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The legacy of the ‘Lata’ cult can only be Lata herself
Once writer Amitav Ghosh told an interview that he didn’t believe in the concept of ‘identity’, as every person had multiple identities.
One couldn’t restrict an individual within an identity typecast and see him from that prism of exclusiveness.
Ghosh’s premise cannot be more appropriately suitable on any other than the legend Lata Mangeshkar.
The lady in her lifetime outgrew her identity as a playback singer and stood tall as a cult figure of personal grace that was as influential as her musical genius.
The Indian art universe is replete with artists of excellence but few have been revered the way Lata Mangeshkar had been throughout her life.
This is because Lata Mangeshkar was seen as an icon beyond music and there was an intrinsic beauty about her character that only enhanced the aura around her celebrity status drawn from her cinematic oeuvre.
We love our stars for what they are and most of their off-screen charm emanates from their star status.
We want to see them in their personal life and hear their backyard stories because they are stars. But for Lata Mangeshkar, her star status was different from her sobriety, perhaps because in her humbleness, she never considered herself a star.
‘75% of what I am is just god-gifted,’ was her customary coy refrain, wherein she downplayed the fact that her talent was a testimony of years of extreme hard work, patience and discipline of rigour that silently worked day and night behind the veil of glamour.
Lata Mangeshkar rose through the ranks not because of her passion to be a star singer, but because of compulsion that her circumstances created.
She only did what she did best because she didn’t know what else to do to make ends meet. She slogged and struggled to find a footing amid the illustrious stalwarts like Noor Jehan and Suraiya among others.
Nothing came to her on a platter and insults and ignominy were part of her daily struggle to survive.
As it is said, adversities are the test of true mettle of a person and her struggles made her resolute and strong, which lent a unique force to her character that compelled people to take note and get influenced.
Playback singers hardly command adulation for their face value and there is a whole India in the hinterlands that still believes the stars actually sing the songs on screen. The idea of someone play backing is alien to many.
It is thus a wonder how, despite her conspicuously unassuming demeanour and simplistic persona devoid of any extraneous embellishments, she could inspire and shape generations for over six decades.
Her stage antics were almost nil and in an era when singers are propped by a plethora of glitzy accompaniments to set up the right mood and frenzy, she was perhaps the lone singer who could make a whole audience dumbstruck by just standing in front of the mic. Such was the import of her character and charisma.
There can be disputes and debates on her musical characteristics with people of different aural preferences choosing according to their predilections and musical attunement, but all assessments fall silent when one comes face to face with her elegance – an elegance evoking a calmness that can only come from a deep awareness of the cosmic rhythm within.
The seriousness that went into her work, the insatiable thirst she had for perfection, that made her a lifelong learner, took the whole art of playback singing a notch or two above and amplified the value of the profession.
Generations of female playback singers of varied degrees of excellence have come, survived, flourished and vanished.
Millions will come and go. But the cult of Lata Mangeshkar survives and will continue to do so, not just because of her mellifluous music, but also because of the incarnation of Maa Saraswati that she had come to be worshipped as.