Lata and Asha - A Duet Forever

Author: Dr. Mandar ---

It is surprising that over their amazing six decades-long career, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle- arguably the two greatest female playback singers sang so few duets together and even more surprising that out of those, only a few songs turned out to be truly memorable milestones.

But it comes as no surprise that while discussing Lata-Asha duets, practically nobody remembers'Dabe labon se kabhie jo koi salaam le' from 'Biwi aur Makan'(1966) and that’s why perhaps it is best to start this article, rekindling memory of this obscure song. The film was a rather forgettable comedy starring Biswajit and Mehmood. The same plot was later successfully used by Sachin to make a good comic film in Marathi-'Ashi hii banwa-banwi'.

Coming back to the song- Dabe Labon se is a delightful fast paced tune composed by Hemant Kumar. The opening, overlapping alaaps & the following Guitar piece set the tone right from the word 'go'. The rhythm and the tune have some uncommon variations to make it a very nice song. Both the sisters are at their fabulous best here. Unfortunately in spite of practically every right ingredient, the song lacks something to make it a great song- what exactly I cannot pinpoint. But still it is a song to be remembered for its clever and modern presentation of the contrasting styles of these premier voices!

Shankar- Jaikishan dominance

As the uncrowned kings of popular music in the 1950s and 60s, it was but natural that composer duo Shankar- Jaikishan gave these sisters their maximum popular numbers together. Duets like 'Manbhavan ke sang jaye gori'('Chorichori'),"Aji chale aao'(Halaku), Humre gaon koi aayega'('Professor'),'Kya hua yeh mujhe kya hua'('Jis desh mein Ganga baheti hai'),'Naach re man batkamma' ('Rajkumar'), Haan Haan Le Gayi (Jwala) and'Jabse laagi tose najariya'('Shikar') are all typical Shankar- Jaikishan songs- fast, catchy and heavily orchestrated. Musically they mostly fit into situational dance-numbers and none challenging enough to test these two great voices.

Amongst this Lata- Asha- SJ repertoire 'Kar gaya re' from 'Basant bahar' stands apart because of its delicate composition. Just listen to the way Asha naughtily says, 'Tu jo kahe to main naam bata doon' and the way Lata immediately afterwards comes up with, 'Patthar ki moorat ke darshan kara doon'-it is pure magic!

'Mayurpankh's 'Yeh barakha-bahar' is a semi-classical offering, which is a favourite of many. But I do not include myself in those listeners! I find it to be too convoluted! S.J.'s 'Janwar' had one Lata-Asha semi-classical duet-'Aankhon aankhon mein kisise baat huyi' . (I think on the sound-track Manna Dey also sings some lines.) It is an unsuccessful effort to re-create the magic of their earlier Lata- solo with same/similar lyrics in 'Aurat'!

One interesting aspect of Lata-Asha duets in S.J.'s music is that almost all these songs are penned by Shailendra barring theProfessor and Zindagi-numberswhich were written by Hasrat Jaipuri.

Earlier Duets

The very first Lata-Asha duet was in 'Daaman'(1951).K.Dutta's 'Yeh ruki-ruki hawayen,yeh bujhe-bujhe sitare' is hard to find today. This soundtrack had two sweet Lata numbers - "Chakori ka chanda se pyar' and 'Tirulilla tirulilla tirulillala ,gaye Lata, gaye Lata , gaye Lata gaa'!

That was the time when Asha had become estranged from Mangeshkar family, thanks to her elopement and subsequent marriage to Mr.Bhosle. I always had a curiosity how these sister singers approached their combined professional assignments in those days. Finally when I got a chance to met Asha in person, I asked her directly. To her credit, Asha frankly answered the question and said, “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.”

Then she went on to share a personal memory about a beautiful classical duet composed by S.N.Tripathi. She reminisced, “Once, we were watching Sangeet Samrat Tansen together and our classical duet Meha Aao Re was being beamed on TV. Didi said, “Such a lovely song! Do you have it?” Both of us did not have it but I also like that song very much. In the movie- two sisters Tana and Riri sing that duet.”

For the record, this song does have a few lines by Manna Da but rest of the song is just a brilliant exhibition of the classical prowess of these two sisters!

Their sweetest duets in the 50s and 60s came sporadically and from maestros like C.Ramchandra (O Chaand Jahan Woh Jaaye in Sharda), Roshan ( the folksy festive songs Sajan Salona Maang Lo from Dooj Ka Chhand and Pad Gaye Jhoole from Bahu Begum) and Hemant Kumar (the classical delight- Sakhi Ri Sun Bole Papiha Us Paar from Miss Mary).

