The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, June 4, 2000

A voice that is forever young
By ML Dhawan

ASHA was born on September 8, 1933. Her father Master Dina Nath Mangeshkar was a well-known Marathi stage artiste. So it was natural for Asha to enter the world of music. As a child she was keen on classical music, but due to the untimely death of her father she was forced to sing film songs to make ends meet.

Asha BhosleAsha rendered the first song of her career Chala chala nave bala for a Marathi film Majha Bal in 1944 when she was barely 11. Her first Hindi film song was recorded in 1947 when she sang for the famous Sitara Devi in Chunaria under the baton of Hansraj Behl. She acted in two Hindi films Badi Maa (1945) and Taxi Taxi in 1977.

Being Lata Mangeshkar’s sister proved to be a mixed blessing for Asha. On the one hand, it helped her to realise her aspirations in music, but on the other it hindered an impartial evaluation of her talent. Despite her incredible talent she was always underestimated. She was offered songs which were not considered appropriate for Lata Mangeshkar. The impression that prevailed in the industry was that Lata’s voice was for the heroines, and Asha’s for the vamps, nautch girls and naughty nymphets. Once she went to Madan Mohan for recording Jhumka gira rey Bareily key bazar mein for Mera Saya. She fondly remarked "Madan Bhaiyya, this song is nice but who is singing the other songs and why can’t I sing them". Madan Mohan bluntly remarked "Jab tak Lata hai Lata hee gayegi". The very fact that Asha managed to carve a niche for herself in the film industry is a tribute to her genius and perseverance.

  Asha’s ability to convey sensuality, seductiveness and eroticism in her songs resulted in her being typecast as a ‘sexy’ singer. O.P. Nayyar moulded her voice and gave her a distinct style. He did not agree with B.R. Chopra’s suggestion that Asha could not sing half as well as Lata for Vyjyanthimala in Naya Daur. But the team of O.P. Nayyar and Asha achieved a level of excellence in Naya Daur which even Lata found hard to rival. For the first time in her career Asha sang all the songs for the heroine in a film.

Asha’s talent underwent a sea change after she started working with O.P. Nayyar. In an association spanning over 20 years, during which they were emotionally involved, Asha scaled new heights of excellence in music. O.P. Nayyar trained her to lend an emotional quality to numbers like Hum ne to dil ko aap ke kadmo pe rakh diya, Beqas hadd se jab guzar jay, Phir thhes lagi dil ko, Yeh hai reshmi zulfoon ka andhera na ghabraye, Woh hans key miley hum se hum pyar samajh baithey, Chain sey hum ko kabhi aap ne jeene na diya, Jayen aap kahan jayenge, Chhota sa balma, Akeli hoon main etc. She poured her heart into sad numbers.

Asha is rightly called a ‘vocal magician’. She displays extremely rare and remarkable degree of control over her voice. Listen to the twaif in Navrang singing Aa dil se dil mila lein o rasiya man basiya and then to the lisping teenager in Pooccho na yaar kiya hua move on thereafter to incredible opening lines of Man anand anand chhayo. In Main hoon barkha ke bin jalta din, her vocal control and her penchant for communicating emotions are more than palpable. The relief, joy, ecstasy, gratitude and resurrection of faith in humanity expressed in Main ja rahi thi Man mein liye trishna, Achhe samey pey tum aaye Krishna strikes an emotional chord in the listners.

During the 50 years that Asha has spent in the film industry she has sung a total of 10,350 songs in various regional languages, including about 7600 songs for Hindi films. One cannot help noticing her dazzling range as she moves with equal ease from the sizzling qwalli Nigahen milaney ko jee chahata hai to the folk song Ab key baras bhej bhaiyya ko babul. She is as much at home with disco numbers like Dum maro dum mit jaye gham as she is with ghazals like Yeh kiya jagha hai dosto, Just joo kiski thhi usko to na paya hum ney and Is anjuman mein aap ko aana hai bar bar etc. Whether it is the pain of the loss of love, religious fervour, or the intoxicating joy of being young and alive, Asha conveys every emotional note with an inimitable conviction in her rich and captivating voice that has withstood the test of time. Asha has always given the credit for her success to the Almighty and her father’s blessings. However, her devotion, dedication, determination and hard work have contributed equally to making her what she is today — a living legend.

A photographic memory and a razor-sharp wit are the twin blessings enjoyed by Asha. During the early 50s when she was struggling to find a foothold in the industry,she once asked a music director if her rendition of his song was upto his expectations. He responded, "Hum log khichdi pakka key aap ko detey hain aur aap usko khate hain". Then almost thirty years later in 1981, she was recording a song with the same music director. When it was over, he rushed to her and exclaimed enthusiastically, "Waha waha! That was really superb, Ashaji". After a pause, Asha replied, "Kyon, bana diya na aap ki khichdi ka pulav hum ne". The music director was stunned by her prompt reply.

With the passage of time, films and music have undergone unbelievable changes. Most of Asha’s illustrious colleagues like Mohammed Rafi, Talat Mahmood, Mukesh, Kishore Kumar, Hemant Kumar and Geeta Dutt are no more. Those who are still around have long ceased to sing but with an indefatigable spirit, Asha stays tuned with the times and enchants with a voice which seems to have acquired a new timbre. She may be 66 but when she breakes into a song she turns 16. She has the voice of a teenager which is why she is still able to sing for heroines decades younger than her. Asha is someone who will remain ‘forever young’.

Of late she has drastically cut down her singing assignments but songs like Ho ja Rangella re, Tanha tanha, Ao pyar ki pehli nazar dil ley gayee dil ley gayee and Janam samjha karo etc bear a testimony to the enduring quality of the timeless voice which has endeared Asha even to the new generation and made her a pop-icon.