The Sisters Mangeshkar
Akhtar, Sitara Kanpuri, Binapani Mukherjee, Lalita Dewoolkar, Uma Devi and, in time, Shamshad Begum. Geeta ( as a Roy) started out almost alongside you, Lata, and her you never really conquered. The Geeta nova chose to self- destruct – how she did so is a tragic tale to be narrated later.
It is now almost embarrassing to talk of how much more ruthlessly Lata disposed of the talent that came later. I mean the talent with which Asha, then, was really jostling. But for Lata shunting such talent to the flanks, Asha might never have made it in such a big way. The ‘ Lata- aiding- Asha’ list of those phased out, here, includes Meena Kapoor, Sudha Malhotra, Sulochana Kadam, Sandhya Mukherjee, Mubarak Begum, Madhubala Jhaveri and Suman Kalyanpur. Suman’s was a voice strikingly similar to that of Lata. Indeed, OP Nayyar, no less, on radio mistook Suman for Lata in SJ’s 1968 hit Brahmachari duet with Rafi: Aajkal tere mere pyaar ke charchen har zubaan par. Not until wife Saroj Mohini Nayyar told him that it was Suman would OP, still incredulous, believe that it Chowdhury, Ashima Banerjee, Anima Dasgupta, Usha Timothy, Kamla Sista, Chandrani Mukherjee, Chhaya Ganguli, Priti Sagar, Dil Raj Kaur, Kanchan, Minu Purshottam and Kamal Barot ( if you like). Even intrepid invaders like Runa Laila and Nazia Hasan – during the mid- 1970s and at the start of the 1980s – just came and went. Parveen Sultana, after venturing into the highly catty Hindi film music fold, chose to stick to her original pursuit – classical music. The poles- apart Sharda, for her belligerently promoted part, painted herself into a Shanker corner. But only after having endangered Shanker- Jaikishan’s future as a team.
Later aspirants ( from the 1980s onwards) like Sushma Shreshtha, Kavita Krishnamurti, Alka Yagnik and Sadhna Sargam chose to pay unwavering obeisance to Lata and Asha. They diplomatically looked upon the two sisters as goddesses of song – just to keep the playback pendulum ticking for them. In such a passing parade, Meena Mangeshkar ( as the one coming between Lata and Asha!) had lost out early. As for the youngest sister Usha Mangeshkar, she had elected, from the word go, to sing in the shadow of either Lata or Asha. I am not bringing in the names of such dizzyingly idolized singing stars as Khurshid and Kanan Devi, Noorjehan and Suraiya. If only because Lata, very early, distanced herself from these talismanic performers by pronouncing herself to be ‘ purely a playback singer’.
.... Want published proof of her reach? Here is Kavita Krishnamurti clinchingly quoted from the April 1995 edition of The Times Group’s Filmfare: ‘ Panchamda called me and asked me if I’d like to sing for him. “It’s a big film,” he said. I told him that I would sing for him any day. That’s how I got the chance to sing such a marvellous melody as Pyaar Huaa Chupke Se [ in Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 1942 – A Love Story, released in April 1994]. Yes, I had sung Kuchh na kaho too [ in that film]. But three days after Panchamda’s sudden death [ on 4 January 1994], Vinod came over and told me that he wanted to have the song dubbed by Lata didi [ Asha’s unfailing way of referring to her ‘ elder sister’]. I was shocked. I had spoken to Panchamda at 10 pm – five hours later, I got a call, telling me he was no more. If Vinod had suggested any other singer, I may have had second thoughts. But since it was Lata didi I couldn’t argue.’
Thus did Kuchh na Kaho get to be dubbed after Pancham’s death when he could have no say in the matter. How an offkey Lata ‘ unsang’ Kuchh na kaho is by now a part of our musical lore. ( Published with permission from Hay