Sang so many songs but people always request for Monica, Chura liya: Asha Bhosle | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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Sang so many songs but people always request for Monica, Chura liya: Asha Bhosle

Asha Bhosle will be performing in Delhi on February 25 and rumour has it that this is her farewell concert. Before the legendary singer calls it a day, we recap her feisty career.

art and culture Updated: Feb 25, 2017 09:51 IST
Nihit Bhave
Asha Bhosle
83-year-old Asha Bhosle holds the world record as the most recorded artiste in history. (Prodip Guha/HT Photo)

At 83, she has had a career spanning 70 years. Asha Bhosle’s work predates streaming websites, apps, iPods, pen drives, CDs and cassettes, all of which have taken her glorious voice to eager listeners. Even today, a single line — ‘Ek-sau-sola chaand ki raatein, ek tumhaare kaandhe ka til’ — is enough to send shivers down the spines of lovers nursing broken hearts. That same voice has the power of pulling you out of your funk with ‘Piya tu ab toh aa jaa’.

“Sometimes I see the way people cheer after hearing that first ‘Monicaaa…’ and joke about ending the concert right after that song,” Bhosle says as she prepares for her Delhi concert. “It’s one of the two songs that people always request. The other one is ‘Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko’. I may have sung thousands of songs, but no concert is complete without these two.”

In 2011, Bhosle entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the most recorded artiste in history, with over 11,000 songs. It’s a hard-won victory. Bhosle has only in the last two decades begun to talk about her work and the inevitable comparison to her sister Lata Mangeshkar when she started out.

RD Burman (L) was a famous Hindi film music composer and Asha Bhosle’s husband. Bhosle sang many of Burman’s songs — frothy numbers that needed the characteristic abandon she sang with.

Singing with abandon

Those who worked with her were legendary composers OP Nayyar and RD Burman. Shamshad Begum had a unique voice and Lata Mangeshkar was almost puritanical with her melodies. There was no one to sing the frothy, fun numbers that required vocal abandon — a quality that sets Bhosle apart even today. “She completely lets go of herself while recording a song,” says composer Clinton Cerejo, who remembers being mesmerised while listening to Bhosle record ‘Mujhe rang de’ (Thakshak, 1999). “When she performs, she’s not just singing. It’s like she’s narrating a story to you. That’s her USP.”

Mohammad Rafi, ever serious and business-like at recordings, would make sure, in the days before air conditioning, that Bhosle was always comfortable — he’d get the fans turned on for her. Kishore Kumar thought her genius lay in her collaborative skills. “He used to like that I surrendered to my composers completely,” Bhosle recalls. “He told me that I’m the only singer who experimented; I slipped in a bit of dialogue in the song and I even screamed if the composer wanted a bit of quirk.”

Future generations of singers would go on to imbibe these qualities. “Hers was the most expressive voice in the industry,” says singer Kavita Seth (of ‘Iktara’ and ‘Tumhi ho bandhu’ fame), who has sung with Bhosle in Begum Jaan, an upcoming film. “She had the emotional range for a mujra, a cabaret song, a romantic song or a sad song. We learnt so much about versatility from her. Listening to her was like going to a music university.”

Bhosle made a career out of the “vamp songs” that others refused and formed a great friendship with the actors that featured in them. “Helen ji used to visit me during recordings sometimes,” Bhosle says. “She used to get chocolates. I was so smitten by her looks that I used to tell her that I’d have run away with her if I were a boy!”

She has lent her voice to multiple generations of actors from Madhubala (her favourite,she says) to Mumtaz, from Rekha and Hema Malini to Madhuri Dixit and Karishma Kapoor; right up to Gracey Singh in ‘Radha kaise na jale’ in the Oscar-nominated film, Lagaan. Her last chartbuster, ironically, was the recreation of her own song ‘Hungama ho gaya’ from Queen (2013), in which composer Amit Trivedi retained her vocals.

Asha Bhosle (R) and Kishore Kumar stand side by side during a rehearsal. Kumar, Bhosle says, admired her collaborative skills and her ability to completely surrender to her composers.

Far from a farewell

And why wouldn’t he? Her live concerts are proof that her voice still holds as much magic as it used to. Bhosle, just back from shows in London and parts of Africa, is still amazed at the overwhelming applause that greets the opening bars of ‘Do lafzon ki hai dil ki kahani’. She can’t believe that people around the world still remember such old songs.

“I’m slightly nervous while standing in the wings,” she says. “But once I get on the stage, people shower me with love. It’s not reverence, which makes fans admire me from a distance. It’s a kind of familiar love that makes them come up to me and talk to me like I’m their mother or sister or friend. They feel a sense of kinship toward me.”

She likens being on stage with being one with god. And even though the Delhi concert is being called a farewell tour, she’s not ready to put down the microphone just yet. “The way things are going, I hope I get to sing a lot more.”

Nihit Bhave writes about TV, music and cinema.

What: The last Empress : Farewell Tour, Asha, Live in concert
Where: Ambience Island, DLF Phase 3, Sector 24, Gurugram
When: February 25, 7 pm onwards
Nearest metro station: Micromax Moulsari Avenue

Buy tickets here.