Legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar speaks about her sister Asha Bhosle and why she thinks today’s music directors may not ‘like’ her.
Excerpts from the rare interview
On the musical reality show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa recently your sister Asha Bhosle dialed your number and made the contestants and musician-judges talk to you.It was a very revealing moment..
Yes I sometimes watch these musical shows and I am very happy to see the talented children . What is gratifying is that they often come to the show after being trained in Hindustani classical music . I keep telling singers of today that it is very important to have a knowledge of shastriya sangeet. Otherwise you are just singing for the sake of singing.
It has always been presumed that you and Ashaji never saw eye to eye and yet there she was on the show dialing you and making the entire group of judges and contestants speak to you?
This talk of our differences has been blown out of all proportions over the years. We are sisters first and foremost, and forever. We were never rivals as singers. What Asha can do before the mike I can never do.I can never sing Piya tu ab to aaja or Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko the way she can. My point is, we had our own individual space as singers.Why would we be seen as rivals? Yeh bilkul galat hai. People say all kinds of things about our relationship. There’s no fight between us.Until some years back we lived in adjoining flats and there was a connecting door between our homes. We were constantly in and out of one another’s homes. At a tender age Asha left home and got married. And she made a big name for herself.I’m very proud of her. We share a very healthy relationship.There is no stress. 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.
How do you rate Asha as 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 manna padega ki woh bahut badi gayika hai.
Watch top Asha Bhosle hits
Do you miss your great colleagues?
Oh yes! I miss Kishoreda (Kumar) and Mukesh Bhaiyya.I also miss Mohd Rafi Saab .I miss Madan Bhaiyya (Mohan), Salil Choudhary,Shankar-Jaikishan, Hemant Kumar, Naushad Saab was much more than a music director for me. He used to invite me home, feed me, look after me. It was a time of great creativity and friendship.
Do you feel because of your stature your siblings did not get their due?
I disagree with that. Today in Maharashtra it’s not just me who’s recognised.We are known collectively as the Mangeshkar family.But yes, to an extent the belief that other trees cannot grow under a banyan tree is applicable to my family.
What other dreams do you nurture?
What I’ve received is much more than I deserve. Aisa kissiko milta nahin. I look at artists better than me and wonder why they didn’t get the fame they deserve.
(Taken aback) What do you mean?(laughs). There are so many artists better than me. There is a world outside cinema where much talent languishes.Look at classical singers. They die in penury.
Watch best Lata Mangeshkar hits
But the biggest classical singers have acknowledged your greatness?
That’s their greatness. I am blessed. Main kuch bhi nahin hoon phir bhi bahut kuch hoon.
Every composer gave their best to your voice?
I suppose I did sing well. Or else why would they want me to sing? Why would composers wait for me when I was not available? Composers waited for months. Doesn’t that prove their trust in me? Music in those days used to be very important. The composers were kings. Music was the life of films. That isn’t true any more.
There is just one music director in history of playback composition who never worked with you….
(Promptly) OP Nayyar. He was a fine music director. But his style didn’t suit me.That’s what he told me.And I agreed. He publicly acknowledged me as the No.1 singer. I shared a very warm rapport with him.
What style are we talking about here?
The way he made Geeta Dutt or my sister Asha sing was not suited to me. But you know when he set out to compose for his first film he called me to sing. But I had to cancel the recording . I think he felt bad about the cancellation of his first song.Nahin hua mere liye achcha hua.
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What is your advice for the coming generations of artists and entertainers who look up to you?
Do you think they need or want my advice? The young today are far smarter than I ever used to be.And they get success far more easily than I did. They haven’t seen the trying times that I did. Only I know what I went through in my adolescence when I was suddenly the bread earner of our family after our father’s death.Each day was a new struggle for me. Even when I began to get work regularly there was the challenge of doing my best. Singing a song for Naushad Saab was not the same as singing for Shankar-Jaikishan.Every song brought its own fresh challenges.I had to give 100%. When I sang I didn’t think about my lipstick getting smudged, because I didn’t wear any. Or how I looked because I didn’t have time to look into the mirror.I didn’t even think about the money although I desperately needed it to look after my family.Haan, there was that junoon to excel.
Is there an absence of truly creative music directors today?
