As one of India’s most prolific artistes, Asha Bhosle’s musical journey has not only enthralled listeners worldwide, but also inspired musicians and vocalists, both in India and abroad. Bhosle is known for her range and versatility; in particular, her immense control over her craft. This is further evident in her seven-decade strong performing career, where she not only lent her voice to innumerable Bollywood films, but also crossed genres and styles through unique collaborations and experiments. A recipient of several honours through her life, Bhosle has constantly reinvented herself and her music over the years, resulting in a fan base that transcends age, backgrounds, and borders. More than 70 years after her first song, she remains one of the most popular personalities in the Indian music industry.
As the legendary artiste gears up for what may possibly be her last live concert on Feb 25, we celebrate her incredible journey with seven lesser-known stories from her life.
1. Though Asha Bhosle had gained quite a bit of recognition by the 80s, much of this had to do with her popular cabaret playbacks of the era, especially for Bollywood actress Helen. However, her collaboration with music director Khayyam on Umrao Jaan in 1981, proved that her range was indeed unsurpassed. Bhosle lent her voice for a series of ghazals for the film, which also eventually led to her first National Award.
2. In 1987, musical stalwarts, Gulzar, R.D. Burman, and Asha Bhosle collaborated on an album titled Dil Padosi Hai. Interestingly, Bhosle recounted an interesting detail about the album in an interview with Radio Nasha, last year. She said: “For 3-4 years, I kept asking both to work on the songs for an album together and when they did not, I was irritated and stopped saying anything. Then, while watching a James Bond film at night, there was a scene where James Bond emerges onscreen and a tune plays, RD switched off the TV immediately and began humming a tune. He then worked on a few tunes, talked to Gulzar and began work on the songs.” The album was released on her 54th birthday.
3. Asha Bhosle’s creative energy and enthusiasm is unparalleled, as the Kronos Quartet discovered in 2005. The American string quartet used a number of RD Burman tunes in their studio album, You’ve Stolen My Heart. Featuring wildly popular songs including Dum Maro Dum and Piya Tu, the band roped in Asha Bhosle to re-record the songs for them. Despite being over 70 years of age, she completed over three songs a day with unbridled enthusiasm, thus amazing her much younger collaborators. The album eventually went on to be nominated for the 2006 Grammy Awards.
4. Much has been written about the famous rivalry between the two most famous Mangeshkar sisters, but a 1998-film by Sai Paranjpye even attempted to give it a cinematic interpretation. Titled Saaz, it starred Aruna Irani and Shabana Azmi as Lata and Asha respectively. Though entirely fictionalized, there were instances that borrowed from the lives of the Mangeshkar sisters, such as their poverty-stricken childhoods and their very separate paths to musical stardom. Neither sister acknowledged any truth in the narrative; in fact, Asha was famously quoted as saying that: “To have two women in long plaits, take a couple of incidents and exaggerate them into a 3-hour film is such a waste of time.”
5. Besides being a musical legend, Asha Bhosle is celebrated for her culinary prowess and hospitality as well. A skilled chef, her extensive meals are a favourite among her friends and colleagues in the industry, who swear by her paya curry and prawn patties. In fact, it was this love for food and feeding others that prompted her to start restaurants in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Qatar, Birmingham, and Manchester. Called Asha’s, the restaurants specialize in Indian cuisine and have won several food and hospitality awards over the years.
6. Prolific is not a word we throw around lightly, but in Asha Bhosle’s case, there can hardly be a better description. In 2011, the Guinness Book of World Records officially acknowledged Bhosle as the most recorded artist in the history of music. She was awarded a certificate for recording up to 11,000 solo, duet and chorus-backed songs and in over 20 Indian languages, since 1947. Incidentally, Bhosle was also the first Indian singer to be nominated for a Grammy, for the compilation Legacy. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan collaborated with her on the 1997 album.
7. Asha Bhosle has constantly reinvented herself with time, experimenting not just with diverse musical styles and genres but also with different roles altogether. She turned music composer for an original album titled Aap Ki Asha, in 2002, which featured Majrooh Sultanpuri’s final work as a lyricist. More than 10 years later, she also stepped in front of the camera with her film debut Mai. The Marathi film also starred Padmini Kolhapure and Ram Kapoor, and was a family drama on the much-too-commonplace theme of children abandoning their aged parents. Bhosle, who was 79 then, received positive feedback for her role; however, as per reports, she does not plan to explore this career path much further.