“La la la la la la... la la la la la la,” Ranu Mariah Mandal sings in the video that’s now been viewed more than a million times, strands of gray hair straying across a smiling weather beaten face. The music in the background is a train noisily passing by, the commotion of passengers hurrying towards their destination. But the only sound that shines through is the words of ‘Ek pyaar ka nagma hai, maujon ki ravaani hai’, the 59-year-old’s clear, poignant voice searing over the din.
The two-minute video recorded by a commuter at Ranaghat railway station in Nadia district of West Bengal has changed the life of a wandering, slightly lost woman, who thousands in her home state now simply call ‘Ranu di’. She’s now getting calls from radio channels, film production houses, local clubs, a philanthropic organisation in faraway Kerala and a daughter who has not been in touch with her for the last 10 years.
Circumstances turned around for Mandal on July 21 when a video of the song from the 1972 film ‘Shor’ — starring Manoj Kumar, Jaya Bachchan and Nanda — was uploaded on Facebook moments after she walked 4 kilometres from home to the Ranaghat station, sat on a bench at the platform and started singing.
It’s been somewhat of a fairy tale for Mandal, who suffers from bouts of panic attacks, ever since Atindra Chakraborty recorded her on his phone and sent her soft voice wafting from devices all over the country.
“A Bengali band has contacted us and she may be seen on stage this month,” Chakraborty, who has been fielding many of the calls, said.
“A reality show producer called, too, and wanted to send flight tickets. But that fell through because she didn’t have an identity card. Several producers from Kolkata have called, asking if she is interested in playback singing,” he added.
One of Mandal’s first videos was actually made and uploaded by Tapan Das, one of her neighbours, last October. “That, somehow, failed to get too much attention,” Das rued. But now several film producers have got in touch with him also regarding her. “There was one query from a Kerala home for senior citizens. They asked if she would like to go and stay there,” Das added.
Mandal herself says she can pick up any song though she has “never had the good fortune” to be tutored in music. “My favourites are Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh,” she said, grinning.
Nadia’s latest sensation lives off charity from neighbours and train commuters. One of them gave out an interesting detail: She has worked at the Mumbai home of yesteryear’s star Feroze Khan, which probably explains her crisp Hindi and smattering of English in her conversations.
“My husband and I lived at Khan’s home. He was a very generous man,” she said.
The glare of spotlight and a beeline of visitors has turned her into a celebrity, forcing neighbours to keep a watch over her. Das has been trying to arrange for some documents so that she can open a bank account.
This is not Mandal’s first brush with fame though. “There was a time in my 20s when I toured the districts with an orchestra owned by a local club. The audience called me ‘Ranu-Bobby’ after hearing me sing songs from the 1973 hit ‘Bobby’. I even earned some money but was forced to stop as no one from my family supported me or my art,” she said.
Destiny has now given her another shot at success. A local salon gave her a free makeover and she looks ready to hit the state — albeit with a little help from her friends and well-wishers.
But the biggest gift has been a visit from her daughter with whom there was no contact for almost a decade. “Eta amar dwitiyo jiban (This is my second life),” Mandal said. “And I will try to make the most of it.”
With more than a million views on video of her singing, Mandal is now fielding calls from bands and producers from across the country
She’s now getting calls from radio channels, film production houses, local clubs, a philanthropic organisation in faraway Kerala and a daughter who has not been in touch with her for the last 10 years