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Conjuring magic with Lata-Kishore: An excerpt from On Stage with Lata

Co-authored by Mohan Deora and Rachana Shah, the latest book, On Stage with Lata, details the historic foreign tours which introduced Lata Mangeshkar to Indian audiences abroad in the 1970s. They went on until the late 1990s. This particular section highlights the friendly nature on stage between Mangeshkar and frequent singer on most duets, Kishore Kumar.

Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar (Courtesy: Harper Collins India)

Our Correspondent

Accompanied by singers Mukesh and Kishore Kumar, the concerts brought the former Indian residents in close contact with the singers they’d only heard on their radios and the big screen. Organiser Mohan Deora, who already had a job as a nuclear scientist at Detroit Edison, took on the monumental task of coordinating the shows across the United States and Canada. Rachana Shah, Mangeshkar’s niece had also come along on the tour as a child. Shah, her brother and cousin occasionally sang backup for their aunt and now she has also gotten the opportunity to document those eventful days on tour through the book, On Stage with Lata. The book has been edited by Nasreen Munni Kabir.

This excerpt is reproduced with permission from Harper Collins India.

Our tour kicked off on 24 May 1985 in Houston at the Theatre Southwest. The exceptional singing and unpredictable humour kept the audience totally enthralled. Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar weaved their magic. As singers and performers, their personalities were poles apart. Conductor and arranger Anil Mohile has said perceptively, ‘When Lataji sings, she follows the musicians and when Kishore Kumar sings, the musicians follow him.’

Another insightful description of these two great artists came from the writer, Dr Punita Bhatt: ‘She is the living legend, he is the melodious madcap. She is simply the voice, he is the singer-actor-producer-director-writer-lyricist, all rolled into one. She is reserved but cordial, he is reserved and aloof. On stage together, she stands to one side, her glasses perched on her nose, rendering deeply emotional songs with hardly any expression; he stalks the stage, prances about, clowns, creating a rapport with anything that moves. In professional style and personal manner, Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar are the fish and fowl of the music industry. They have little in common but their music. Yet, whenever they have teamed up together for stage shows, the totality is greater than the sum of its parts.’

Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Usha Mangeshkar with the musical troupe.
Courtesy: Harper Collins India

Indeed, Kishore Kumar did not just walk onto the stage but pranced on it. With great flair and an air of the theatrical, he would say as he stepped onto the stage, ‘Pyaare doston, sangeet premiyon, mere naana naaniyon, mere maama maamiyon, mere bachche bachchiyon, mere daada daadiyon, mere kaaka kaakiyon, aap sab ko Kishore Kumar Khandwa-wale ka namaskar!’ (An attempt at translation without the rhyme: Dear friends, lovers of music. My maternal grandpas and grandmas, my maternal uncles and aunts, my boys and girls, my paternal grandpas and grandmas, my paternal uncles and aunts – to everyone here – greetings from the man from Khandwa!)

Peals of laughter filled the auditorium and the same reaction repeated itself in every city to Kishore-da’s introduction. He then went onto sing his old popular songs and the applause never stopped. Lataji’s niece, the actress Padmini Kolhapure, came on stage to say a few words about these two legends. Then came the time for the duets.

Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar in a relaxed moment.
Courtesy: Harper Collins India

It was just amazing to watch Lataji and Kishore-da in action. Their famous impromptu wit had the audience in splits. ‘Ab aap ke saamne ek aur duet pesh karenge. Lata bataaengi nahin wo kaun sa duet hai.’ (We are going to sing another duet for you, but Lata won’t tell you which one it is.) They started by singing ‘Shaayad meri shaadi ka khayal dil mein aaya hai’, and seamlessly they weaved in two other duets, ending with:

Lata: Piya, dekho diye jalte hain (Sweetheart, look! The night lamps have now been lit)

Kishore: Bujha dete hain (So let me put them out)

Lata: Achchha to hum chalte hain (Well, then I had better be going)

As she left the stage, Kishore-da looked startled and said, ‘Lata has left! You guys [the audience] do not desert me too. Now I will sing a song that I sang in playback for the Maha-Guru, Dev Anand.’ He then went onto sing ‘Dukhi mann mere’.