Thin Voices and Female Identity: A Discussion on Lata Mangeshkar

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.


Lata Mangeshkar, as Sanjay Srivastava, Ashwini Deshpande, and Lakshmi Subramanian agree, is India’s most famous playback singer.

Srivastava explores Mangeshkar’s artistry, investigating how her style became the ideal “Indian performative femininity.” He believes that her “adolescent-girl voice” and “falsetto” instructed the audience on “what femininity is.”

Ashwini Deshpande finds several faults in Srivastava’s arguments, particularly in his use of the term “falsetto” which, she argues, is wrongly attributed to Mangeshkars voice. She also questions Srivastava’s claim about the connection between “thin voices and female identity.”

Lakshmi Subramanian agrees with Deshpande that Srivastava’s views on the gendering of voices are problematic. But, she asks if a “female voice” can have multiple meanings. Deshpande believes that  Subramanian’s  comments strengthen her own arguments on the “politics of voice” but she disagrees with Subramanians suggestion that Mangeshkar’s voice is a “falsetto.” 

Srivastava replies to Deshpande and Subramanian, stating that he wanted to discuss the blurring of gender norms “implicit in certain oral styles.” He also  defends his use of the term “falsetto” when describing Mangeshkar’s voice as it denotes an “artificially raised pitch.” 

Deshpande disagrees, reiterating that Mangeshkar did not “artificially” raise her voice.


A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Film Songs as Continuing Education, Brij Kothari, 1998
  2. Voice behind the Song, Song through the Voice, Ashwin Kumar A P, 2007
  3. New Voices in Songs, Ashwini Deshpande, 2015
  4. Representing Cultural Evolution through Song-text, Vidula Sonagra, 2020


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at with the subject line—“Voice and Gender.”


Curated by Anandita Chandra []

Image courtesy: Modified. Wikimedia Commons/Lata Ramdas [CC BY-SA 4.0]
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