Why Lata Mangeshkar outshone other singers

Lata Mangeshkar has often been accused of rendering the other female singers of the era jobless

Lata Mangeshkar (Photo courtesy: social media)
Lata Mangeshkar (Photo courtesy: social media)

Subhash K Jha

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 come 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. Who sun 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.

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 Nightingale. 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.” 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 civilisation who come as reminders of the rule of mediocrity that prevails. Lataji belongs to a different league.”

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