Born on 8th September, 1933 in a small village named Goar located in Maharashtra, Asha Bhosle is one of the most talented and versatile playback singers of the Indian film industry.
The first-ever opportunity she got to sing in Hindi was for a movie Andhon ki Duniya (1947). But when the composer asked to sing the song Garibon ke daata, garibon ke waali, she literally froze in front of the mike, not able to strike a single note. Ultimately she had to stand in the chorus watching that song being sung by another singer- Johrabai Ambalewali. Her transition from a chorus-singer to a solo-singer didn’t take long, but to establish herself as the premier singer was not easy.
Her sister Lata Mangeshkar was a very famous singer during those days and got offers to sing for the main heroines. Asha got the songs that were rejected by other singers like singing for the vamps, second fiddles and B-Grade movies. Even then she sang many songs that were quite popular. She also got a chance to sing "Nanhe Munne Bachche" with Mohammed Rafi in the film Boot Polish, which became very famous. She also sang for many Marathi films and also sang Marathi devotional songs and Bhajans, which became very popular.
The first decade of her career was pretty lacklustre. She was the just one of the singers in the fray mostly singing for second leads, vamps and character actresses. Lata, Geeta, Shamshad and Asha. That was the order of the day. But Asha never gave up. She kept listening to good singers and trained with ustads like Navrang Nagpurkar and Govindprasad Jaipurwale. She kept honing her skills, adding new facets to her singing and relentlessly pursued new goals. In spite of having a voice in the Lata-mould she cleverly avoided toeing the Lata line. Instead she followed Geeta Dutt’s style of rendition. This Geeta-influence is apparent in many of her songs in that era and sometimes even after that. Just listen to Asha’s ‘Laajwanti’ and ‘Sujata’ songs and you will know what I mean.
Asha Bhonsle got her big break in the year 1956 with the movie C.I.D under the director O.P Nayyar. With time, the Asha Bhonsle - O.P Nayyar team produced many huge hits. She also got many chances to work with S.D Burman and other famous music directors. In mid 1960's she collaborated with S.D Burman's son R.D Burman and sang for the movie Teesri Manzil. The songs were phenomenal and the movie was a hit. She became the voice of Helen, the famous dancer of Bollywood, who used to come to the recording studio to listen Asha sing in order to choreograph her dance steps. Movies like Caravan, Don, Hare Krishna Hare Ram, etc. went on to become big blockbusters.
She married R.D Burman and they together belted out some of the most versatile hits and melodious songs. Asha proved her ability to sing emotional and classical songs with the film Umrao Jaan in 1981. The songs are heard with much enthusiasm even today. Her career got a new boost in the year 1994 with the movie Rangeela. She sang with an amazing level of energy despite the fact that she had crossed 60. She is well over 70 now and continues to sing even today and give stiff competition to other singers.
Aaiye meherbaan, baithiye jaanejaan shauq se leejiye ishq ka imtihaan!- the sultry svelte Madhubala sighed sexily in Asha’s voice in Howrah Bridge and that was it! Asha had arrived. The year was 1958. It had taken her almost a decade but the wait was worth it. From then it was a relentless march to the top.
If one man could claim the credit for Asha’s singing success then it would definitely be O.P. Nayyar. Whatever may be the reason for his musical non-association with Lata, it really proved to be a boon in disguise for Asha. It gave her the confidence of successfully carrying a soundtrack of her own. OP’s rhythmic Punjabi compositions were perfectly suited for Asha’s lively, exuberant style and in the later years he even showed tremendous depth of emotions for her. Their chemistry was so apparent in countless fabulous songs like Yeh Hai Reshmi Zulfon Ka Andhera, Main Shayad Tumhare Liye, Aankhon Se Jo Utari Hai Dil Mein and Yehi Woh Jagah Hai. Asha’s breakup with O.P. Nayyar in 1973 was one of the cruelest blows for Hindi film music.
Sachin Dev Burman was another maestro who made a significant impact on her career. Asha remembers how he told her to give her own colour to each song while rehearsing for the Taxi Driver song Jeeyo aur jeene do. The soft sweetness in Kali ghata chhaye, the subtle seduction in Nazar laagi raaja, the searing pain in Abke baras bhej, the soaring happiness in Sach huye sapne tere and the sizzling sensuality in Raat akeli hai- Sachinda’s repertoire for Asha is just too good!
