Evergreen Asha

By adapting to the changing tastes and constantly reinventing her music and her image, Asha Bhosle, even at 73, has successfully endeared herself to the new generation, writes M. L. Dhawan

Asha Bhosle has widened her horizon by coming out with albums in Indipop; (left) for Umrao Jaan, she crooned soulful ghazals
Asha Bhosle has widened her horizon by coming out with albums in Indipop; (left) for Umrao Jaan, she crooned soulful ghazals

Reputed singers like Noor Jehan, Shamshad Begum, Amirbai Karnataki, Zohrabai Ambalewali, etc sang in a voice best suited for ghazals. Asha Bhosle introduced a spontaneous, free-flowing style of singing with her debut song Sawan aaya re jagey more bhag sakhi ree... in Chunaria under the baton of Hansraj Behl in 1948. The sensuous appeal in her voice and the ease with which she went western was apparent in Mr John ya baba Khan ya lala Roshandan (Baarish, 1957). With Aaiye meharbaan (Howrah Bridge), she became an ideal choice for seductive numbers.

In Jiyo aur jeeney do in Taxi Driver, she was coquettish, sensual, breezy and passionate—all at the same time. Asha had no rival in singing cabaret songs, including Geeta Dutt and Lata. With the popularity these numbers gained, an impression gained ground in the industry that Asha’s voice was good for vamps, nautch girls and naughty nymphets. Her ability to convey eroticism in her songs led to Asha getting somewhat typecast.

Initially Asha did sound influenced by Geeta Dutt’s style but post-1957 she came into her own and by the end of the decade she was next only to Lata on the playback scene.

O. P. Nayyar trained Asha to lend an emotional quality to her songs. He moulded her voice and gave her a new identity. Under Nayyar’s baton, Asha developed into a singer who could belt out sultry, exuberant, teasing or tragic songs. Nayyar exploited her amazing tonal quality in Beimaan baalma gayee jaan zaalima, Lekey pehla pehla pyaar (with Rafi, Shamshad Begum), Jaaeeye aap kahan jayenge, Yeh hai reshmee zulfon ka andhera, etc. In fact with each of Nayyar’s songs, Asha scaled new heights.

Versatility may well be Asha’s second nature. No song has been beyond her range. R.D. Burman’s music gave a hip and happening voice to Asha. He offered her a stimulating challenge in songs like Piya tu ab to aaja. In Mera kuchh samaan tumhare pass pada hai (Ijazat), Asha exuded the pathos of unrequited love. The young generation of the 1970s rocked to Dum maro dum.

No matter how conventional the lyrics, Asha imparts a magical touch with inimitable flourishes. Her sense of rhythm is unparalleled. Her capacity to be both sensual and sensitive gives her voice an ethereal quality. Though Asha has been associated with sensual numbers, the fact is that she has given voice to all categories of songs. Like a vocal magician, she conveys every emotion.

She is childlike in Bhanwara bada nadaan haaye, her voice undulates, dips and soars in Ai Dushman-e-jaan chal diya kahaan. In Baithey hain rahguzar pe dil ka diya jalaye, she expresses the agony of loss and longing. Tang aa chukey hain kash-m-kashe-e-zindagi sey hum she voices the turmoils of a life lived alone. In Gaa merey man gaa, Sach huye sapne terey, jhoom ley O man merey, Koi aaya dhadkan kehti hai, etc, Asha conveys with abandon the joys of being young and alive. While Asha can belt out playful numbers like Paan khaye saiyyan hamar, Khat likh de sanwariya ke naam babu, Parde mein rehne do, etc, can charm you with soulful songs like Kis jagaha jayen kis ko dikhlayen.

Voice modulation helps Asha reinvent herself ever so often. She moulds her voice to suit the scene, situation and character. To match Rekha’s bass, Asha recorded, Yeh kya jagha hai dosto, Justjoo jis ki thi usko to na paya humne, Dil cheez kya hai aap meri jaan leejeeye, etc in Umrao Jaan, an octave lower than her normal pitch and crooned ghazals that even Lata found hard to rival.

By adapting herself to the changing times, Asha has proved that legends never fade away but reinvent themselves. She worked hard to revive R.D. Burman’s music for the younger generation with albums like Rahul and I. Her collaboration with Kronos Quartet, You Have Stolen My Heart, was nominated for the Grammy Awards. She also released the album Janam Samjha Karo and collaborated with international artistes Code Red, Boy George and Michael Stipe.

Asha has widened her horizon by coming out with albums in Indipop and beating Indian pop artistes on their own turf. While mastering rap and remixis, she is still able to sing the compositions of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. She has made waves by bringing new patterns in her songs by singing in the company of singers like Adnan Sami, Shaan, etc.

At 73, Asha is young at heart and her youthfulness shows in Lamha lamha zindagi hai in the recently released Corporate. Time and age have not affected her voice, which is still scintillating. Her never-say-die attitude drives Asha to scale new heights even now. While most of her colleagues have ceased to be musically active on the film scene, Asha stays tuned with times and enchants with a voice that refuses to fade away.