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Monday, November 28, 2016

Asha Bhosle: The Singer with an Unmatched Verve and Versatility (Part-I)

Asha Bhosle, the savvy, sizzling and sensuous singer, who celebrated her 83rd birthday on September 8, sang more songs than her great sister Lata Mangeshkar, and more than even Rafi. Behind this accomplishment there is obviously a tremendous sadhana, ego-transcending practice, that too, with devotion, for she, unlike her great sister Lata who is known to sing in high registry, is known to sing in lower register, which many people took literally, while the fact remains that lower notes are as difficult to achieve as higher notes.

In this endeavor, as Raju Bharatan, author of Asha Bhosle: A Musical Biography observed, OP Nayyar played a commendable role: he not only “made her believe that she has a very strong low register”, which is unique by itself but also offered her a platform to develop a distinct style of her own, a very different one from her already well-established sister by composing songs in lower register for her to render pretty impressively. For instance, he composed the song, Aiye meherbaan, baithiye jaane jaan/ Shauk se liijiye ji ishq ka imthihaan …come my beloved, sit down my darling/Then, if you please indulge yourself by taking love’s test… (Howrah Bridge, 1958) in low register, which Asha sang with all those finer nuances, those inflections, ornamentations and vibrato to the accompaniment of the rhythm of castanets and of course, adding all that heavy lifting in the seduction area with her sensuous voice that made the song remain popular even to date.

            

This OP-Asha combination that started with that feisty and folksy song, Uden jab jab zulfein teri / kavariyon ka dil machle (whenever your hair starts flying, the hearts of the damsels fly) from Naya Daur (1957), ran for almost 17 years during the course of which they gave many popular songs such as: Jaiye aap kahan jayenge, ye nazar laut ke phir aayegi…(Go wherever you wish to…) from Mere Sanam that was composed again in low registry based on raga Piloo, which Asha crooned so breezily; Ishaaron ishaaron mein from Kashmir ki Kali, a duet that was sung so playfully with Rafi portraying such an intimacy listening to which gives a feel of eavesdropping in on a conversation; Haule, haule chalo more sajana from Sawan ki Ghata, etc. However, this combination had finally terminated with that slow but haunting song, Chain se hum ko kabhi aapne jeene na deeya from Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye (1974) that she sang so poignantly mixing passion as well as pain that won her a Filmfare award, which she, of course, refused to accept. As many credited Nayyar with helping Asha in creating an identity of all her own, during this period Asha, as she herself observed once, could cultivate a voice and style of her own—a carefree and fanciful style within her low registry—that is distinctly different from her sister Lata and thus could carve a niche for herself in the Hindi music world.

Taking advantage of her magical voice, SD Burman too rendered quite a few hits with Asha such as Deewana mastana hua dil jaane kahan (Bambai ka Babu, 1960), in raag khammaj, which starts with Asha’s haunting call with sargam notes, aaaa aa aa / Pa ma ga ma re ga pa ma ga ma, aaaa aa… / Saa nii dha pa ma ga r saa nii nii nii… / Diivaanaa, mastaanaa, huaa dil, / jaane kahaa hoke bahaar aaii… in a voice swung in “masti” that well creates an extremely pleasant effect, listening to which the listeners could not help but smile and hum along. In a roothna-manaana kind of duet from Kala Pani, Asha sang Acchaji main haari, chalo maan jao na (Alright, I admit defeat, please don’t be mad at me anymore) in a frothy, fast and naughty style which delights the listener while enabling the heroine to cheer up a sulking hero and finally both making playful faces. During the late 1950s, when Burmanda had a tiff with Lata, he offered Asha solo songs too. One such memorable song is, Kaali ghata chhayi mora jiya tarsaye (The sky is grey / I am longing for you) from Sujata, in which Asha pours her heart out to express the melancholic yearning of the heroine—a sweet crooning.

As many critics observe, Asha sounds quite exotic and fresh and alluring under Burmanda’s baton; for instance, the song, Raat Akelii hai, bujh gaye diye (the night is lonely, and the lights have gone out) from Jewel Thief. Burmanda, who is known to pick the right voice for his songs, picked Asha for singing this song, which Asha rendered amazingly: the way her voice flows seductively through low notes and then surges out through very high notes landing in a joyful crescendo before tapering off into a whisper again, effortlessly hitting the highest of highs and striking a sultry laugh beneath the lows, Asha simply mesmerizes listeners. And what an incredulous breath control! Incidentally, the heart-wrenching song  Ab ke baras bhej bhaiyyaa ko babul, Sawan mein lijo bulaay re (O father, do send my brother this year to fetch me during monsoon)which I believe she sang so impressively to perfection under Burmanda’s tutelage for Bimald’s film, Bandini that consolidated Asha’s position as a lead singer in the Hindi film world.
            

Under the baton of Ravi, Asha gave one of her best renditions: Aage bhii jaane na tu, piiche bhii jaane na tu (you may not know what lies ahead of you, nor do you know what lies behind you)/ jo bhi hai bas yahii ek pal hai (what is here now is only this very moment) … jeenevaale, soch le yahii waqt hai kar le purii aarzuu (O living soul, think fast: this is the time to fulfil all your desires)…—that inimitable brilliance of Sahir Ludhianvi’s poetry which was set to an exquisite tune by Ravi was sung by Asha Bhosle so passionately, passing through those undulations as sweet strumming of guitar and sax accompanied her creating a romantic effect, she could well delineate Ludhianvi’s underlying philosophical statement about life. This is one of Asha’s most haunting melodious hits.

There is yet another beautiful song penned by the same Sahir Ludhianvi and music composed by Ravi based on the raga, Darbari in the film, Kaajaltora man darpan kehalaaye (Your mind is said to be the mirror)/bhale bure saare karmon ko dekhe aur dikhaaye (deeds good and bad, it watches and shows all!)/… man hee devataa, man hee eeshwar / man se badaa naa koee (mind is celestial, mind is God / None there is greater than mind), which Asha Bhosle sang so elegantly, undulating between lower and higher notes so devotedly that often tempted listeners to wonder if it was sung by Lata. Singing it so devotedly to the accompaniment of sweet strokes of Sitar and Santoor, she made it an immortal bhajan.
             

To be continued...

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