Lata Mangeshkar who turned 80 on September 28 pours her heart out to Subhash K Jha.
What did you do on your 80th birthday?
Nothing. I just disappeared as I usually do on my birthday.
The 80-year phenomenal journey, how do you define it?
What do I say about the journey? How do I describe how and why it happened? I myself don't know. But it's God's grace. I feel He has sent me to earth to sing. I started singing at 5. But I don't think I've worked as hard as many other people. And yet God has continued to shower me with His benevolence.
Why do you say you didn't have to work hard?
I did work hard after my father died. From 1942-1947 I had to do things I didn't like doing, like acting. But I didn't have to struggle too hard to make myself heard. Composers heard me and liked my voice almost immediately.
After 1947 when I started doing playback singing the work never stopped. But yes, before that it wasn't easy. Money was a problem. I used to travel by train from Grant Road to Malad and then save money by walking instead of taking the tonga to the recording studios.
I thereby saved 50 paise to 1 rupee which I used to buy vegetables for the family while returning home in the evening. I was the sole bread-earner after our father passed away.
To be a working girl in those days was somewhat uncommon for the middleclass?
I never thought of what was uncommon or accepted. I did what I had to. I was happy working, though getting up early rushing out, returning late....these were tough. When I started recording a number of songs every day I used to come home at 2 am.
My aunt's daughter Indira used to accompany me quite often although she had two kids. My sister Asha Bhosle had married. But we 3 sisters, our brother, mother, my cousin Indira and her two kids were all my responsibility.
There has never been a rough patch in your 65-year old career?
What can I say? I'm blessed. Nowadays I've almost stopped singing film songs. But I enjoy singing and I continue to do the work I'm comfortable with like the recent Hamuman Chalisa and my forthcoming project with my brother. When I look back I see nothing I'd like to change.
What about the harassments that all working girls face?
Kissi ne mere saath budtameezi nahin ki.. Minor differences and misunderstandings did crop up. Vested interests often tried to create misunderstandings between me and composers. Sometimes these blew up into major cold wars.
Once Burman Dada (S.D. Burman) needed to re-record a song. I told the man who conveyed the message that I'd do the needful after a week. Later I got to know the man told Burman Dada that I refused to re-record.
What about your infamous rift with Mohd Rafi?
I'll tell you what happened. We had a musicians' Association in the 1960s. Mukesh Bhaiyya, Talaj Mehmood Saab had started a campaign for artistes to get musical royalty so that their old age is comfortable. Main to leti thi royalty.
But I wanted other artistes to get it. Rafi Saab was instigated into opposing my campaign. In a meeting among musicians he said, ‘We get money for what we sing from producers and that's the end of what we get.'
When he was asked his opinion Rafi Saab turned to Mukesh Bhaiyya and said, ‘I guess this Maharani here will say whatever has to be said.'
He meant you?
Yes he meant me. I said, ‘Of course I am a Maharani. But why are you calling me that?' He said in front of everyone at the meeting that he won't sing with me. I turned around and said, ‘Yeh kasht aap kyon kar rahe hain? Main hi nahin gaaongi aapke saath.'
I stormed out of the meeting and from the phone outside the room I called up every music director to inform them that I would thereafter not sing with Rafi Saab. We didn't sing together for almost three years.
How did you patch up?
It was because of composers Shankar-Jaikishan. They approached both of us and complained that their duets were getting spoilt because of our differences. I asked them to get a letter from Rafi Saab retracting what he had said during the meeting. That's how it ended.
What about the alleged differences between you and your sister Asha Bhosle?
We're sisters and have always been that. Whenever we meet we meet with affections. The fights were because of her husband who was against me.
Because you opposed their marriage?
Yes, there was some tension in the house. Subsequently maybe he felt Asha didn't get work because of Lata. He stopped her from coming to our house and he stopped us sisters from meeting. But then Asha and I started singing some duets together and would meet with warmth.
But the truth is composers gave all the heroines' songs to you and all all the songs for supporting actresses to Ashaji?
Not always. What about so many films where only Asha sang all the songs? In fact O.P Nayyarji worked only with her. Even some of Burman Dada's scores had only Asha's vocals.
That's because you and S.D.Burman had a fight?
True. I didn't sing for him for fourteen years. Someone had caused mischief. Burman Dada said, "I won't have Lata sing my songs.' I said, ‘I won't sing for you.'
Asha sang all the songs for Burman Dada during that period, even for Waheeda Rehman who insisted on my voice. Then one day out of the blue Burman Dada phoned me and said he wanted me to sing Mora gora rang lai le and Jogi jab se aaya tu aaya mere dware for Bandini.
It was his son RD who brought us together. I remember Burman Dada specifically told me that Mora gora rang was written by a promising new poet Gulzar.
Any unfulfilled dreams?
None for myself. Except I wish I had given more time to learning classical singing. Lekin jo hua woh bahut hi achcha hua. God has given me more than I ever deserved. I feel my father's blessings are with me.
I feel my parents are with me all the time. What I want is that future generations of Mangeshkars keep my father's legacy alive. By God's grace my niece Radha and nephew Baijanth are singing well. I wish them to make a name for themselves.
Do you miss having your own children?
Not at all. My siblings' children are mine.
Besides who would have been worthy of marrying you?
(laughs). That question never arose.