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Why Lata Mangeshkar Outshone Every Other Singer

She is  the  undisputed   queen of melody. Lata Mangeshkar is to  music what  Picasso is  to painting and Mozart  to   the symphony.  Such  talent and reputation  comes  with a price. Lataji has often been accused  of rendering  the  other female singers  of the era  jobless

Geeta Dutt for example, who was  the favourite  of  Sachin Dev Burman suddenly found herself pushed  out of favour  by the  other voice.Or take  Lataji’s  own sister Asha  Bhosle, she  was the second choice for all the composers  , until O P Nayyar and R  D Burman came along.

It is  said that Geeta would  ring up Sachinda and ask him why he had  switched to Lataji’s  voice. His  answer was  unchangeable. “Lota(that’s what he called her) is Lota.”

I  was  once speaking to the  great Manna Dey about the so-called competition  that Lataji swept away he said, “When Lata emerged as a  force  to reckon with ,  the  other popular voices of  the  time  like Zohrabai Ambewali and  Shamshah Begum began  to appear  unpolished. They  lacked Lata’s sophistication. Lata has a very very rare talent.I wouldn’t say she has been taught music. Wohsun sun ke bani hai.She learnt  from Noor Jehan. She even learnt by listening to Geeta Dutt.  But Lata polished all the weaknesses in Geeta’s throat.”

The world  may  have felt that Lataji ousted Geeta  Dutt. But  Geeta, a gem of a  person, never  showed any resentment towards her rival.

Lataji once told me they  were close friends.  “We sang  many duets together. She was  very fond of me.And I  of her. She  used to confide her  domestic problems  in me. We spent hours chatting and gossiping,” Lataji  told me.

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Another singer who is said to have been  deeply affected  by Lataji’s  supremacy  is Suman Kalyanpur.  It is  Ms Kalyanpur’s misfortune that she sounded  like a feeble version  of  Lataji and got branded the  ‘poor man’s Lata Mangeshkar.’

 Not too many people know  this. But Lataji actually  recommended Suman K whenever she, Lataji,  was  unable to do a song. And  yet there were stories circulated  about Suman’s career being sabotaged. On the  contrary,Suman Kalyanpur only benefited from her vocal resemblance  to the Nightinagle. Whenever composers couldn’t get  the original  they  embraced the echo.

 Which brings us to Anuradha Paudwal. She came  into the  1990s determined to be  Lataji’s replacement. With the backing of T Series she  re-recorded every single song she could lay her hands on of  Lataji in her own voice. She also tried to  get Lataji’s replaced  with her own  voice in the  compositions of Laxmikant-Pyarelal.

None  of this worked. One can’t “replace” the sun or  the  moon.

 A self-confessed Lata bhakt Javed Akhtar says,  “Lataji is the most defining emblem of Indian cinema.Normally artistes  strive for perfection. Only Lata Mangeshkar has  achieved it. There’re no boundaries to her  excellence and reach.”

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The poet feels Hindi film songs define the Indian identity the worldover. “You know, Hindi film music  is  so  deeply rooted to our  life and culture… When I  go to foreign countries and to  very exclusive gatherings of NRIs who are deeply  conscious  of their status  and position, they invariably lose their inhibitions  once  everyone starts singing songs.  More than cinema, I think Indians all over  the world are bonded by film songs.  Film  music outlives cinema. Today we remember Lataji’s songs.  But   not  the films they belong to.”

Javed Saab feels it’s impossible to assess the true measure of Lataji’s contribution to Indian cinema. “No matter how  much we revere Lataji, we cannot even begin to evaluate  her contribution.Her body   of work is beyond awesome.Listen  to  the nostalgia channel on the FM radio channels.  80 percent  of  the songs are by Lataji.  She has proved perfection is possible in this  imperfect world.”

The poet compares Lataji to the greatest artistes of the world. “Sometimes I think people  like Lataji, Ghalib, Beethoven and Shakespeare  are far removed from the normal  chain of human civilization . If  they were just role models how come no one was able  to achieve an iota of their perfection?They are intruders of civilization who come as  reminders   of the rule  of mediocrity that  prevails. Lataji   belongs to a  different  league.”

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Javed Saab  recalls an illustrative anecdote about Lataji that truly defines the voice of India. “I’ll tell you an incident that Pandit Jasraj narrated  to me.In the 1950s he was in  Amritsar  when  he went to meet the classical genius Ustad Bade Ghulam  Ali  Khan  who  was his God. When Pandit Jasraj got chatting Bade Ghulam Ali Saab  suddenly told  the young man to keep quiet. He heard  the sound of  the young Lata Mangeshkar singing Yeh zindagi usski ki hai from Anarkali. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan  was enraptured.  He finally said, ‘Kambhakt, kabhi besuri hoti hi nahin.’  That remark had  the affection of a father and the envy of an artist.”

Javed Saab  ends his emotional encomium with a Lata-centric homage from a musicologist. “I remember meeting a music scholar Chaman Bharti in Bhopal.  I asked  him what he  found so special about Lata Mangeshkar. He explained to me, ‘If you take a strand of hair and put it under a  miscroscope here would be a center to  that magnified view  of the strand  of hair. Sur kitna bhi bareeq ho usska jo exact center hai wahan Lata Mangeshkar gaati hai.”

   Incidentally Javed Saab is not the only poet-lyricist to dedicate lines to Lataji. The great Majrooh Sultanpuri wrote a 24-line poem entitled Lata Mangeshkar Ke Naam in which he wrote,  “…Jahaan rang na khushboo hai koi/Tere hothon se mehak jaate hain afkaar mere/Mere lafzon ko jo choo leti hai awaaz teri/Sarhadein tod ke udd jaati hain  ashaar mere.”

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