Now this is a story about conflict between two of Indian Cinema’s biggest names who had worked together with great success since the beginning of their major film careers. A fall-out between the two occurred when Lata ji asserted herself raising the issue of royalty to be paid to her; while Raj Kapoor believed that her request was preposterous. Many years later, the two did work together again… RK passed away in 1988; but a little bit first, about Lata Mangeshkar ji.
Lata Mangeshkar is endowed with an inherent talent for music. Under her father’s tutelage, her formal training had commenced when she was six. Upon her father’s death, when she was thirteen, Lata turned towards classical singing as a means of livelihood. Her struggles continued for almost seven years. One day in the late 1940s, her melodious voice caught the attention of a new film production company – RK Films. At 20, Lata was in the prime of her youth. She sang all the songs for the film (film history), composed by music director team Shankar-Jaikishan, lyrics written by Shailendra ji and Hasrat Jaipuri ji. The film, its music, and Lata’s singing were a stupendous success. There was no stopping Lata after that. With her head held high, her career graph went higher and higher but she stood her ground, and refrained from songs and music which she viewed as crass. In an era of films that relied heavily upon music for their success, one success followed another. There was no stopping her. As a playback singer, she worked long hours. At the time of her fast-rising success, her youngest brother was not even a teenager.
Time went by, and as playback singer she was much sought after by filmmakers, and music composers across Hindi cinema and also in regional cinema. A voice that was popular and recognized by the people, reached the ears of the nation’s leader. In 1963, by the end of the Sino-Indian War after India had suffered many casualties, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India then, invited 33-34 year old Lata to sing at the Republic Day celebrations. As a true patriot, she rendered Kavi Pradeep ji’s Aye Mere Vatan ke Logon, astounding everyone. Her crystal clear voice was like balm in the aftermath of war that had taken away many soldiers, leaving behind weeping families.
When her own father had died, almost twenty years prior, Lata was just a budding teenager. There was nobody at the time to wipe her tears. As the oldest among her siblings, she assumed the role of breadwinner while her widowed mother cared for the other four children. She had little choice but to forego her own future and her education so as to fulfill filial duties. There was no time to indulge in frills or fanciful thoughts. She had three younger sisters, and a brother almost eight years junior to her. Their education, their well-being, their future was her responsibility. To this day, even as Lata ji is pushing 87, she has remained single… this lady never did marry. She pursued her passion for music since childhood; and embraced it as a career even before reaching adulthood. Her own personal reasons must be respected for who she is today – single, with head held high, and one who knows her own worth and value. She learned that a long time ago. Therefore, one day, she raised the issue of royalty fee for her singing. Well, she was snubbed by him — the one who was born and raised and had lived like royalty, living up to his name.
Raj Kapoor was born in the mid-twenties, with the figurative ‘silver spoon’ in his mouth. He was the oldest among six siblings. Their grand ancestral home in Peshawar now stands as a museum. When Raj was just four-five years old, his father, the grand Prithviraj Kapoor (recall ‘Sikander’ 1941, or Shehenshah Akbar of latter day ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ 1960) was training to be a lawyer. But he had started to lean towards cinema, playing his first roles as an actor in films. Thereafter, many movies followed – both, in the silent era, as well as in Alam Ara (1931) India’s first talkie film. As is oft stated, success begets success, so this saga of success continued to flourish across generations in this opulent family. In the meanwhile, Raj and his two brothers studied at elite schools, and colleges.
When he was 10 years old, Raj Kapoor had already appeared in a film role. By 1948, at the age of twenty-four Raj had struck out on his own, setting up is own film banner that went on to make many films… R.K. Films not only made their own films, but the Kapoor family was even deemed as the First family of Hindi filmdom. History of hindi cinema is filled with stories about the entire Kapoor clan, their successes… and even their occasional failures. But then decades in the film industry – making films, stars, and film history is bound to have its ups and downs… it is, after all, a business, right?
