At 83, Asha Bhosle’s age may be telling, but her spirit is still tenacious
An exclaim of appeasement, childish impishness and teasing your beau in one instance, and that of wisdom, introspection and hope in another, Asha Bhosle has emoted all the voices and feelings in our hearts and heads since she was just 11.
Now at 83, too, there is no stopping her.
If you were there at the Opera House on Monday, you’ll know what I am talking about.
No, it was not one of her best live performances. Not even close. Her voice has lost some of its power, though not its sheen and temerity (as heard in her live renditions of hit songs such as Aiye Meherbaan, Yeh Mera Dil and Chura Liya Hai). Her band and sound engineers showed no expertise or exposure, unlike that of the Metropole Orchestra at The Hague she performed with three years ago, further stifling her performance.
As for Bhosle, she steered clear of her difficult songs; and like most great artists did self-depreciation deftly, reflecting on how she finds it difficult to sing from the gut and her vocal chords simultaneously.
The audience, however, knew all of this prior to booking their tickets. Then, how does Bhosle, definitely not in her best form, still command a full-house at the Concert Hall? Because, the audience knows better.
In a dazzling turquoise saree and her trademark pearly bracelet, Asha Tai was welcomed amid whistles, applause and a thundering ovation. Clearly, the audience had come to celebrate Asha Bhosle and her service to the entertainment industry, to which she gave more than 11,000 songs in almost all pitches, moods and mannerisms that very few women singers have covered.
Some of us were there as we knew that it may be our last chance to see the legendary singer perform live. Now as hard as I try to avoid prefacing her name with these over-used tags – “versatile” or “legendary” – my vocabulary fails me.
The reason I did not want to label her is because these tags can often be very limiting and suffocating. She was once labelled a ‘cabaret singer’ (read, not a serious singer) as her daughter Varsha Bhosle writes, “The female singer was consigned to the bottom rung of their (educated middle class) esteem. Depending upon the sensibilities of the person, and regardless of actualities, she was labelled bai-ji, gaayika, gaanewali, kothewali, devdasi etc…”
Referring to her mother’s squalid married life with her first husband Ganapatrao Bhosle, she writes, “I’m convinced that her being typecast by music directors as the perennial cabaret/mujra/qawwali singer is a fall-out of her early life… One fact is undeniable – like any other extraordinary singer, she excelled in all genres, but Hindi film-makers were ticklish about giving their on-screen epitomes of Indian womanhood the voice of this rather camp personality. If the character was ‘westernised’, her voice was that of Asha. And this label stuck just at the time when the most memorable music was being composed for the non-westernized Indian heroine.”
As a nineties kid, my first association with Asha Bhosle was when she gave us, the coy lot, the audacity to say Aa tujhe choom loon main (in DDLJ) or to perk up our teenage faces into a pout and sway to the sensuous Tanha tanha (in Rangeela) or just drool over Milind Soman in Jaanam samjha karo where she seemed akin to the fairy godmother as we were like Cinderella.
I again found some teenage euphoria in her rendition of Le gayi le gayi from Dil To Pagal Hai. When Baazigar released in 1993, Kitabein bahut si was one song that topped my personal music charts. (Yes, even I had my bad-taste-in-music phase, just like you!)
Later on, when I finally developed a taste and managed to save myself from the ubiquity of Anu Malik and Altaf Raja, I discovered her evergreen numbers Achha jee main mari chalo maan jao na and the songs from Ijaazat that tested her skills as singer, and her qawallis alongside her soulful duets with Kishore Kumar and Mohammad Rafi. Through the infinite range and depth she has portrayed throughout her career, I discovered her versatility and volatility.
When she regaled us with Jhumka gira re, in all its affectation and coyness or the ever-romantic and idyllic Do lafzon ki hain, her voice that immortalizes her zest for life does not for once betray the fact that her life has been full of hardships.
On stage, she called her life an open book, but we are hardly made privy to her suffering as a woman – as a professional in her career as a singer, as a wife from a failed marriage and as a mother who has witnessed the death of two of her children. She is not only good at the upkeep of her voice and its tonalities, but indeed, also appearances.
These days, for ghazals on misty mornings, I go to Iqbal Bano; for a sample of mush and romance, I go to Lata Mangeshkar; for that rasp and spice, to Rekha Bharadwaj; but for someone like Asha Bhosle who defies all labels put on her, I go to her for surprises.
Photos: Ken Leanfore