Not entirely. AR Rahman, Shankar Mahadevan, Salim-Suleiman are talented.Shankar Mahadevan is a decent human being,a very talented and humble artist. I rate humility very high as a quality in an artist. Arrogance is unacceptable to me. Main hamesha jhuk kar hi pranaam karti hoon.But yes,the kind of composers that I had the privilege of working with, was exceptional. I feel I was a child in a departmental store filled with the most amazing goodies. I was blessed. Just see the singers that I got to work with : Rafi Saab, Kishoreda, Manna Dey, Mukesh bhaiyya,Geeta Dutt, Hemant Kumar, my sister Asha—they were all so inspiring, so motivating. Both my sister and I were motivated to do our best by the composers and singers who were around with us.We learnt while we worked.
Whom do you consider your biggest influences?
You mean in my singing? I remain indebted to Ghulam Hyder Saab, Khemchand Prakashji and Sajjad Huassainwho initially saw something special in my voice.Then there were Madan Mohan, SD Burman, RD Burman, Jaidev, Salil Chowdary, Hemant Kumar…I was like a student before them.We’d sit and rehearse one song for days , and mind you , this was when there were 8-9 songs in every film.Yet every song was like creating a child. That’s how attached we got to what we created in the music room.I obeyed my composers, and then added something on my own to each song.That sense of camaraderie is denied to today’s singers.
Do you feel sorry for them?
No, not at all. But if they sang for the great composers they’d have definitely benefited. Moreover nowadays the scope for songs in our films is limited. Singers are more partial to stage shows.Because they are hardly getting playback songs.So they can’t be blamed.
Have you stopped singing for films?
Of course not! I will sing till I can.Maybe today’s music directors can’t connect with me. Maybe they don’t like me (laughs).I’ve no quibbles with them.Composers probably believe, ‘Lata ab nahin gaati hai, ab thak gayi hai.Ab bahut umar ho gaya.’ If they wish they’re welcome to think I am too old to sing. I am not bothered. I can’t say yes to today’s composers until I hear the words and tunes.So I request them to send a scratch recording to me. I fear, not enjoying singing a song at the recording. It happened only once in my entire career.And even then I sang the song and then expressed my misgivings.
Which song was this?
It was for a film called Chacha Zindabad produced by that wonderful actor Om Prakash who was my raakhi-brother. One of my favourites Madan Mohan was the composer.It was a dance number. Maine gaaya aur bahotachcha gaaya. Then after the recording I called Om Prakash Bhaiyya aside and told him that he should get the song done by someone else. He protested saying I had sung so well. I told Om Prakash Bhaiyya, ‘If you want to give something to your rakhi-sister then please get the song re-recorded with someone else.’
What was so embarrassing in the song?
See, the situation on the song was that the girl is a classical singer. She starts singing in a ramba-sumbha style to attract her boyfriend. To my relief Om Prakashji got it done by someone else.
Your sister Asha Bhosleji?
I don’t know who sang it. I was just relieved I was out of it. From then on I make sure I don’t go to a recording unless I am comfortable with the lyrics and tune. After the above incident composers kept my preferences in mind.
But you’ve sung cabaret songs like Aa jaan-e-jaan in Inteqaam and Naam hai mera jameela in Night In London as seductively as your sister?
Oh, but those cabaret songs required a whole lot of convincing from the composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal. They made sure the words were not cheap or suggestive and that the tune was within my comfort zone. Moreover a very graceful dancer Helen performed them.
Listen to 51 hit songs by Lata Mangeshkar
Did you leave westernized numbers to your sister?
No, no ! Please don’t make me sound like a sacrificing martyr. 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 am meant for softer, romantic songs.
Why are we not getting to hear you sing in today’s films?
Main aapko sach bataaoon? Mera dil nahin karta aaj-kal ki filmon mein gaane ka. Na main aaj ke gaane samajh paati hoon aur na aaj ke gaane banaane wale mujhe samajh payenge. (Should I tell you the truth? I don’t want to sing for films these days. Neither do I understand today’s songs nor will the composers understand me.)
What motivated you into remaining the voice of the Hindi film industry for 65 years?
Besides my parents’ blessings,there was a drive and determination in me from the beginning. I was not born to lose. Jo mujhe karna ttha wohkarna hi ttha. One has to be fully committed to one’s career.Otherwise there’s no point to it.