Now… in a rare interview with Lata ji, the host asked the lady about her fallout with Raj Kapoor. Finally, after years of riding the wave of success, Lata ji had requested Raj Kapoor to discuss her ‘royalty’ for the songs she sang, going forward. To him her request was preposterous. RK responded thus: (Lata ji narrates on camera as:) “Tumhein kya lagtaa hai, mein yahaan kya karne aaya hun? Main yahaan business karne aaya hun.” Transliteration of RK’s words: “What do you think I’m here for? I’m here (in the film industry) to do business.” Lata ji’s response (also on camera:) ““Aap ko kya lagtaa hai, mein yahaan rani ke baagh mein ghoomne aayi hoon?“ Lata Mangeshkar ji’s repartee to Raj Kapoor ji was: “So what do you think I’m here for, to take a stroll in the Queen’s park? (referring to Mumbai’s local Zoo, then known as “Victoria Gardens”) Even in this interview, many years after the fallout and subsequent reconciliation, her eyes gleamed. She said, that was it! Raj Kapoor took away all the songs that were assigned to her for his forthcoming film and brought on another singer/s.
In my view, Lata Mangeshkar’s request for royalty on the songs she sang was not misplaced. She was not an employee, and no longer on any fixed payroll. Lata’s voice, her singing, and the records that were selling… it was all a rip-roaring success. Heroes and heroines were increasingly demanding astronomical signing fees, while music composers and lyricists had their own standards. There was little harm done, isn’t it, if Lata Mangeshkar asked for this change in remuneration structure for all the songs that were lining the pockets of film folks across the board. So… yes, she knew her worth, was astute and made a business-like call in an industry where everyone was in it for oneself.
How can anyone think or believe that Lata Mangeshkar was being ‘greedy’! You must be in Lata ji’s shoes to visualize those ominous days she must have faced after her father died. Ironically, today, those who fail to ask for a raise, or demand a fair competitive fee, are viewed by others as fools.
Lata ji’s continued success over the decades cannot erase the past she had faced… alone! That must have shaped her own beliefs, steered her own path… whether or not others concurred with her or not.
In lyricist Anand Bakshi ji’s words (and he was a huge fan of Lata ji), “Kuchh toh log kahenge. Sita bhi yahaan badnaam hui (“Amar Prem”). Now, if a woman asserts herself, there will always be those who condemn her.
In any case, I think of the heroines of that past era — when it was viewed as taboo — who bared bosoms before they became ‘stars’ in RK Films. Was it necessary? I mean not for the ladies, but for RK to have at least one scene in each of his films — sort of the secret sauce — for assured success? Wasn’t it enough to have an outstanding music team of prolific lyricists, dynamic composers and mellifluous singers? Plus wouldn’t he rely on his own skills as an actor, director, and/or producer, just wondering. Albeit, there’s little doubt that many fans in RK’s defense would say, it was all part of RK’s artful film-making… but I’m guessing… he was wary of hinging the entire success of his films to just one basket. Therefore, he had to include something — there had to be a sure-success reason — the singular draw for popular masses for whom he made films… after all, wasn’t making films foremost his business!
I say, have a heart… for this lady, who has withstood the test of time. Just because she appears stoic while being successful, pause to ponder, before you condemn her. Somewhere along the line, it’s her gender that’s bothersome to those who do point a finger at her… some even happen to be the same gender. Women can be a woman’s worst enemy.
Her voice will prevail… and continue to entertain generations. Although he may have played those ‘overly-humble’ roles often, RK as a filmmaker was no one’s fool… he was, after all, a shrewd businessman. You may — or may never – watch those films portraying RK as ‘clueless’, but somewhere around you, there’s always a song playing… that will move you deeply, emotionally… and that voice is that of Lata Mangeshkar.
This post is in no way meant to hurt anyone’s reputation, nor to disturb anyone’s feelings. This post is because I was saddened by someone’s unsavory remarks about Lata ji after they watched this interview. RK has gone. He had entertained the world. May his soul be at peace. May this world let Lata ji live in peace. Her voice calms many a crying soul.