Siblings have long dominated the Hindi film industry. From Ashok Kumar to Kishore Kumar, Raj Kapoor to Shashi Kapoor, Nutan to Tanuja and Dev Anand to Vijay Anand, each toiled hard to make a name on the fickle silver screen. Working alone or together, these stalwarts maintained their individual dignity by not allowing filial relations to overshadow their professional acumen. Despite monumental gaps in their individual accomplishments, they never allowed others a glimpse into their emotional interactions and since their personal relations remained strictly private, these artists were not subjected to the ignominy of comparison with their siblings.
But pray, why is it that the most famous siblings of filmdom, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, are put to acerbic scalpel of comparison at every step? And why in spite of an enormous body of work, their achievements and lives are never discussed in solo? While it is no secret that Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle are extraordinary singers who have carved out all peaks of female singing, it is strange why they are often trapped in petty controversies that belittle their statures. Blessed with melody in their throats, the two sisters are the finest personifications of musical notes and whatever has not been rendered through their delectable throats is probably irrelevant for music lovers! But when so much has gone their way and most applaud the two musical fairies for their faultless singing, why is it that the siblings are rarely spoken of in affectionate terms and are largely feared by the industry?
The answer perhaps lies in the fact that they have tied themselves in knots of their own making. Unlike their gentle and genial counterparts like Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Talat Mehmood and Manna Dey who deliberately kept their personal lives away from public gaze and did not tom-tom their exploits in media; Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle have courted controversies with their actions.
If old timers still remember their graceless split upon “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon” song and the controversy is still alive about how and why Asha Bhosle was edged out of singing before Pandit Nehru, it is because of their individual versions to selective audiences from time to time. Similarly, negating the role of some of the finest composers in making their careers while praising others of lesser credentials smacks of pettiness and if Lata Mangeshkar is guilty of rarely acknowledging the contribution of Husnlal Bhagatram and C. Ramchandra to her career, how Asha Bhosle “banished” O. P. Nayyar into oblivion is too well known to recount again. Surely a fair share of blame must rest upon those composers for the dismantling of relationships but the disdainful attitude displayed by the siblings towards these composers has left a painful stain on their irrefutable star status.
Though Asha Bhosle needs no certificate for her astounding achievements, it does make you wonder why the elder sibling generally maintains a stoic silence over her sister’s genius even when Asha praises her Didi at every step. If Lata was given the higher pedestal in the past, it was only because she had arrived on the scene earlier and Asha was still struggling to find her foothold. But as Asha surmounted the diverse sound waves with incredible versatility, she proved she was no less in any respect than her elder sister. The silence on Lata’s part only lent credence to rumours of jealousy though Asha’s curse, as Gulzar stated, was that she came after Lata and was her younger sister!
The death of her son a few days back proves once again that despite facing greater hurdles in personal and professional arena than Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle has conquered everything except the Bharat Ratna which, as we know, is a political dispensation with no correlation to competence. Although Lata lost her elegant notes almost 30 years ago at a young age, Asha Bhosle at 82 not only holds the world record for recording the maximum number of songs (11,000 plus) but can manoeuvre a three octave scale for a teenage actress with ease!
Though Guinness Book of Records has now corrected its books, the famous publication’s erroneous figure of 25,000 recorded songs to Lata’s name was the resultant of her fallacious claim. If Lata’s varied disclosures on the royalty issue too have been mocked by public, it is because her erstwhile colleagues were not alive to counter her tall claims of rapprochement or apology. Censure for the two sisters has also sprung out on several occasions as their actions have turned out contrary to their stated postures. While both sisters were correct in condemning the ugly trend of cover versions, people were dismayed when Lata herself brought forth the disc “Shraddhanjali” in the garb of a tribute to deceased singers. Though genuine music lovers were offended and Lata’s renditions were rightly ridiculed for poor renditions of the originals, what defies explanation is why she created them when she was so vehemently opposed to defiling of old songs? Similarly, after severely drubbing remixes of old songs, Asha's pop versions of “Chura Liya Hai Tumne” and “O Mere Sona Re, Sona Re” only helped legitimise the irreverent practice.
Like two rainbows that splatter the same colours, both cast magic with their singing. Alas, if only they had been grateful to nature for their divine blessings, they’d have been spared the vitriolic barbs that they have had to endure. But then, not many understand that “simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance” and greater the stature, greater should be the magnanimity since you can only reap what you have sown for others.