Busy with her farewell shows across the world, Asha Bhosle, 84, says she doesn’t like recording songs any more. “I love doing only live shows nowadays. You get the receipt of appreciation, then and there.” Over the years, music critics have rated her as the best live singer that Hindi film industry produced. “Three generations have listened to me, there must be something,” she winks like a teenager. The voice of unbridled youth for decades, Asha says now age demands that apart from her voice she has to take care of her body as well on stage. “I try not to put on weight and look good,” says the singer who is fond of jewellery. “Even if I falter, I don’t fall back on recorded version of my hits. People come come to listen to me, why should I cheat,” remarks the singer who has recently returned from the US tour.
In Delhi, to unveil her wax figure at Madame Tussauds, one was surprised by the selection of songs that played at the event. Most of them were her dance numbers. Well, it went with the party mood, but is it that all to Asha, one wondered. Have we forgotten her “Geet Itne Ga Chuki Hoon Is Sukhi Jag Ke Liye” or her association with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Asha gives credit to her training in classical music for her long innings. Of all the Hindustani ragas, her favourite is Madhuwanti, in which very few Hindi films songs have been composed. During the conversation, when one pokes her if she used to practise film songs at home, Asha retorts, “Filmy gaane ka kya practice karna.” She reminds when she was singing “Piya Tu”, she was also singing “Chain Se Humko Kabhie Jeene Na Diya”. “I had put equal effort in ‘Dum Maro Dum’ and ‘Piya Baawri’ or ‘Kaali Ghata Chhayi’.” However, she adds that from the beginning she had interest in western music. “I liked the fusion of Spanish, American and Indian tunes.” And composers like O.P. Nayyar, who she says played an important role in helping her find her niche, realised that she could bring the elements of Hindustani classical music in western compositions with ease. “Meri taan, harkat aur meend (glide from one note to another) impressed them.” She cites popular number “Jayiye Aap Kahan Jayenge” to prove her point.
“Before me, Nayyar sahib’s compositions for Geeta Dutt had lot of he he hi hi element. His compositions for Shamshad Begum were also different. I brought a different kind of ornamentation. Some say I got stuck to an image but the image was that of a versatile singer, who could fit in any kind of composition.” And perhaps that’s why she found a match in R. D. Burman. “Yes, we both liked challenges and he was always ahead of his times. He is the only one of his generation whose music is still being played.”
Her image of being a singer of sensuous songs that gave a voice to female desire, she explains, was also a demand of the time as she had to make her way through Lata Mangeshkar, Shamshad Begum and Geeta Dutt. “I had to do something which Lata didi would not try. So I kept on trying something new and kept accepting challenges.” Right up to A.R. Rahman when he called Bhosle for Rangeela. “Whenever, a composer wanted to experiment, I was called. You tell me who would have have tried yayi re, yayi re,” smiles Asha referring to the title song of the film.
But, she underlines, the challenges were never of one kind. When Ustad Ali Akbar Khan called her to sing his father’s bandishes and taranas, Asha was once again upto the challenge. “He remembered me because I sang a song for him in Chetan Anand’s Aandhiyan. I went to San Francisco to see whether I could do justice. And when I realised I could, I completed the project in a month.”
Quality of lyrics
The conversation shifts to whether a singer has a role in judging the quality of songs. Asha, who refrains from commenting on present generation now, remarks, “Lot of dance songs came my way. I didn’t like the picturisation of some of them, some had double meaning lyrics, but I sang. Sur kabhi obscene nahin hote, bol ho sakte hain.”
She remembers how she stood up during the recording of “Husn Ke Lakhon Rang” and got the antara changed. On a lighter note, Asha remembers how she would often joke with Gulzar, whom she calls Lala, for using moon as a metaphor repeatedly. “I used to say Lala aapne chand ka halwa bana diya. Ye kya chand ki dali, chand todkar khayenge...” she laughs. “My favourite lyricists are Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi and S.H. Bihari.” Did she understand Urdu? “No, I started from alif. But I didn’t know Hindi either when I started. However, having a good understanding of Sanskrit mantras, it was easy to learn different languages,” maintains Asha. She has fond memories of working with Ilaiyaraaja in Sadma. “His preparation was matchless. I liked his unusual rhythm pattern and use of flute and saxophone. He would come to recording with notations for each instrumentalist. They just had to play.”
All these years, she has been compared with her sister Lata. Some feel Asha sings better in lower notes while Lata is the master of higher octaves. Some even take it literally.
“There was no competition. I just had to create space for myself.” she insists. “Aur composers bure log nahin the. They didn’t want to put one sister against the other. In ‘Meri Jaan Main Kaha’, Kaha goes into taar saptak. I practised kharaj, mandra saptak and taar saptak.” And who can forget “Mera Kuchh Saman” which was very much in Lata space. Asha simply smiles. Perhaps this lower register thing gained weight because of the success of Umrao Jaan’s music. “See, it had typical Khayyam’s compositions. He indeed brought my sur once notch lower but it was because Rekha was speaking at that pitch in the film and he wanted me to match her voice.”
Asha has no regrets and believes god has given her enough to celebrate. And one of the spaces to rejoice is her kitchen where she loves to cook and not eat. An excellent cook, Asha says, “I have mastered six types of biryani, five kinds of mutton...there are certain recipes which only Lata didi and I know.” It goes without saying!