Asha Bhosle’s 79th Birthday on September 8 ‘The Enchantress’
Asha Tai won 7 Filmfare trophies (Garibon ki Suno, Dus Lakh, 66; Parde mein rahne do, Shikar, 68; Piya tu ab to aaj, Caravan, 71; Dum maro dum, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, 72; Hone Lagi Raat, Naina, 73; Chain se humko kabhi, Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye, 74 (OP Nayyar’s last known film, apart from a flopped comeback attempt); Yeh mera dil, Don, 78; a special award for Rangeela, 95; and 17 Best Singer nominations, apart from Lifetime Achievement Award, 01. She has also won two national awards, Dil cheez kya hai, Umrao Jaan, 81; Mera kuch samaan, Ijaazat, 86; and the enviable Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Govt of India, 2000.
A dominant presence on the Hindustani filmi sangeet for now more than six decades, acknowledged by the World Records Academy as the most recorded artist in the world, Asha Bhosle has lent her incomparable voice to almost every female actor in over a thousand movies since she first burst on the scene with Chunaria (1948), and after a decade or so of rejections, hardships, playing second fiddle to sister Lata, Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum and others recording mainly for B and C grade movies (and in the process recorded more songs than any other singer), or other singers’ rejects, it was a day of reckoning when maestro OP Nayyar, bugged by Lata’s arrogance decided to abandon the singer altogether, and in retaliation nurtured the younger sibling’s voice, and provided it with a distinct, unmatched identity, and while there have been clones of Lata, Asha has remained uncontested.
Asha Tai’s unblemished career can be divided in three segments. The first, and most significant, in partnership with the mercurial OP Nayyar who first used her vocal chords, cast her out of the Geeta Dutt style, for Guru Dutt’s-Raj Khosla directed-Dev Anand, Shakila, Waheeda Rahman starrer, CID (52), but it was actually first with B R Chopra’s Dilip Kumar-Vyjanthimala starrer, Naya Daur (57)—especially her Sahir Ludhianvi penned duets like Maang ke saath tumhara, Saathi haath badhana saathi re, Uden jab jab zulfein teri. So impressed was the renowned maker of distinct, individualistic films that he prevailed upon even his other composers to use hers as the main female voice in Gumrah (63), Waqt and Hamraaz (65), Aadmi aur Insaan (66) and Dhund (73).
And again in the same year in Shammi Kapoor-Ameeta starrer, Nasir Husain-directed Tumsa Nahin Dekha where apart from the repeat solo title song, and three duets with Mohammed Rafi—Aaye hai door se milne huzoor se, Sar pe topi laal hath mein resham ka rumaal, Dekho kasam se, dekho kasam se. They went on to repeat the magic in Phir Wahi Dil Laya Hoon (63), Mere Sanam (65), Humsaya (68) and Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye (74)—by which time Nayyar had lost his rhythm. In their 20-year-long association, Asha sang 324, including 164 solos, records Raju Bharatan tongue-in-cheek, “just under two-third of the 528 songs that Nayyar composed for female voice…1952-72…he was valid as a music director while Asha was available to him.”
But the second segment, in partnership with the affable genius, RD Burman became most crucial from career point of view. For not only was Pancham master of pop and disco music but the rightful carrier of father SD Burman’s legacy and soulful music. They officially got married in July 1979, and during the relationship that lasted till the composer’s death in January 1994 she had sung as many as 840 numbers—406 solos, 338 duets under the RD baton—a record of sorts, especially in the light of the fact that Lata only rendered only 341 songs for the same composer—194 solos, 147 duets. Kavita Krishnamurthy was the third in the august list of female singers with 12 solos and 13 duets. RD Burman was the current rage, a phase that coincided with the super stardom of Rajesh Khanna in the early seventies. Though it must be said to Pancham’s credit that his dream run had begun with Nasir Husain’s Shammi Kapoor-Asha Parekh starrer, Teesri Manzil with unforgettable compositions like Aaja Aaja mein hun pyar tera, O haseena zulfonwali, O mere sona re (once again three duets with Mohammed Rafi who had by this time the ghost voice, apart from many others, of Shammi Kapoor). Suddenly, it was a new Asha Bhosle, the vocal chords assumed a different tone by the time she sang the theme song for Dev Anand’s cult classic, Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
The third segment or phase arrived when Khayyam got her to sing some immortal Sharyaar ghazals, lowering her pitch a wee bit in Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan, picturised on Rekha: Dil cheez kya hai, In aankhon ki masti ke, Yeh kya jagah hai doston and Justaju Jjski thi. The soulful renderings got her first National Award (81), a feat she was to repeat with Gulzar’s Mera kuch saamaan in Ijaazat (87). Suddenly, she had nothing more to prove—either to herself, or anyone else. The Gulzar-Pancham lyricist-composer duo produced the kind of music which could, at best, be described as a synthesis of SD-RD, tradition and modernity. Although there is an evident bias towards Asha, the uncanny Pancham knew full well what her negatives as well were, and that’s why for the more subtle, soulful renderings he opted for Lata’s lyrical voice that was best evident in the Aandhi compositions.
With Pancham’s death romance once again withered away from Asha Tai’s life, it had been her third publically acknowledged relationship, the first being with Lata’s secretary, Ganapat Bhosle with whom she eloped when she had been barely 16 and he fifteen years older—in 1949. Abandoned penniless a decade later with three children to support, she renewed singing with renewed vigour even though she only got others’ rejects.
Still active and agile, and singing for the younger composers like Anu Malik, AR Rahman and others, Asha Tai won 7 Filmfare trophies (Garibon ki Suno, Dus Lakh, 66; Parde mein rahne do, Shikar, 68; Piya tu ab to aaj, Caravan, 71; Dum maro dum, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, 72; Hone Lagi Raat, Naina, 73; Chain se humko kabhi, Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye, 74 (OP Nayyar’s last known film, apart from a flopped comeback attempt); Yeh mera dil, Don, 78; a special award for Rangeela, 95; and 17 Best Singer nominations, apart from Lifetime Achievement Award, 01. She has also won two national awards, Dil cheez kya hai, Umrao Jaan, 81; Mera kuch samaan, Ijaazat, 86; and the enviable Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Govt of India, 2000.
Manna Dey paid her the ultimate compliment, in his autobiography Memories Come Alive: “If there is one particular quality I admire Asha for it is versatility. In her voice modulation, she excels even her elder sister, Lata Mangeshkar. Moreover, she has no qualms about experimenting with new melodies, a quality that is indispensable, in my opinion, for an all-round singer.”
By Suresh Kohli