It opened with the tunes of Satyam Shivam Sundaram from the 1978 Bollywood film and stepped further back in time for Pyar kiya to darna kya from the 1960 epic ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ – by then the packed audience at London’s Royal Albert Hall last week was already transported to another world.
Singer Palak Muchhal had the unenviable task of recreating some of the magic associated with the “Nightingale of India” for BBC Proms’ tribute concert ‘Lata Mangeshkar – Bollywood Legend’.
“This is an extremely special moment for me, to be paying tribute to such a legend of Indian music, adored the world over,” said the singer, addressing the audience in Hindi – perhaps overlooking a minority of non-British-Indians among the thousands visibly mesmerised by some of the haunting melodies.
She did justice to most of the iconic songs, let down only by her choice of fellow vocalist, brother Palash Muchhal, for some of the duets. The Bollywood Co. London dancers added a vibrant touch to some of the numbers, especially a perfectly timed medley combining two classics from ‘Pakeezah’ – Thare rahiyo and Chalte chalte yunhi koi.
But the real stars of the concert were the musicians, with some inspired arrangements by Tim Pottier and a pitch perfect performance by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), under the assured direction of conductor Michael Seal – also the arranger behind some of the tunes. That the concert was not rammed with traditional Indian instruments, with just some pleasing tabla and dhol beats sprinkled in, magnified the truly universal appeal of Indian film songs that have their roots in classical music. It also gave the well-known and loved songs a charming new musical pitch for the audience to sing and sway along to.
As the BBC Proms rightly pointed out in the concert notes, a single evening can offer only a snapshot of a career that spanned nearly seven decades, one in which Bharat Ratna Lata Mangeshkar sang around 50,000 songs in countless films. But the end result was a pleasing compilation spanning over more than half a century of Indian music.
It marked the first Bollywood celebration for over a decade at the Proms and will hopefully inspire BBC’s annual season of live orchestral music to delve deeper into showcasing Indian music – not only for a substantial Indian diaspora audience, but also beyond.
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Meanwhile, nearly 50 years after the musical legend’s own rare live performance in March 1974, Lata Mangeshkar’s tunes once again echoed in the iconic Royal Albert Hall. Let’s hope there will be more to come!
*Info: BBC Prom 18