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The Eternally Versatile Asha

With a career spanning six decades, brimming with national and international laurels, this singing diva is still doing live stage shows. Sharad Dutt writes, when one’s name spells ‘hope’, needless to say, sky is the limit!.

 Agencies |  2017-10-14 15:37:33.0

There is a saying that nothing grows under a banyan tree. The roots of this tree are so widespread that it doesn't allow any other plantation to grow. But there are exceptions and one such exception is Asha Bhosle, who grew under the looming shadow of her sister Lata Mangeshkar, the Banyan tree of film music. Asha not only grew but with the passage of time evolved as a banyan tree. Music was in the veins of all the siblings as they inherited this talent from their father Pt Dina Nath Mangeshkar, a reputed singer and theatre actor.


As irony would have it, Dina Nath spent his last years in utter poverty, and expired in Poona in 1942. After his demise, the family moved to Kolhapur. Living in penury, they enormous hardship, unable to make both ends meet. Master Vinayak (actress Nanda's father), a close friend of the Mangeshkars made an offer to Lata to sing and act in Marathi films in Kolhapur. The younger siblings Meena and Asha also started singing in the chorus. When Master Vinayak moved to Bombay, Mangeshkars shifted as well.
Like her elder sister, Asha too, started acting and singing at the age of eleven. She sang in a Marathi film, Manjha Bal, in 1944, 'Chala chala nav bala', under the music direction of Dutta Davjekar. And later, she made her debut in a Hindi film, Andho ki Duniya, in 1947, singing a duet with Zohra Bai Ambalewali. The song was 'Garibon ke data', composed by Vasant Desai. She sang her first solo in 1948 under the baton of music director Hansraj Bahl, 'Saanwariya re', in Chunariya. Simultaneously, she did some cameos as well in Hindi movies.
The year 1946 was a turning point, as Asha eloped with Ganpat Balwant Bhosle, while in her teens, and married him. But this abusive alliance was short-lived and she returned to her mother. Between 1948 and 1957, she recorded more than 800 songs, mostly for mythological and period films. Since Lata was becoming a singing sensation and Geeta Dutt was also a rage at this point, Asha had to sing whatever she was offered. There was not much choice for a mother of three children, being the only bread-earner for her family.
And from 1948 onwards Asha became the choice of music directors for whom Lata or Geeta were not available. But it was a blessing in disguise, as Asha was being compared with Lata. For Naushad, the first choice was Shamshad Begum. And OP Nayyar was in Guru Dutt's camp, so Geeta Dutt was the obvious choice. Nayyar became music director with the film Aasman in 1952. In his second movie, Chham Chham Chham, he gave a chance to Asha and recorded her first song, 'Aa pardesi balma, morey angna'. In 1955, in Musafirkhana, Asha sang a lilting number for Nayyar, 'Zara si baat ka hazoor ney afsana kar diya'. In 1956, Nayyar again sought Asha's voice for Guru Dutt's production, CID and she sang 'Le ke pehla pehla pyaar' with Mohammad Rafi and Shamshad Begum, that became an instant hit. As luck would have it, in 1957 Guru Dutt signed SD Burman for Pyaasa. As Nayyar felt isolated, he signed Naya Daur by BR Chopra. Nayyar was the only composer who never took Lata under his baton, Asha was always his first choice.
In 1957, Burman da and Lata had differences during the making of the film Paying Guest and he decided to let go Lata. Earlier, Burman da had given some moving numbers with Lata. And since Geeta Dutt was singing only for her husband's banner, Burman da opted for Asha. Both gave memorable hits in Navketan's Nau Do Gyarah, especially 'Dhalki jaaye chunariya', and a duet with Muhammad Rafi, 'Kali ke roop mein chali ho dhoop mein kahan', as also with Kishore Kumar, 'Anchal mein kya ji'. Burman da was quite pleased with Asha's performance, and it proved a boon for her, as she emerged from the shadow of Lata and established her own signature.
