Her voice has immortalised hundreds of songs. So it’s a surprise when one gets to know that the legendary Lata Mangeshkar doesn’t listen to her own songs! “I never could bear to hear myself. Whenever a song of mine would play on the radio or TV, I’d quickly leave the room. If I ever hear myself singing, I can find a dozen faults,” says the eternal songstress.
But she’s perfection personified. In fact, well-known Hindustani classical vocalist Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan had affectionately cribbed, ‘Kambakkht, kabhi besura nahin gaati (the devil, she never goes offkey).’ Recalling this, Lataji laughs, “Woh unka badappan tha (that was his greatness). But any artiste, singer or otherwise, must keep striving for excellence. These days, I don’t see that lagan (discipline) and junoon (passion) in singers.”
Practice is the one thing Lataji feels is lacking in singers today. “Riyaaz. That is what makes singing worthwhile. I was in and out of recordings constantly but I still made time to do riyaaz. I wish I had devoted more time to practicing my classical singing. Singers today are completely losing touch with their classical heritage. An A.R. Rahman or a Shankar Mahadevan are so successful and long-lasting because they know their classical heritage.”
She also warns singers against imitative music. “Remixes and cover versions of old classics are very lazy routes to instant success. A song that has attained a classic status is regarded so highly because it is of a quality that cannot be replicated. I’ve heard some of the remixes of songs sung by Rafi Saab, Kishoreda (Kumar), Mukesh Bhaiyya, my sister Asha and I. These make me cringe. Please create original music. Imitation is not creation.”