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The Nightingale Lata Mangeshkar On Her  Equation With Sister Asha Bhosle

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Lataji Mangeshkar

Everyone knows  Lataji and her  super-illustrious sister  have come together  for monumental numbers like  Mann  kyon behka(Utsav) and Jab jab tumhe bulaya(Jahan Aara).But it’s  not well-known that the two legendary sisters have  sung 50-55 songs together.

The  stories  of  their fierce rivalry  notwithstanding,  the singing legends Lata Mangeshkar and her sister Asha Bhosle have always shared  close ties.

“We used to live in two adjacent apartments connected  by a door and we would be  in and out of each other’s  homes all day. Now Asha  has moved out of that apartment. But we are  in touch regularly.We are sisters and have always been very close. The rivalry is all in the minds of  others,” says Lataji.

 In fact  there are  two major instances  of Lataji happily passing on her song to her Choti Bahen.

 Producer  Pahlaj Nihalani speaks  of one  such incident.  “Bappi Lahiri and I wanted only Lataji  to sing all the songs  of  my  1991  film First Love  LetterLataji came and  sang all the beautiful melodies in no time  at all. But then when she was  to record the last  song Kambal na hatao, she said  it suited her sister better.So we called Ashaji  for that song.”

Another incident  where  Lataji voluntarily opted out of  a song was narrated to me by  the late Yash Chopra. “As usual Lataji was my female  voice  when my son Adi(Aditya Chopra) made his  directorial debut in Dilwale  Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. But for one song Zara jhoom loon main Lataji told me Ashaji would be better.So we got Ashaji to do that one song.”

 Lataji is full of  praise for  her  sister. “What my sister Asha   has achieved is amazing. I’m  very proud of  her. It’s said that  no tree can grow under a large  tree. I’m lucky that I  never had to go out and seek work for my kith and kin.  Whatever my brother Hridayanath and sister Usha have achieved in the music world, they’ve done on their own. But I feel my presence has cast a shadow over their careers.  Asha had to  move away  from my shadows to prove herself. And  she  did it so  wonderfully! She set out to do what she had to on her own. And I feel very happy.”

 I tell Lataji that she  seems to have left  a certain kind of  song, the fast-paced Westernized numbers.   for her  sister. Lataji  protests, “ My sister  has reached a stage in her career where she can  attempt anything.  I  want  her  to  touch the sky…. Please don’t make me sound like a sacrificing martyr by saying I let Asha sing the westernized songs. Aisa bilkul nahin. I just couldn’t connect with cabaret song.What Asha can sing I can tell you without any pretence of modesty I can never sing. I can never give the expression and style she did in Aaja aaja main hoon pyar tera and Piya tu ab to aaja. It’s just not me. I  was meant for softer, romantic songs.As for our much-discussed personal relationship, let me make it very clear that We share a very good relationship.There is no stress.”

   Lataji  admits the  two Mangeshkar sisters have their normal share of differences. “We meet very often. Though she doesn’t stay nextdoor any more   she has her morning tea with me whenever she’s here.If  one is cooking in the same kitchen there’s bound to be some clamour.It’s just routine family squabbles.Whenever Asha has a show she seeks my blessings first. I’ve heard her lyric-book has my picture  in it. My relationship with none of my siblings is troubled. I fulfil the function  of the eldest with all my siblings.I am fortunate to have such siblings. People say all kinds of things about our relationship. There’s no fight between us But yes, at a tender age Asha left home and got married. And she made a big name for herelf.I’m very proud of her.I rate Asha very highly as an artiste and a singer. She didn’t become famous for nothing.She can sing every kind of song. Thank God she didn’t adopt my style of singing. If she had we’d have become competition for one another. She went on her own path. Yeh man-na padega ki woh bahut badi gayika hai. We’re sisters and  have always been that. Whenever we meet we meet with affections. The fights were because of  her husband   who was against   me.Maybe he  felt Asha didn’t   get work  because of Lata. He stopped her from coming to our house and  he stopped us sisters from  meeting.  But then Asha  and I  started singing some  duets together and would meet  with  warmth.It is said that composers favoured my voice over Asha’s. Not true. What about so many films  where  only Asha  sang all the songs?  In fact O.P Nayyarji worked only with her.  Even some of  Burman Dada’s scores had only Asha’s vocals.I wish Asha good health, peace of mind and more success.”

Also Read:  “Unke barey mein aaj socha to aansoon bhar aaye”, Remembering Madan Mohan The Melody Making Maestro on his 47th Death Anniversary

 It is said that when  the two  legendary singers sang together  they  never looked at one another

Lataji laughed  off that rumour when I brought it up. “Another one of those  myths that were created  to make people think we are at loggerheads. I think this back-to-back singing  myth was created  based on  one  photograph where the two  of us  are seen  standing  looking in opposite directions.It’s  funny how permanent impressions are created based on fleeting moments.”

Lataji  says  she has sung  innumerable songs  with  her sister. “Asha and I have sung at least 50-60 songs together. People  only know some of them like the  duets from Utsav(Mann kyon behka) , Dharam-veer(Bandh ho mutthi toh laakh  ki) and  Pancham’s song in Padosan, Main  chali main chali.But we sang multiple  songs for composers Chitragupta and Shankar-Jaikishan and many others.”

 I  tell  Lataji about their rarest-of-rare duets  Paake  akeli mohe chhed raaha in a film called  Jail Yatra(1981). It wasn’t easy for R D Burman  to balance out his  equation between the two sisters. While one was his  muse  the  other was his wife. And the muse constantly  felt sidelined.Bringing them together for this  neglected  zingy dance number  in a little-known Vinod Khanna  starrer  couldn’t have been easy. And yet when they  burst into the  dance moves we hear nothing but the two singers having a whole lot of fun. The  tune has elements of RD-Lataji’s Bangle ke peeche. It’s a top-nautch duet with the potential of being a chartbuster. Sadly it went unnoticed. Just like the other Lata-Asha duet Tu badi kismet wali hai in Sanjog that RD recorded.

Lataji has no recollection of her  duets  with her sister  for RD in Jail Yatra and Sanjog. “Both Asha and I were recording round-the-clock in the 1960s and 70s. We would  do the recording to the  best of our abilities and then move on. Till  date I don’t listen to my songs  out of fear  of having made mistakes.  If you ask me  to identify all my songs  I wouldn’t be able to. I remember  friends would call up and say, ‘Lata,  mujhe tumhara  yeh gana bahot achcha laga’ They would name  a song that I had supposedly  recorded  recently and which was blaring on  the radio. But  I’d  wonder, ‘Yeh kaun sa gaana hai?’ Best  not  to rest  on one’s laurels. At least I’ve never done that.”