Ghazals With Verve and Vivacity, Express India, By R.A. Singh, April 1999
Only expatriates can truly appreciate the hunger for cultural and domestic social moorings. A manifest of that need is the great lengths to which expatriates go, just to experience a few brief hours of what is for them the cultural bliss of a musical event which comforts them with the feeling that the umbilical cord is not yet fully severed.
A fine example of the above syndrome was the evening of Ghazals by Vatsala Mehra, performed on March 20 at a packed Kennedy Center auditorium. Apart from the local cognoscenti, the assemblage was generously sprinkled with many who had made long trips from New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and other not-so-near locations to enjoy the ambience created by Vatsala’s Lilting Ghazals.
Vatsala Mehra has adorned the cultural firmament of Greater Washington for quite a while and is deservedly known as an accomplished singer. Though she will never fill the void left by Begum Akhtar or reach the heights of Mallika Pukhraj, Vatsala’s spontaneous rapport with her audience is no less pleasing. Here impressive stage presence has always elicited the appreciation of her audiences. In face, her penchant for punctuating her performances with specially cultivated, well-studied and perfectly timed gestures has become a very powerful instrument in her quest to forge ahead. Vatsala is also happily free of the affected diction that afflicts such famous singers from a Punjabi background as the late Mohammad Rafi or the legendary Noor Jehan. Vatsala’s perfect enunciation and familiarity with the language is as flawless as Lata’s or Parveen Sultana’s. Nasal pronunciation, faulty diction, the lack of range and pverty of musical notes, mixed metaphors in the lyrics, and wrong stresses and pauses in the rendition are some of the things that appall musical buffs and critics alike. Vatsala is free of all such musical follies.
Vatsala did inordinately well as long as she sang Ghazals from her own repertoire. But while attempting well-known songs previously rendered by Suraiya, Geeta Dutt or Reshma, she only managed to widen the chasm of comparison. For, these songs have already reached the people through films. And the multitudes have already accepted the musical framework of the songs in their own minds. Any deviation from that perceived norm by any lesser musical mortal is unlikely to be acceptable. But when it comes to singing her own songs, Vatsala is in a class by herself.
Immensely successful stars of the Indian musical world like Lata and Asha do tend to consider their peers as musically arid, prone to deadly ambition, utterly mercenary and the least gifted. Vatsala has proved them wrong by challenging their right to be the sole arbiters of the musical idiom and to be the rightful heir to fame and fortune.
An immense gulf separates the crabbed field of aspiring and highly dedicated musical novices and amateurs from the lush meadows of a handful of those reigning supreme for decades over the Indian musical world. But when it comes to enthralling audiences with pure musical entertainment, Vatsala has created a niche for herself. It was altogether apposite that India’s Deputy Chief of Mission, Ambassador T.P. Srinivasan, should have praised Vatsala’s singing as full of verve, vigor and vivacity. Judging by the standing ovations Vatsala received, the enthusiastic audience heartily agreed.