With a voice that held the nation in thrall ever since she began her musical career in 1943, Asha Bhosle requires no introduction.
Having given voice to such evergreen hits as 'Aaie Meherbaan', 'Dil Cheez Kya Hai', 'Piya Tu', 'Dum Maro Dum', 'Rangeela'et al, Ashaji has been honoured with every major civilian award, including the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan. She also holds the Guinness World Record for having sung more than 15,000 songs in almost all the Indian languages.
Ashaji celebrates her 83rd birthday today, 8 September, and sat down for a chat with Firstpost about her phenomenal musical journey.
Tell us a little about your childhood years and how your career in music started out.
My father Pandit Dinanath Mangeshkar was my first guru. There was an atmosphere of music at home always. There was a strict system of early morning riyaaz at home then, which I continue to follow even now, at this age.
Life has not been a bed of roses... I lost my father at a very young age. My elder sister (Lata Mangeshkar) took up singing professionally to support the family. I was only 12 when I shifted to Bombay. My sister was already gaining fame as a playback singer then.
My urge to take up music professionally made me carry on my struggle in the film industry. I got married very early and left home. After my husband’s death, I was left alone to bring up my three children. Some of my songs did well but they were either picturised on character artistes, vamps, or children but not on main heroines... Subsequently, I started getting to sing for heroines as well, in films like Naya Daur, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Sujata, etc. I had the opportunity to sing for stalwart music directors like OP Nayyar, SD Burman, Khayyam, Madan Mohan, N Dutta, Shankar Jaikishan, Naushad sahib, Roshan... followed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji, RD Burman, Bappi Lahiri, AR Rahman and many others.
For a long time, I was categorised as a singer of cabaret songs. It took time for people to realise that I could actually sing songs of every genre.
You've been part of the industry a long time. How have you seen it change over the years?
I have witnessed the vast change in the music industry. Initially, in our times, there was a system of live recordings. There was a strong harmony and bond between the musicians and singers as the recordings used to happen live with the stream of musicians playing live with the singers. There used to be a number of rehearsal sessions before the final ‘take’. Eventually technology became more advanced and the music and rhythm tracks got recorded first and later on, the singers dubbed their voices. Then technology developed further and music directors like AR Rahman began experimenting with different kinds of music and recording techniques. I have been lucky to have worked with the topmost music directors.
How did music help you to deal with your very difficult personal life?
I have already spoken about the struggles I faced in my earlier years. Later on, life helped me achieve what I deserved. However, on the other hand, I lost my nearest and dearest ones. When my career was at its peak, I lost Pancham (RD Burman). I could only survive the shock due to music, which worked as therapy.
Kehte hain bhagwan jab kuch dete hain, to badle mein kuch le bhi lete hain... Some time ago, I had to face the deaths of my children: first my daughter Varsha, and recently, my elder son Hemant. I got the news of Hemant’s death when I performing at a concert in Singapore. However I continued the concert and after that went back to India for attending the funeral and after fulfilling the religious rites I went back to continue the chain of concerts that I was committed to... Similarly when I was in one of my concerts, I got the news of Varsha’s death. I still stuck to the principle of 'the show must go on' and didn’t let my grief overpower my performance.
I feel only music has enabled me to survive the shocks I went through in my life.
What are your views regarding the music that is being made today, with auto-tuning etc?
The world is changing and music is changing too. I do not want to comment on the auto tune system which is very much in nowadays. One has to adapt to the changes with time.
You have judged many reality shows. What are your views regarding how beneficial they are for the contestants?
Reality shows are good platforms for newcomers as they get overnight fame due to their publicity on TV channels. However, they should focus on their riyaaz without being carried away by the fame.
Your non-film music albums have also been superhits... What do you think of the independent music scene today, and digital platforms?
My independent albums like Janam Samjha Karo became trendsetters as far as independent music is concerned. I always feel indie music should have as much importance as film music. With digital platforms, it has become easier for aspiring singers to publicise their talent through this medium.
Your songs are being remade, remixed. Especially the ones you sang for RD Burman...
Pancham was the only man who understood me. We had tremendous musical compatibility. He gave me the confidence to improvise and sing better than before. He introduced me to the Western style of singing. The Asha-RD Burman pair created magic which still continues. My non-film albums with him — Dil Padosi Hai and many more — were well received in the music world. My Bengali songs, under his music direction, have also been equally popular. All the songs I sang for him are my favourites. His compositions were so ahead of their time that they are still popular among contemporary listeners and are therefore, being remixed.
What has your experience of working with international artistes been like?
I had the opportunity to work with several leading Western groups, bands, and many individual singers from the West. With all of them, I had a great experience. I feel there is no end to learning.
You forayed into acting as well. How was the experience? Would you continue to act if offered good roles?
I did a Marathi film called Mai as the role offered to me was quite interesting and challenging. I received a lot of appreciation for my performance. However, the film did not do well at the box office. As of now, I have to plans to act in movies again.
What are your forthcoming projects?
I am very choosy about my work. I only take up projects that inspire me — be it Hindi or regional. I just sing and do not keep a track of my work. I believe in 'karm karo, phal ki chinta mat karo'. When my new projects release, everyone will come to know anyway.
And which of your songs are closest to your heart?