What a happy day! Ashaji just makes you smile, doesn’t she? Because she is always smiling and you can’t help but smile back.
Asha Bhosle, born Asha Mangeshkar. Her father was a traditional singer/musician and he trained his daughters in the same way. Asha’s sister Lata was 4 years older than her and they were inseparable as children. Supposedly Lata ran home on her first day of school because she had brought baby Asha with her and the teacher wouldn’t allow her to keep the baby. Their father died when Asha was 9 and Lata 13, the family moved from their village to Bombay and young Lata began picking up work as a playback singer. She brought Asha along with her (just as she had brought her to school with her) and Asha was sometimes used to sing the harmonies or small unnoticed parts of songs.
You can’t talk about one sister without talking about the other. Although there were more children in the family, somehow Lata and Asha existed as a special duo. It happens like that often in families, I think, two siblings who form a bond of love that turns into a way of measuring their lives against each other. Lata at 21 was already an accomplished and hardworking playback singer. She was a professional and seemed likely to never marry, preferring to dedicate herself to her art and her responsibilities. Asha at 16 ran away from all that as far and as fast as she could, eloping with a 31 year old man against her sister’s wishes. A few years later, she had two children and her husband wasn’t working, and she started trying to get work again, taking whatever singing jobs were offered her.
While Lata went high, Asha went low. Lata increasingly took the complicated classical style pieces, the beautiful heroine love songs in a high pure voice. Asha became known for her modern style and modern sound, the bouncy jazzy songs. She divorced her husband in 1960, when she was 27. A few years later for the first time she worked with the young composer RD Burman. He had new ideas and wanted a new kind of sound, and Asha was still young at heart and ready to try anything. Their creative partnership flourished and, eventually, so did a romantic partnership. After he first married and divorced someone else. Asha was divorced and mother of 2 and 6 years older than him. But it didn’t matter to RD. After years of pursuit, she finally agreed to marry him when he was 41 and she was 47. They married and were happy for 14 years, until RD’s sudden death. During this time they traveled the world performing together and Asha’s popularity grew and grew.
Today, she is still performing and still singing. I got to see her live a few years ago. But, she’s 87. Her voice is just not what it was, unfortunately. What is still there is her delightful presence. She smiles and charms and seems to sincerely enjoy just being with people. Her singing isn’t her whole life, it is her way of earning a living and enjoying herself, but it is people that she loves.
When I think of Asha, I don’t actually think of her own songs first, I think of the song written about her “Brimful of Asha”. “Asha” means “hope”, this song is written by a British band about how Asha Bhosle means hope and strength and happiness to the Diaspora, and to the Indians back home.
(here is a link to a wonderful explanation of the meaning of the song, https://www.cornershop.com/2012/01/brimful-explained)
Of course, right after I think of “Brimful of Asha”, I do think of her own songs. Most famous, “Dum Maro Dum”, the anthem of the hippie druggie culture, smoking marijuana and singing “Hari Krishna Hari Ram”.
Or there is her first major collaberation with her future husband RD, “Aaja Aaja”
Even before working with RD, she was already doing different sounds and modern sounds, for instance in “Raat Akeli Hai”, still so popular and remembered that a movie was just named after it.
No one thought peppy modern Asha could handle the songs of Umrao Jaan, including Asha herself, but she proved them wrong. She took Urdu lessons for the pronunciation and lowered her voice an octave to give it a different sound, “In Aankhon Ki Masti”
She worked with SD Burman, his song RD Burman, the southern meastro Illaiyaraaja, and finally AR Rahman, all the greats. And she was still queen of the young sexy item song well into her 70s, for instance “Mujhe Rang De”
Okay, your turn! Out of all the Asha songs in the world, which is your favorite?
Or, if you are new to Indian film music, think of your favorite songs, then google them, and probably one (or all) were sung by Asha.