noor Jehan songs I came across, were some from a hugely successful 1970 Pakistani movie, Anjuman. The film, directed by Hasan Tariq, stars some of Pakistani cinema’s top stars – Sabiha Khanum, Santosh, Rani, Waheed Murad and Deeba among others. Its music is composed by Nisar Bazmi, who after a career largely in B pictures in India, migrated to Pakistan sometime in the 1960s, where he became an extremely successful music director. One particular song from Anjuman that caught my fancy was this one, Nayanwa Chalayen Baan.
What’s interesting about the song is that it is the very same tune used in a Hindi film called Kar Bhala (1956). This film, produced and directed by Bhagwan stars Shashikala and Nasir Khan along with Begum Para, Pran and Bhagwan himself. The music is scored by surprise, surprise, Nisar Bazmi, along with the man regarded as India’s Louis Armstrong, Chic Chocolate. The song, sung by Lata Mangeshkar, goes Balamji Bade Nadan.
So what’s the verdict? Lata Mangeshkar or Noor Jehan? I, for one, refuse to take sides, preferring instead, to savor both the songs.