In 1958, once again in Navketan's Kala Pani directed by Raj Khosla, Asha showed her versatility by singing solo numbers like 'Nazar laagi raja torey bangle par in pure mujra style'; 'Dil laga ke kadar gayi pyare' and 'Jab naam-e-mohabbat lekey' blended with mujra and poetry recitation style. The duets with Mohammad Rafi, 'Achha ji mein haari chalo maan jao na' and 'Dilwale teri gali', are still popular with music lovers. In Bombay ka Babu, two numbers which were sung by Asha, 'Dekhne mein bhola hai' with chorus, and a duet with Mohammad Rafi, 'Deewana mastana hua dil', are simply unforgettable.
By now Asha had become Nayyar's prime choice and she was equally comfortable with Burman da. She put her heart and soul into dada's compositions in Sujata (1957), 'Kali ghata chhaye'; in Lajwanti (1959), 'Ga merey man ga' and 'Ab ke baras bhej bhaiya ko merey' in Bandini (1963). And hugely popular number 'Raat akeli hai' in Jewel Thief (1967). Nayyar and Asha was a wonderful combo for two decades. The duo worked together in Sabse Bada Rupaiya (1955), Bhagambhaag (1956), Chhomantar, Dhake ki Malmal and Hum Sab Chor Hain (1956). After Naya Daur, Asha sang for every film in which Nayyar was to compose music, and he chiseled her voice, improved her diction, and taught her to render words with sur-taal. Nayyar was very friendly with S Mukherjee of Filmistan Studio and he composed some of the most memorable hits in Tum Sa Nahi Dekha, a Filmistan production. Asha was at her versatile best in this film with 'Dekho kasam se', and her duets with Mohammad Rafi, 'Sar pe topi lal haath mein resham ka rumal o tera kya kehna' and 'Aayein hain door se, milne huzoor se'. Later on, when S Mukherjee set-up his own production house Filmalaya, Nayyar gave music for Ek Musafir Ek Hasina in 1962. Though the film didn't fare too well, but it left a mark with its unforgettable duets by Asha and Mohammad Rafi.
In Nasir Hussain's Phir Wahi Dil Laya Hoon,(1963) Asha again showed her singing prowess in these numbers composed by Nayyar: 'Aankho se jo utri hai dil mein' and 'Mujhe pyaar mein tum naa ilzam detey'. Nayyar also composed this classical number, 'Dekho bijli doley bin badal ki', that Asha sang with her younger sister Usha. GP Sippy's film, Mere Sanam,(1965) was a blockbuster, and Nayyar's music played a key role in this murder mystery. These two numbers, 'Jaaeye aap kahan jaayenge' and 'Ye hain reshmi zulfon ka andhera na ghabraeye' are Asha's most favourite solos.
Producer-director Shakti Samantha also preferred Nayyar for his earlier films. In 1958, when he launched his own banner with the film Howrah Bridge, he chose to sign Nayyar. This film is also entrenched in one's memory for its music. And this particular number, 'Aaeye meharbaan, baithiye jaan-e-jaan', was considered by Asha as her personal favourite. Samantha and Nayyar also worked together in Kashmir ki Kali (1964) and Sawan ki Ghata (1966). Asha's duets with Mohammad Rafi, and a song in bhangda style (after Naya Daur), 'Haaye re haaye', 'Ye mere haath mein tera haath', became instant hits. So did Asha's solos, 'Meri jaan tujh pe sadqe', 'Haule haule sajna' and 'Aaj koi pyaar se dil ki baatein kah gaya' in Sawan ki Ghata topped the charts that year.
Asha sang in two different genres for Nayyar – the light, flighty numbers and the melodious lot. Their last joint contribution was in Pran Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye in 1973. Asha sang six sizzling songs in this movie. It is quite a coincidence that the last song Asha sang for Nayyar in this film, 'Chain se humko kabhi aap ne jeeney na diya', won her a Filmfare Award, but she didn't attend the function. Nayyar received it on her behalf. Besides Burman da and Nayyar, Asha sang for other music directors, too. For Anil Biswas, 'Dil shaam se dooba jata hai', in Sanskar; 'Ashkon se teri humne tasveer banai hai', in Dekh Kabira Roye, composed by Madan Mohan. Ravi also preferred Asha's voice to Lata and she sang some rare gems for him that included the title song of the film, 'Ye Raaste hain pyaar ke', 'Aage bhi jaane na tu' in Waqt, 'Tora man darpan kehlaye' in Kajal, and 'Jab chali thandi hawa' in Do Badan.
