Asha - A luncheon to remember

Author: Dr. Mandar V. Bichu

Sitting next to Asha during a private lunch at Dubai’s exclusive Asha’s restaurant, sharing anecdotes (and the dessert) with her, shamelessly singing songs to remind her of their tunes, listening to her break into a song in the midst of a sentence – what more can any true blue-blooded music- lover hope for! On 21st November 2004, we (I and Shekhar) managed this rare feat.

Thanks to our roles as the music- collectors involved in an extensive Asha Bhosle MP3 Jukebox concept, we were invited for a special luncheon at Asha’s. Literally within minutes, the conversation flowed as if we were best of the chums. Contrary to my earlier perception (from her media interviews!) of her giving a short end of the stick to the golden era music, here she was wallowing in nostalgia. So candid and charming, Asha as a person immediately won me over.

The conversation followed no strict pattern. It just flitted from one topic to another. Just so that over the time, they might evaporate from memory, I have put down these champagne moments on paper!

On her new projects:

In US I recorded the song Huzure ala for Page 3. The tune was sent over the internet and I sang it according to my own interpretation. The song is not there in the film but is to be used only in the promos.

I am planning to record my Baba’s natya-geet, some of them new and some that I have already sung before.

On Shankar- Jaikishan:

We could make out who had really composed the tune. Out of the two, the person who would teach the tune to the singer was the composer. The other would then just supervise the recording. Jaikishan used mainly minor notes, whereas Shankar preferred high notes. Like Main Piya Teri- was a typical Jaikishan- tune whereas O Basant Pawan Paagal- was a classic Shankar- composition. Most of my songs like Sooni Sooni Saans Ki Sitaar Pe were Shankar’s tunes.

On her songs with Lata:

In the early days, after separation from Mangeshkar family, I sang with Didi in many songs – she used to sing for the good girl and I would sing for the bad girl! From my side, I never had any bitterness towards her but my husband Mr. Bhosle didn’t like our interaction. Even Didi was quite okay when we used to come together for recordings- suggesting adjustments in my pitch if she felt it was too high for her. She used to be cordial but then she never publicly displays any emotions.

Recently we were watching Sangeet Samrat Tansen together and our classical duet Meha Aao Re was beamed on TV. Didi said, “Such a lovely song! Do you have it?” I also like that song very much. In the movie- two sisters Tana and Riri sing that duet.

In our latter year duets, I like Chhaap Tilak from Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki. It was adapted from Aamir Khusro by Sukhvinder- who assisted Laxmikant at that time. In fact Sukhvinder was responsible for many good L-P tunes like Koi Shaheri Babu.

In Calcutta’s Salt Lake stadium, Didi and I did a show where I sang her songs and she sang mine. I am sure a decade later, HMV will release its recording. They have the concert video in their possession but apparently Didi did not want it to be released as she felt that the recording quality was not good.

On Rutu Hirwa:

The title song has beautiful aalaps. That’s Shyamrao Kamble’s handiwork. Bhogale Jey Dukkha is another favourite. Suresh Bhat has written such moving lyrics that even reciting them in a plain manner also would have sounded good!

On Her Filmfare awards:

The first Filmafare I got was for the Dus Laakh song- Garibon Ki Suno Woh Tumhari Sunega. I was literally ashamed that I got an award for such an ordinary song. The same year, I had sung much better songs like Jaaiye Aap Kahan Jaayenge. Another none-too-special song to get the award was Hone Lagi Hai Raat Jawan from Nayna. Those days, composers were known to ‘buy’ the awards and in the bargain, sometimes the singers benefited!

Songs like Parde Mein Rahne Do, Piya Tu Ab To Aaja, Dum Maaro Dum and Yeh Mera Dil deserved the awards. Yeh Mera Dil was composed by Anandji. It still remains a big crowd favourite. Its music arrangements were looked after by Bal Parte.

On Other singers:

I had a good friendship with Kamal Barot- who was an educated and well-read lady. But her voice was screechy. In her duets with didi like Akeli Mohe Chhod Na Jaana, she used to sound so out of place. We called her ‘Kamal Parrot’!

Suman Kalyanpur was a very proud woman. Once we had decided to hold a meeting of all playback singers and she was invited. Her husband said, “I will be accompanying her to the meeting as we are from a respected family. I don’t want this filmi atmosphere spoiling her!” I remember all of us singers were quite annoyed with that prudish attitude.

With Kalyanji- Anandji’s troupe, she had gone to Goa for some programs. While returning from Goa, everyone in the bus was singing and enjoying but she was sitting aloof, engrossed in some thoughts. So Anandji asked her what was the matter and she said, “Anandji Bhai, I was just remembering the omelet that Goa- cook had prepared. It was so good!” It was a big joke. Afterwards the musicians would discreetly say, “Her brain is full of omelet!”  

