Asha Bhosle is probably the second most well known female playback singer in India today. She is probably second only to her sister, Lata Mangeshkar. She has been singing professionally for more than 60 years, having sung for more than 950 Bollywood films.
She was born Asha Mangeshkar on September 8, 1933 in the village of Goar in Maharashtra into a Brahmin household. Her father was Dinanath Mangeshkar and her mother was named Shudhmati.
Asha was one of several children. She had a brother named Hridayanath Mangeshkar, as well as three sisters named Lata, Usha, and Meena. Of these Lata Mangeshkar would grow up to be a legendary figure in the world of film music, and Asha's professional rival.
Asha Bhosle and family
Her exposure to music began in infancy. Her father Dinanath, was an accompanied classical vocalist and was very active in the theatre. However he passed away when Asha was only nine years old. This placed the family under considerable financial hardship. Because of this, the family moved a lot. Ultimately the family settled in Bombay, where Asha and her sister Lata started to sing for the films.
Her first break in the film world came in 1943 when she sang Chala Chala Nav Bala for the Marathi film "Majha Bal". Her first Hindi film song was Sawan Aya for the 1948 film "Chunaria".
Her early personal life was troubled. When she was only 16 years old, she fell in love with 31 year old Ganpatrao Bhosle; he was Lata's personal secretary. Asha was resolute in her desire to marry him, and much against the wishes of her family, she eloped with him. However her married life to Mr. Bhosle was short lived; after a few years with him, she returned to her mother's house with her two children and pregnant with her third. Although the details may never publicly be known for sure, the stated reason for the collapse of the marriage was her mistreatment at the hands of her in-laws.
Her career could hardly be described as meteoric, for it was a slow climb to the top. A couple of successful film songs in the 1940's was not enough to guarantee professional stability. In the 50's and 60's she sang in a variety of B and C grade movies. The few times that she could sing in major films, her contributions were generally limited to "vamp" songs. The choice numbers invariably went to Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum, and Lata. She sang for a variety of film directors, and lyricists. This includes Sajjad Hussain, A.R. Qureshi (a.k.a. Alla Rakha Khan, the renown tabla maestro), and Ghulam Mohammed. This slow rise to stardom was punctuated by a few bright spots. In particular there was the Dilip Kumar film "Sangdil" (1952), followed by "Parineeta" (1953), and "Boot Polish" (1954).
Asha Bhosle in stage program
Aside from the Hindi films, she was quite active in Marathi films. In this period she is noted for such songs as Khedyamadhle Ghar Kaularu, Majha Hoshil Kaa? Bugadi Mazi and Nach Re Mora.
1956 marked a major turning point in Asha's career. This was in this year that her work in O.P. Nayyar's "C.I.D." thrust her into the public's attention. After a number of successful songs under O.P. Nayyar, she became one of his favourite singers and they maintained a productive relationship for several decades. Building upon the success of "C.I.D.", she was able to sing in B.R. Chopra's "Naya Daur" (1957), this too became part of a very successful long term collaboration. This brought her to the attention of the fledgling R.D. Burman with whom she established an even stronger collaboration. Some important early work with R.D. Burman, Dum Maro Dum ("Hare Rama Hare Krishna" - 1971), Duniya Mein ("Apna Desh" - 1972), and Jaane Jaan, Dhoondhta Phir Raha ("Jawani Diwani" - 1972)
However the professional relationship between R.D. Burman and Asha Bhosle was destined to morph into something closer. They were married 1980; the remained married un till his death in 1994.
Asha Bhosle and R.D. Burman
During the 60's and 70's she started to do playback singing for Helen. This relationship earned Asha the reputation as being a singer of upbeat and at times "naughty" songs. Some examples of the Asha / Helen match were, Piya Tu Ab To Aaja ("Caravan" - 1971), O Haseena Zulfon Wali ("Teesri Manzil" - 1966) and Yeh Mera Dil ("Don" - 1978).
The Asha / Helen combination may have been commercially very successful, but it was not to last forever. There were probably several reason why this came to an end. Helen's cabaret numbers started to decline in the in the 80's. Furthermore Asha seems to have been uncomfortable being typecast for a single type of song; she wanted to expand her repertoire to show her versatility. This was demonstrated by her embracing the gazal style in films such as "Umrao Jaan" (1981) and "Ijazat" (1987). Today she is known for her ability to perform in a variety of styles from classical, to Western pop, to fusion. To date she has sung in over 14 languages.
In the 1990's and even into the first decade of the 21st century, Asha has not allowed her age to stand in the way of embracing new musical styles. This was demonstrated for such productions as the non-filmi Janam Samjha Karo. She has also worked with A.R. Rahman on such notable numbers as Tanha Tanha and Rangeela Re ("Rangeela" - 1994), Venilla Venilla ("Iruvar" - 1999), and Kahin Aag Lage (Taal - 1999). Her collaboration with popular artists such as Boy George are legendary.
But the Bollywood film industry is a world which is fraught with frictions. Over the years rivalries and enmities arise as easily as long term collaborations. One of the most famous rivalries was with her sister Lata. The Lata / Asha rivalry is a mixture of personal family misunderstandings (Boys and girls, can you sat "Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani Hai"), professional rivalries, and exaggerations by the tabloid press. Certainly Asha's elopement with Lata's personal secretary has been widely credited as a source of much friction, but many others are related to the politics of the Bollywood film Industry. Then there is plain old fashioned rivalry.
Lata / Asha professional rivalry
There was another friction that is well known; that is the split that occurred between O.P. Nayyar and Asha. We know that he was one of the first major directors to utilise Asha's talents. This formed a collaboration which stretched from the 1950's all the way into the 1970's. It is rumoured that their relationship was a lot more than professional. But for some reason there was a split. It has never been publicly stated what the reason for the split was, but it was certainly an acrimonious one.
A distinguished career covering more than 60 years allowed her to acquire many honours. Among them are the "Filmfare Lifetime Achievement award" (2001), and a number of individual filmfare awards. She is also reputed to be the first Indian artist to be nominated for a Grammy; this was in 1997 for her collaborative effort with Ali Akbar Khan on the the album "Legacy". In 2001 she was the recipient of the "Dadasaheb Phalke Award for Outstanding Contribution to Indian Cinema".
Asha Bhosle is not a monochromatic entity, for she is known for her interests and skills outside of music. For instance she is very well known for her love of cooking. This interest in cooking has lead to her becoming involved in several restaurants, not surprisingly known as Asha's.
Today she is in her 70's but is still very active both as a restauranteur, a writer, and a vocalist.
© 1998 - 2017 David and Chandrakantha Courtney
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