It was a regular weekday morning. After successfully dealing with the typical weekday morning demands, I settled with a cup of tea and opened the newspaper. Amongst the stories of bloody Libya and corrupt India, one story was standing apart as an exquisite island – "Asha Bhosle entered Guinness World Records as the most recorded voice". No doubt that for any die-hard Asha fan it was enough to be on cloud nine!!! Over 11,000 songs in 20 Indian and foreign languages including solo and duets – what a magnificent feat!!!
But this was not an easy journey. Born on September 8, 1933 in a Marathi family in Sangli, Maharashtra; she was blessed to have Master Deenanath Mangeshkar as her father. He himself was a renowned theater actor and classical singer. He used to teach the siblings. Little Asha was very fond of english movies. One day she saw a movie by Carmen Miranda - a popular Brazilian Samba singer and actress. Asha was so impressed by her that she came home and started singing and dancing like Carmen Miranda. Obviously Asha had to face her mother's wrath for this act.
Her schooling was done in Kolhapur - a town in Maharashtra. She was popular in her school; not as a bright student but as a good singer!!! Teachers used to admire her singing and they used to call her in their classes to sing. On the home front, Asha was the naughtiest among all the siblings and always used to get scoldings from mother. But she was a darling to her father.
Unfortunately her father passed away when she was 9 years old. Her elder sister Lata Mangeshkar began singing and acting in films to support the family. Asha followed her after sometime and sang her first film song for a Marathi movie Majha Bal (My Child) in 1943. In 1949 came her first solo Hindi film song for the movie Raat ki Raani. But then Asha was not so keen about singing and having a career. She just wanted to get married, have children and lead a simple life.
Quite shockingly, she married at the age of 16 to Mr.Ganpatrao Bhosle. Her family did not approve this marriage and hence stopped talking to her. Mr. Bhosle encouraged her singing even though it was for his own benefit. This marriage was a big failure. After a few years of marriage when no other option left, she opted out and went to her maternal home with children.
But sitting idle was against her principles. She started singing to support herself and the three children; travelling in crowded local trains of Mumbai; running from one studio to another. That was the time when prominent singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum, and Suraiyya were ruling the music industry. Asha was mostly singing for B and C grade movies. Getting work was very difficult. Sometimes she used to rehearse hard but the final song used to be sung by someone else.
She was given her first big break by Bimal Roy in Parineeta (1953) and then by Raj Kapoor in Boot Polish (1954). 1956 onwards she teamed up with O.P. Nayyar and the duo churned out many memorable melodies. Her first grand success came in 1957 through B.R. Chopra’s Naya Daur. Her duets with Mohammad Rafi like Maang ke Saath Tumhara and Ude Jab Jab Zulfain Teri brought her recognition. She also got patronage of S.D.Burman and Ravi. Later on she associated with R.D. Burman and they both created a history in Indian Film Music. From this point her career graph went just upwards.
And why not? She is the most versatile female singer. She sings cabaret songs like Aaja Aaja or Piya Tu and bhajans like Tora Man Darpan Kehlaye with equal ease. When she was being labeled as a "Cabaret singer" by critics; she made them to shut up by winning a National Award for ghazals in Umrao Jaan. She performs her father’s Marathi drama songs based on classical Hindustani music with perfection. She is the undisputed queen when it comes to singing seducing bitchy songs. She handles pop and Ravindra Sangeet flawlessly. No Indian singer has handled western music as swiftly as she has done. She has also collaborated with foreign singers and bands like Boy George, Stephen Lauscombe, Michael Stipe and Code Red.
There are many singers who sing technically perfect; but Asha is among the few who sing technically and emotionally perfect. Let it be bubbly songs like O Mere Sona Re or soulful songs like Chain Se Hum ko Kabhi; happy or sad songs; it always comes from her heart. The word “Impossible” is not in her dictionary. Only Asha Bhosle can take up the challenge of crooning R.D. Burman’s westernized complex tunes and set the bar so high that is unreachable. Only Asha Bhosle, a school dropout, can sing western tunes with western singers in perfect accent.
The kind of voice flexibility and voice modulation that she showcases can leave anyone awestruck. Not just singing but other things involved in playback singing like saying dialogs or laughing are done to utmost perfection. Remember her hearty laughter in Janu Janu Re Kahe Khanke Hai Tora Kangana and a blushing "Na Na" in Nahi Nahi Abhi Nahi. Her expressive singing has inspired actresses like Helen, Rekha and Smita Patil. In one interview Smita Patil had said "I admire her for what she gives me. I would try my best to give that voice as much as I can because that voice gives me as much as it can to complete a particular emotion."
The same kind of dedication and perfection is visible in her live concerts too. Even though she is singing live, moving on stage, dancing, mimicking; each note comes perfect. At the age of 79, she gives such power packed performances full of energy that a youngster should feel ashamed.
Her ventures are not limited only to singing. But she is an excellent cook too. In one interview to Times of India she has said “I would have been a cook if not a singer. I would have cooked in four houses and made money”. Today she is a successful restaurateur and runs a chain of restaurants in Gulf countries called Asha’s. She personally trained the chefs.
This lady has seen so many ups and downs in life but her smile did not fade away. Her smiling frame clad in silk saree, wearing pearls or diamond jewelry and fresh flowers in hair is just enough to bring solitude just like her singing. No wonder that she was declared the most stylish people in music in 2005 by MTV India. She has changed so well with time that for over 4 generations she is the dearest Asha Tai / Asha didi (elder sister). At this age also her enthusiasm is so high that she is debuting as an actress in a movie called “Maaee” in a mother’s role.
She has proved her name correct. Asha means hope. Only God knows how many poor lives she has enlightened with her divine voice. May god bless her with good health for many more years to come.