Till the seventies Asha could rarely get the prime compositions from the premier music directors. To use Sachinda’s expression: ‘Asha was like Tennis’s second serve for them. Only when Lata was unavailable or unwilling, would they consider Asha for their premier tunes. Otherwise, only the typical mujra, cabaret and qawwali numbers were considered as her domain.
Sachinda had used her as the premier singer only when he had a misunderstanding with Lata for a few years. C.Ramchandra and Shankar only turned to her after developing some differences with Lata and that too in their declining phase. So did Naushad. Despite this situation, some composers like Ravi (Tora Man Darpan Kahlaye, Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke, Jab Chali Thandi Hawa), Jaidev (Dukh Aur Sukh Ke Raaste, Maang Mein Bhar Le Rang, Nadi Naare Na Jao), N.Dutta (Main Jab Bhi Akeli, Kis Jagah Jaaye, Tang Aa Chuke Hain) and Khayyam (Do Sakhiyan Bachpan Ki) were some composers who tried their best to correct the balance but they couldn’t turn the tide as most of them were commercially non-viable.
The seventies brought a new dawn. R.D.Burman proved to be one composer who did full justice to Asha’s unmatched versatility even while using Lata’s vocals regularly. Pancham’s compositions for Asha are in a class of their own. If he could use the sex-appeal of her voice so enticingly through Piya Tu Ab To Aaja, Sharmana Yuun and Aao Na Gale Lagao Na; then he also could explore the classicism of her voice through songs like Piya Bawari, Roz Roz Daali Daali and Phir Se Aaiyo Badra Bidesi. Their perfect tuning later extended into real life, too and that blossoming relationship culminated in marriage in 1980.
The 1980s saw Asha’s vocal best. Khayyam’s Umraojaan (1981) and Pancham’s Ijaazat (1987) brought National Awards for her. Non-film albums like Meraje Ghazal, Kashish, Aabshare Ghazal and Dil Padosi Hai won critical acclaim. Unfortunately at this peak of career, the film-music had reached its nadir giving her little opportunity to show her real worth. So as always it was the same old story for her-of not getting big breaks consistently!
The early half of 1990s brought a sea-change in Hindi film music scenario with a number of new singers, composers and music companies appearing on the scene. Asha- so shaken up by the turn of events which also included the decline and death of Pancham- couldn’t cope with the situation initially. But another musical phenomenon masterminded her revival. A.R.Rahman’s Rangeela (1995) featured Asha in Yaai Re Yaai Re and Tanha Tanha and again she was there-back at her best!
With successful pop-albums like Jaanam Samjha Karo, Rahul And I and Kabhi To Nazar Milao and a spate of sizzling item numbers like Kambakht Ishq, Khallas and Sharara Sharara, Asha won over one more generation of listeners.
How can one analyse a career spanning over six decades? She has sung in almost all Indian languages and genres- film-music, pop, remixes, ghazals, bhajan, natya-geet, bhaavgeet, classical music. She has collaborated with artists from all over the world like Ghulam Ali, Adnan Sami, Boy George and Code Red. Her versatility has been her strength and it has also proved to be her Achilles heel. Her classier songs have always been overshadowed by her flashy, ‘fleshy’ songs. Her choice of songs with not so subtle, not so sober lyrics might have brought her not so insignificant success commercially but critically that’s what has taken the sheen off her peerless performance.
Asha’s is a tremendous tale of talent and toil over troubles in personal and professional life. It’s a stimulating saga of survival and success achieved through sheer will-power. It’s an astonishing example of perseverance and pursuit of perfection transforming an ‘also ran’ into an ‘all-time great’.
That is Asha for you, an eternal enchantress!
1967 - Garibon ki suno (Dus Lakh 1966)
1968 - Parde mein rahne do (Shikar 1968)
1971 - Piya Tu Ab To Aaja (Caravan 1971)
1972 - Dum Maro Dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna 1971)
1973 - Hone Lagi Hain Raat (Naina 1973)
1974 - Chain se Humko Kabhi (Pran Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye 1974)
1977 - Yeh Mera Dil (Don 1978)
1981 - Dil Cheez Kya Hai (Umrao Jaan)
1986 - Mera Kuch Samaan (Ijazat)
2000 - Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award