On R.D. Burman and his music

He was very talented and innovative. David – an American musician who is trying to recreate some of Pancham’s melodies as a part of a project presenting works of world’s best composers, recently told me that he considered Pancham to be as good as legends like Schubert and Mozart.

Often Pancham would get inspiration from various Western songs or instrumental tunes but his final composition would be quite different. Like the time when I suggested him the tune of Puppet on the chain, which I liked a lot and after a while, he came up with Humne Tumko Dekha – a tune which was inspired but yet original. Using one of the pieces from title music of one of the old Clint Eastwood movies, he created the chorus- lines for Koi Diya Jale Kahin – in the album Dil Padosi Hai. The music piece from a famous TV serial SWAT was used in Gulabi Aankhen Sharaabi Chehra.

Remember my song – Haaye Bichhua Das Gayo Re from Jheel Ke Uss Paar? The tune and words of the opening lines was my own contribution. Pancham liked it so much that he kept it as it is.

Many of his tunes really tested me but when I would tell him that I was not comfortable with the Laya, he would just say, “You are the best when it comes to Sur and Laya.” His tune for Daiya Re Daiya Yeh Main Kahan Aa Phansi for Caravan was very difficult. After that song was released, once I got a call from Sitaradevi at eleven p.m.- “I am Sitara- the dancer. You are really a great singer. How well you have sung such a difficult song like Daiya Re Daiya!”  Compliments like these boosted my confidence.

He would keep on trying new things even in instrumentation. Like in Mehbooba Mehbooba in Sholay, he made Manohari practice blowing the bottle to make a peculiar Kook Kook sound. In the Namkeen song Phirse Aaiyo Badara Bidesi, he wanted to create a sound- effect of a pen writing on a paper, we tried to get that effect for three hours but didn’t succeed and only then, he accepted defeat and let it go.

Many of S.D. Burman’s tunes were actually his compositions- like the Pyaasa- song Sar Jo Tera Chakraaye, the Guide- song Mose Chhal Kiye Jaaye and the Jewel Thief-song Hothon Mein Aisi Baat. Sometimes as Sachinda’s assistant, he would start teaching me the tune, which was actually conceived by him (R.D.). But not knowing that I often wanted Sachinda to teach me the tune and then Dada would find some excuse to say, “Asha, you learn it from him now. Later on I will take over.”

He was really passionate about his music. When he died, we had a religious ceremony of offering the Pind for the crows and for that I kept a plateful of lunch comprising of his favourite Mirchi Bhajiya and other stuff on the terrace. The tree became fully crowded with crows and yet, no crow would come and touch the food for more than two hours. At someone’s suggestion, we even tried keeping a peg of whisky but to no avail. Then I went and said, “Pancham, I will take good care of your sick mother and also make sure to keep your music alive.” Immediately the crows accepted the offering!

On her cooking:

I learnt it for the sake of my kids! I mostly like mutton dishes.

On her health:

For my voice, I avoid cold things and sour things like Imli. Once my blood sugar had gone a little high but I controlled it with diet. Taking a diet of sprouted moong, repeatedly boiled rice and apples for a few months, I could avoid diabetes. I also practice auto-suggestion technique a lot.

FA famous doctor had once predicted that I would lose my sight as I had glaucoma. I was very upset and nervous. Other specialists actually couldn’t find any fault and they reassured me that nothing would happen. Luckily they were right.

Now also, my ophthalmologist has diagnosed a cataract but every six months, he just looks at it and says, “May be later you would need it to be removed!”

On her music exam:

I was learning classical music from Navrang Nagpurkar and to take my music- exam, a veteran musician Shankarrao Sapre came there. I just took the initial aalap and he told me to stop. I was wondering what went wrong and then, he said, “You don’t need any exams. Come with me. I will compose a film- song for you.”

On New Technology:

I don’t know anything about MP3s and the likes. I have a normal cassette and CD player and that’s it. When it comes to mobile phones, I can just dial and receive calls. I don’t even know how to send and receive SMS!

Even Didi is like that. Once I asked her which music system I should buy for my house- for five minutes she just kept looking blankly at me and finally said, “I don’t know such things. You better ask Baal (Hridaynath) about that!”

On her perceived lack of nostalgia:

At core I am person from an old generation. But the times in which you live and practice your profession sometimes demand statements to suit the era! Present generation listeners and singers are really unlucky for they haven’t really seen the greats like Bade Ghulam Ali, Rafi, Kishore and Hemant Kumar live. Present- day songs have no recall value- even we singers forget them the moment the recording is over.

Note: (*This interview is taken in 2004).