Recording a Charming Song and Lata Mangeshkar’s Gesture of Generosity

How Suresh Jindal, a novice, first-time film producer, was completely bowled over by the singer’s kindness and humility when recording the song 'Rajnigandha phool tumhare'.

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My generation was expected to be ‘Macaulay putri or putra‘ and hence saw only Hollywood and British films in boarding school. The only time we saw Hindi films were those we saw with our families when we were home for the holidays. Amongst those that left an impression on me were Bimal Roy’s Madhumati and Do Bigha Zameen. Music for both was given by Salil Chowdhury.

So, when Basu Chatterjee suggested Salil should be the music director for Rajnigandha, a film I was producing, I grabbed the idea. 

“But Dada can we afford him? Will he not want more money than our tiny budget can afford?”

“Suresh, he has told me many times he wants to work with me. If you want, I will ask him and see if he will work for our fee.”

Salilda agreed. He lived on Mumbai’s Pedder Road and I had a PG room on Warden Road. On many evenings, I would walk over to his flat and learn about music, both Indian and Western, from this shy and humble master music director. Salilda was very fond of Western Classical music also and we spent many evenings listening to records from his vast collection. My knowledge of Indian Classical music was near zero but I knew a tiny bit about Western Classical music, having spent 11 years in California – both as a student and working as an engineering professional.

 Yogesh, who has written some of the unforgettable and most hummed lyrics of that time, wrote the theme song – ‘Rajnigandha phool tumare. He was one of the gentlest and most courteous persons I have met. Always smiling. In the music “sittings”, if either the director or music director requested he change a word or a line because they either were inadequate in conveying the intent or were obstructing the rhythm, the calm smile on his face never wavered and he would do it right away. He would do so any number of times required, without a flicker of irritation or a tantrum.

Ever since they worked together on the film Madhumati by the legendary Bimal Roy in their youth, Latabai (as Lata Mangeshkar was universally called) and Salil Choudhury had developed a deep and mutually admiring friendship. It was well known in the industry that Latabai may refuse to sing for some music directors, but she would sing for Salilda anytime, anywhere.

After Salilda had composed music for the theme song, we naturally wanted Latabai to sing it. I was a first-time producer, so had no credibility or weightage. ‘Rajnigandha phool tumahre’ would be the first-ever song I would be recording for my first ever film. Also, as we were making an “art” film, we were not too sure that the great singer would sing it at our request at “art” film rates. We requested Salilda to intervene to see to it that Latabai would not only sing the song but also accept a truncated “art cinema” fee.  

At Salida’s request, Latabai gave us a heavily discounted rate from her normal fixed one. I was very happy and humbled by her generosity.

Lata Mangeshkar. Photo: Instagram/Lata Mangeshkar

On the day of the recording, before we began, I handed over the fees to her driver, Abdul and requested him to convey my profuse gratitude to Latabai, for her kindness and generosity to accept a heavily discounted fee.

After the recording, as I was waiting for the song to be transferred to our tape from the studio tape, on which it is initially recorded, I saw Abdul through the glass panel, gesturing to me to come out and meet him. As soon as I stepped outside, he handed me an envelope in which there was half the money that I had given him earlier. 

In surprise, I asked him: “What’s this? Why is this?”

He says: “Aap Bai ji ko phone kar lo.”

I had so far not exchanged any words with her directly and was in total awe of her legendary status. Nervously, I made the call which she picked up herself.

I could barely mumble my gratitude in a muffled and barely audible whisper. The famous voice said:

“But I had told Abdul, only this morning to take this much amount from you. He just remembered the earlier amount I had told him. Hame yeh gaana gaane mein bahut accha laga, aur Salilda toh hamare liye bahut khaas hain. 

I didn’t know what I told her after, or if I did say anything at all, because I remained in a rosy daze for several days.

P.S.: My youngest domestic worker, who is 25 years old, to my 79 years, still comes excitedly with his little radio, whenever he hears this song. And I allow myself the smugness: “Hey Jindal sahib, not bad for your first film. The third generation after the film was released still love it!” Even if I am only revelling in the halo of the genius of Salilda, Latabai and Yogeshji illuminating me.

Suresh Jindal was the producer of films such as Rajnigandha, Shatranj ke Khiladi and Gandhi.