Lata Mangeshkar is, inarguably, India’s best known female playback singer and one with the longest innings. Well almost, though, her own sibling has raced past that honour.

Her mellifluously, golden voice, the moment it came under the limelight, began to be upheld as one of the finest India had produced or heard. She was, early on itself, given the sobriquet, ‘Nightingale of Bollywood’ and addressed as ‘Swar Kokila.’

Pt. Bhimsen Joshi gave Lata Mangeshkar the upadhi of ‘Gaan Saraswati’ and Gulzar bestowed upon her the title, ‘Mallika –ae-tarannum.’

In fact, Lata Mangeshkar’s name has become a generic term for matchless singing, quite like Google, Kleenex, Xerox, Band Aid, Scotch Tape have become for the products they sell. The term ‘Lata Mangeshkar’ is used as a touchstone for good voice and great singing talent.

In a career spanning 73 years, Lata Mangeshkar has, arguably, sung almost 10,000 songs in over 1200 films and in 36 languages. She once made a claim of singing 25,000 songs which was found to be fallacious.

One of the earliest criticisms Lata faced was that people in the industry felt her voice was too thin. But over time, that became her strongest asset.

With her uniquely, melodious voice, Lata Mangeshkar came to ride the crest of success, she became the most heard voice over the airwaves and received unbelievably generous adulation, both from her fraternity and the public.

Yet, Lata has never been self-sure and self-secure.

Lata Mangeshkar has been known to not encourage new talent. At her peak, it was said that she would easily get threatened by upcoming talent and would do her all to squash them in the bud. She is infamous for the jealousy-ridden rivalry she had with her own uber-talented sister Asha Bhonsle.

This has been strange because Lata, when starting out, herself faced stiff competition from stalwarts of the time such as Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt, Suraiya and Noor Jehan.

Still, Lata courted controversies by hanging out her insecurities. It seemed, the more she was being hailed, the more harrowing her behaviour was turning out to be.

Lata Mangeshkar stopped speaking to S D Burman for three or four years because he said he had a big hand in building her career. She refused to work with O P Nayyar because he also worked with Asha Bhonsle.

Lata has been known to be mean-hearted and in her prime, was adept at playing dirty politics to ensure that she reigned supreme. Names of Suman Kalyanpur, Anuradha Paudwal, Hariharan have popped up as people who faced this ugly side of this singing superstar.

Since old habits die hard, the Didi of Bollywood recently opened up about Ranu Mandal. And true to her grain, she has been far from being complementary or encouraging.

Ranu, a fallen-on-hard-times busker at a Railway Station may feel ecstatic to be spoken about by none other than India’s Queen of Melody, the lady who was the first Indian to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in 1974.

But, where we would have expected kindness and encouragement, we get Didi speaking about people getting quick and fleeting fame by singing her songs.

“Her songs” really!!! A song is never a singer’s song alone. So many people have contributed to its creation – the lyricist being paramount and the music composer being the most integral.

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Carrying on with her comment about Ranu, Lata Mangeshkar has gone onto coerce singers to be original, urging them “to find their own song,” while semi-acknowledging the viral sensation Ranu has become overnight.

It is the same Lata who, a while back, cut an album called “Shradhanjali” singing covers of famous songs by greats such as K L Saigal, Pankaj Mullick, Mohd. Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar and others. There are three issues I have with the album – whose originals I have loved from the core of my heart.

Lata Mangeshkar controversy over Ranu Mondal has reduced their status in the eyes of young and old fans. Why did she do this?

Firstly, they were very poor renditions. Secondly, they were sung at a time Lata had lost her mojo. Her “sureeli’ voice had become squeaky and jarring, the notoriously hilarious caricature of which Sugandha Mishra presented with gusto at a few Radio Mirchi Awards. And finally, one must practice what one preaches, especially those under perpetual arc lights. Lata Didi cannot berate and deride others for what she allows herself to indulge in.

“But I also feel imitation is not a reliable and durable companion for success,” the famous singer has said. For Pete’s sake, Ranu was hardly trying to imitate. Success was not even on her mind; survival was.

Talent and Destiny have their inbuilt, natural filters. They regularly and pronouncedly sift out those who are less talented or less fortunate out of the race.

Lata was bestowed with both. Perhaps, Ranu may as well be. We shall know.

Sadly, in spite of being hugely talented and monumentally lucky, Lata has not been magnanimous. Lata Mangeshkar has been immensely gifted, legendary in her achievements, with a sound pedigree and unbelievably divine opportunities. It would have been a perfect story had she been as accepting, inclusive, large-hearted and supportive of others.

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As for Ranu, who is being compared to Lata Mangeshkar probably because she sings in the same high scale and has a voice as thin and soft as the legend, destiny will define her journey, having been noticed for her talent for now.

Finally, Lata should listen keenly to “her own” song which has such a profound lesson woven within its lyrics –

Ek Pyaar Kaa Nagmaa Hai, Maujon Ki Ravaani Hai

Kuch Paakar Khona Hai, Kuch Khokar Paanaa Hai
Jeevan Ka Matlab Toh, Aanaa Aur Jaanaa Hai

And she would salvage her soul once and for all if she would take Ranu, and people like her, under her umbrella and mentor them for the greatness that they too may deserve.

Picture by Times Of India

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