Jaidev was an assistant to Burman da but later became an independent music director with Jooru ka Bhai. In Samundari Daku, he composed a romantic duet sung by Asha and Talat Mehmood much appreciated by music lovers. And Jaidev got a significant break in Sunil Dutt's home production, 'Mujhe Jeene Do', wherein Lata sang two numbers, but Asha's number based on a UP folk song, improvised by Jaidev, 'Nadi naare na jaao Shyam paiyaan padoon', based on the song sung by Gulab Bai, the famous Nautanki artist, became immensely popular.
When Navketan Films asked Jaidev to compose for Hum Dono, the romantic duet sung by Asha and Mohammad Rafi, 'Abhi na jao chhod kar', also sung by Asha as a solo in pensive mood, was lapped up by the younger generation of the '60s. At a time when RD Burman attained his real identity with Teesri Manzil, Asha was also seeking to spread her wings beyond Nayyar. No wonder, RD and Asha created magic with 'O merey sona re sona re', 'O Hasina zulfon wali', and 'Aaja aaja, main hoon pyaar tera', the duet sung by Asha and Mohammad Rafi in Teesri Manzil. RD emerged as a brand and became the heartthrob of the nation. When he showcased his talent again in Dev Anand's Hare Rama Hare Krishna, based on Hippi culture of the Seventies, Asha's number 'Dum maro dum' and 'Harey Rama Harey Krishna' made her extremely popular among the youth. If the Sixties belonged to Nayyar, the Seventies was ruled by RD with Asha as his best bet.
Asha sang a mind-boggling 800 songs for RD and married him in 1979. This duo gave sterling renditions: Piya tu ab to aaja (Caravan), Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko with Rafi (Yaadon ki Baraat), Aao na galey lagao na (Merey Jeevan Sathi) and Duniya mein logon ko with RD (Apna Desh). In 1980, Asha changed her style and that amazing flair was exhibited in the Umrao Jaan numbers composed by Khayyam: 'Dil cheez kya hai', 'In aankhon ki masti ke' and 'Ye kya jageh hai dosto'. It fetched her a well-deserved National Award.
It were Asha's songs, in Rangeela, that she sang for Urmila Matondkar in a metallic voice wonderfully enhanced by Rehman's fusion music, which really made the film a blockbuster. Even more commendable is the youthfulness in Asha's voice that can still be felt in her songs, be it 'Mujhey rang dey, mujhey rang dey', in Takshak, or the title song of Jaanam Samjha Karo.
Asha's repertoire varies from bhajans, ghazals and qawwalis, to folk, classical, pop and romantic duets. She did one album with Adnan Sami, 'Kabhi to nazar milao', and also sang with Salman Khan, 'Lucky chips', besides cutting a disc with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Not to forget her numbers with international artists – from Boy George, Stephan, Shelle Luscombe to Code Red. Other than Hindi, Asha sang in Bengali, Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati and English, too. Her feat of recording 12,000 songs has been duly acknowledged in the Guinness Book of World Record. A singer par excellence, she has been conferred two National Awards, seven Filmfare Awards and Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 2000 among other innumerable commendations.
And the best tribute comes from none other than the deity of music and her elder sibling, Lata Mangeshkar: "Asha is so versatile that she can sing all kinds of songs very well – sad songs, dance numbers and cabarets. I am not saying this because she is my sister, but it is my duty to speak about her qualities. Looking at the variety of songs, no singer can match her."
Asha turned 84 on September 8 of 2017. With a career spanning six decades, brimming with national and international laurels, this singing diva is still doing live stage shows. Also a foodie, passionate about cooking, she has an impressive array of recipes. And her love for gourmet has been manifested in a chain of restaurants, aptly named Asha, that she has set-up in Dubai and London. When your name spells HOPE, needless to say, sky is the limit!

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