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When Raj Kapoor angered Lata Mangeshkar

For India, Lata Mangeshkar will always be the voice of serenity. In Raj Kapoor's Satyam Shivam Sundaram, the serene songstress sang out of anger and rage. It proved to be a superhit.

Shriram Iyengar

In 1978, Lata Mangeshkar was the reigning queen of Bollywood's music. There was no one close to her vocal range, pitch, and emotive abilities to provide a threat. Asha Bhosle was the closest, but her deference to the elder sibling stood in her way. On a good day, the legendary singer would be waiting for 10 rehearsals for different music directors. In such context, Raj Kapoor's tiff with the singer acquired gigantic proportions.

The story of Satyam Shivam Sundaram is in many ways Lata Mangeshkar's story. In 'Raj Kapoor Speaks', the director mentions being inspired by the singer for his story. In fact, the idea of a divine voice embodied within an ordinary face was the first idea of 'inner beauty' that Raj Kapoor visualised. The film revolves around the love story of Rupa. Rajeev, an engineer, falls in love with her voice but finds himself struggling to accept her with the scars on her face. It was Raj Kapoor's symbolism for the phrase 'beauty is skin deep'.

Even the showman must have realised how the rumours would hurt the songstress. After all, no woman likes to be told that she is not beautiful! Relations with the singer were already frosty since Raj Kapoor had refused to accept Lata Mangeshkar's demands for royalty on her songs.  Try as he did, he could not find a way to pacify his muse. To make amends, RK Studios immediately put out a release that mentioned specifically that the story is 'fictitious'. Raj Kapoor went further and assured Lata Mangeshkar that he would hire her younger brother, Hridaynath Mangeshkar, as the music director for the film. Placated, Lata Mangeshkar departed for her long US tour.

By the time she came back, the scene had changed completely. Raj Kapoor had discreetly signed Laxmikant-Pyarelal for the film without mentioning anything about Hridaynath Mangeshkar. The melody queen was miffed. In an interview, years later, she mentions ' Actually, during the making of Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Rajji told me he wanted Hridaynath Mangeshkar as music director since the music in the film was classical. To which I said okay and I had to leave for US on a music tour. I don’t know what happened but the film was eventually given to Laxmikant Pyarelal. I spoke to Rajji about this and I was very angry and decided that I would not sing for the film.'

It took the immensely diplomatic duo of Laxmikant-Pyarelal to coax Lata back to the studios. But it came with a rider. Raj Kapoor was not to be around when she recorded the songs. Now, who dare bell the cat! Never one to step back from a challenge, Raj Kapoor casually walked into the recording studio when Lata Mangeshkar was inside the recording room. It was only professionalism which kept the singer from exploding in rage. However, when Raj Kapoor, in his usual mischievous self, kept requesting the music composer duo to add more alaaps to the song. Lata Mangeshkar couldn't stay quiet. She quipped that one more request and she would fill the song with alaaps. Incredibly, the song was recorded in one take.

The title track was a chart topper on the Binaca Geetmala for the year 1978. The soundtrack for the film won Laxmikant-Pyarelal the Filmfare Award for Best Music Director. For years later, it remained the most iconic memory of the film. There is a reason Raj Kapoor is known as the great showman. He could charm his muse and get the best out of her, even when she was angry.