Singing Jewel

A gem of the legendary Mangeshkar family, whose contribution to Indian music is unparalleled, versatile singer, Asha Bhosle, has been ruling hearts of music lovers since past seven decades. In a candid chat with Rail Bandhu, she talks about her tuning with her elder sister, noted singer, Lata Mangeshkar, being active on social media and how music composers OP Nayyar and RD Burman could exploit her voice the most.

At 83, Asha Bhosle’s zest for life and work is incredible. In a career spanning 70 years, she has received multiple national awards, worked with almost all top music composers, recorded timeless hits and yet continues to surprise her fans with new albums, concerts and inspiring public speeches. In Lata Mangeshkar’s words “there’s no other artiste as versatile as Asha Bhosle”. A Padma Vibhushan awardee, Bhosle has been mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most recorded artiste of all times. Here are some excerpts from her interview.

In your seventy-year long career, you have seen a lot of ups and downs. What kept you going?

I suppose it’s because of my name Asha, which means hope. I never lost hope even during the worst phases in my life. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel and I advise everyone to have a positive outlook. The past is over, live a productive present which will lead to a happy future. I don’t look back, but just move ahead.

How do you find social media?

I enjoy social media and interacting with people. I don’t have the time to constantly be on my smartphone and tweet, but sometimes I sit down and have anyone around me translate my thoughts into English and tweet the same.

At 80, it’s incredible that you debuted as a lead actor in the film Mai. What made you to take up that challenge?

In my younger days, I was asked many a times to act in movies but I refused since I wanted to concentrate on my music and singing. When the subject of Mai came along, I thought ‘why not try acting once’. I don’t plan on taking it up seriously anyway. It was a one off thing and I enjoyed doing it.

You’re training your granddaughter Zanai, who also performs with you during stage shows. How is she progressing?

Zanai is an extremely talented and beautiful girl. Singing comes to her naturally. She’s gifted. Besides music, she’s learning Kathak for many years. I give her musical advice and help her increase her musical skills. Besides Hindustani music, she’s also learning western vocals and music as a subject abroad. She’s still very young, but I see great potential in her as she matures.

You have worked with some of the most talented composers of all time. How did they influence your music and vocal skills?

Each of these music composers had their own unique style and individuality and I absorbed and learnt different musical styles from them. I was like a sponge; absorbing everything that came my way. Father and son (SD and RD Burman) were so unlike each other. Burman senior was strict and wanted a song to be sung in the way he had envisaged it. There was no deviation allowed, though I used to sneak some of my own ideas into the song and wait for his approval, which most of the times he liked and introduced into the song. His son was totally different. He used to give me a free hand. I could soar like a free bird and he enjoyed my thoughts and ideas and we inspired each other in creating some of the finest music in the history of Indian cinema.

Your songs with OP Nayyar and RD Burman have been most popular.

OP Nayyar hailed from Punjab and his music was earthy, based on the folk music of Punjab. When he arrived in Mumbai, he was looking for a female voice that was earthy, natural and which reminded him of his birth place. He used the vocals of Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum and others but I guess he found what he was looking for in my vocal abilities. He was a very talented composer and musically both of us were pretty wellmatched. RD Burman, on the other hand, was fire. He was into the world music and you can hear influences of Latin, jazz, rock, etc., in his songs. That doesn’t mean he didn’t know Hindustani music. His understanding of rhythms was extraordinary and he surrounded himself with the finest assistants like Manohari Singh, Kersi Lord and Maruti Rao Keer, to name a few.

Now melodies are making a slow comeback. How do you think music would change?

Like everything else in life, it’s a cycle. History repeats itself and I’m sure we shall see many trends in music come and go and the style of the 50’s too shall come back for a while before being overtaken by the 70’s.

Who are the vocalists you listen to?

I enjoy listening to my elder sister Lata didi (Lata Mangeshkar), Ghulam Ali, Kishore Kumar, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Michael Jackson and lately, Adele, who I heard through my granddaughter Zanai. I also like Beyonce very much. I don’t know anyone who can sing at such a high pitch.

What kind of books do you like to read? Who are your favourite authors?

I love Sarat Chandra. All his books are exceptional. My love for Bengal began after reading the description of Bengali culture in his books. I have also read translated works of William Shakespeare and find his stories amazing. I think he was ahead of his time. O Henry is also a wonderful author and I enjoy his short stories.

Any update on your autobiography?

My autobiography is almost ready. I’m currently adding finishing touches to the same and it will hopefully release soon.

Can you describe your bond with Lata Mangeshkar. Was there ever any professional rivalry between you two?

The media has created this myth of rivalry between didi and me. We are real sisters. Sometimes, we argue but we are one family. She’s the eldest and everyone in our household respects her and loves her. She has sacrificed a lot for the family and she has supported me like I have supported her in our times of need. She likes my cooking a lot. When we meet, we remember funny moments from our childhood or of our colleagues, some of whom are no more. There are many memories. She doesn’t venture out too much, but her mind and memory are as sharp as ever.

Text: Karan Bhardwaj

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