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Book Review: Lata Mangeshkar..in her own voice
- 9/30/2009             
'Lata Mangeshkar...in her own voice' is an extremely heavy (reading wise) text book on the living legend and her work. A kind of book that could be a reference material for many a students, of the lady who doesn't have any parallel. However, the key words here are 'text book' and 'reference material' because that's what this Nasreen Munni Kabir book stands for.

There is history, history and more of history in this 250 odd page book which has the sole intention of making readers aware about her work over more than half a century gone by. While this aspect of the book may excite a select few who want to study Lata Mangeshkar's work, for an average reader looking at gaining an insight into Lata Mangeshkar - the person - there is hardly anything in the offering. The book gets into years and dates and people and the places where the interaction took place - all being good information and interesting, but only from a historian's perspective.

Even otherwise, the basic narrative itself of the entire book is boring. The book is primarily a reproduction of a six-part documentary series (Lata in Her Own Voice) that was directed by Nasreen Munni Kabir in 1991. Close to two decades later, the spoken words have been put on print with certain updates being carried out based on the recent happenings.

A good idea, though marred by a narrative that doesn't quite cut the ice after first few pages. Prime reason being that at quite a few places, the written material seems to be forced. How exactly? Well, in order to get some facts and trivia out to ensure a smooth flow in the Q&A session, Nasreen has been forced to add quite some material in her questions/follow up to Lata's answers which clearly doesn't seem to be a part of the original conversation. Due to this, the narrative becomes jerky rather than smooth, resulting in a disappointing read.

As stated earlier, the book is good though for those who wish to study Lata Mangeshkar's work. Her initial years as a child who showed traits of being a great artist in years to follow have been together quite well. Also her entire struggle period as a singer and how she made a place for herself in the industry is captured well too. In the times when singers weren't given the kind of status in the industry as they rightly deserved, it is remarkable to see Lata's stand as an artist who stood for her rights while maintaining her dignity.

Also, one reads in sheer awe as pages unfold while narrating how she worked with dozens of known and unknown names over last five decades and more. For someone who has practically seen multiple generations unfolding in front of her own eyes and trends changing w.r.t. music, lyrics, rendition, song situations, working conditions and other logistics, Lata's journey belongs to the kind that would perhaps never be repeated by any other artist from the Hindi film music industry.

From this perspective, Nasreen's effort as a historian has to be hailed. She not just captures what Lata has to say but also does her own research to bring dozens of facts out on print. She also makes a conscious effort to break quite a few myths and misconceptions around the singer's professional as well as personal life. However, when it comes to two important aspects of Lata's life - a) her rivalry with Asha Bhonsle and b) her unmarried status - there is hardly half a page dedicated. The content here too is diplomatic at most and doesn't unravel anything that a reader hasn't known before. For a book that boasts of capturing 'Lata in her own voice', one was definitely expecting more detailing!

On the positive side, the book does feature hundreds of photographs of Lata Mangeshkar from childhood till present date; most of them being straight out of her own personal collection. Yet another delight for a reader who wishes to delve into the past! Arriving straight out of her interaction with her family members to her work in the studios to some private affairs to her rendezvous with the top leaders of the country to her performances in Indian and abroad, the pictures have quite a few stories to tell.

Here is presenting some interesting trivia that is shared in the book:

- She was seriously ill before singing 'Kahin Deep Jale Kahin Dil' [Bees Saal Baad] and was bed ridden for 3 months. Reason? She was being slowly poisoned by her servant though it hasn't been found out till date that who was behind this act.

- Hrishikesh Mukherjee had first offered her Anand. No, not just as a singer but as a composer!

- Lata refused to sing in Filmfare Awards (1957) because till that year, there were no award nominations for playback singers and song writers

- She has a playful streak to her and loves spending time in Las Vegas while playing the slot machines

Now if only the book would have covered more personal aspects of her life as above, 'Lata Mangeshkar...in her own voice' may have made for a more entertaining read!

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