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 Letter. Lataji 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.”
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.”