Vasant Desai came up with two cute songs in 'Do Phool'. These songs-'Roothi jaye re gujariya' and 'Bachpan ka tera mera pyar' were filmed on two child artistes- a boy and a girl (Baby Naaz). Asha sang for the boy and Lata for Naaz.

Naushad – another giant of that era just gave two duets to them- Mere Mehboob Mein Kya Nahi and Jaaneman Ik Nazar Dekh Le- both tailor-made qawwalis in Rahul Rawail’s superhit Muslim social- Mere Mehboob (1960). The first song amongst these two happens to be one of Lata’s personal favourites.

 Just to make a more comprehensive list from the era, I might include Ravi’s Dhadka Dil Dhadka from Bharosa and Chitragupt’s Eid Ka Din from Baaghi – otherwise there is nothing memorable about these numbers.

Madan Mohan’s experiments

Forget the forgettable Dil Dai De from Senapati but Madan Mohan did imaginatively use the contrasting voice-qualities of Lata and Asha in two songs which are not duets in traditional sense- they are more of tandem songs. On the film-soundtrack of Dekh Kabira Roya, Lata’s Meri Veena Tum Bin Roye, Asha’s Ashqon Se Teri Humne Tasveer Banayi Hai and Lata’s Tu Pyar Kare Ya Thukraye - three sentimental numbers are interwoven, meeting at a bridge of Lata’s beautifully rendered high pitched refrain- Sajana Sajana. Similar experiment is carried out in the film-soundtrack Adalat, where Lata’s dark, melancholy Jaa Jaa Re Jaa Saajana alternates its stanzas with Asha’s bright and chirpy mujra-dance-numberJa Ja Jaa Saajana. Later all these 4 songs were released on records separately.

L-P and K-A

In the late 60s, Laxmikant-Pyarelal gave one good duet to Lata and Asha in 'Aaye din bahar ke''Aye  kaash kisi deewane ko humse bhi mohabbat ho jaaye' is a playful naughty sort of duet set in LP's traditional Qawwali style. Asha gets more lines as she is singing for the heroine's chirpy friend who is longing for love! Lata sings for the heroine offering a word of caution!

In the 70s-film ‘Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki’, L-P successfully adapted Amir Khusro’s composition ‘Chhaap Tilak’, which is one of Asha’s personal favourites. According to her, the adaptation was done by Sukhvinder who used to assist L-P in those days.

 From the same time-frame, I like their Dharam Veer- duet Baaat Ko Dil Mein Dabaye Rakhna. Pace, verve and drama – all elements are well-expressed in the song.

Much has been written and said about 1985-film Utsav''Man kyon bahaka ri bahaka aadhi raat ko'. The film’s producer Shashi Kapoor had specifically requested L-P to bring together the sisters in a duet since they hadn’t come together in a song for many intervening years. L-P managed that feat and how! It is a beautiful tune, even more beautifully rendered. So soft and sensuous!

My favourite from that soundtrack is 'Neelam par nabha chhaye pukharaji'. The tune is almost equivalent of Suresh Wadkar's raga- Bibhas-based song- 'Saanjh dhale gagan tale' from same film. It is listed as a Lata- Asha duet in'Swarasha' and 'Gandhar- Swaryatra'- the authoritative Asha and Lata- anthologies by Vishwas Nerurkar. But somehow I never thought the voice accompanying Lata was Asha's and so it was with pride in my ‘listening ears’ I confirmed that fact from Pyarelal himself! The singer listed as Asha in that song was some chorus-singer.

Kalyanji-Anandji must be counted as composers who came up with most uninspiring and insipid tunes for Lata-Asha duets. At least the songs like ‘Main Haseena’ (Baazi) and 'Haye kaisa yeh rog laga baithe'('Kahin pyar na ho jaye') are saved by their energy. But others like 'Main kayamat hoon'('Suhag raat'),'Yeh kaam nahin anadi ka' ('Khel khiladi ka') and 'Hey maryada purushottam bolo'('Bajarangbali') belong to the plain mediocre category!


In the late 1980s, R.D.Burman was reportedly working on a non-film album of Lata- Asha duets. But unfortunately that project was sidelined -never to be completed! So we have to now relive the magic of the1968- Padosan- duet Main Chali Main Chali. It is perhaps the best bantering duet between the sisters. It’s a fluffy, flying, modern and innovative tune where Lata’s coy innocence contrasts so beautifully with Asha’s sensuous chatty style. Just listen to the beginning ‘Lala lallala Lala lallala’ to get an idea!

Later on though Pancham couldn’t really come up with anything as enticing as that for this combo but still he came up with some interesting tunes.  The jealously competitive song-Saare Shaher Mein Ek Haseen Hai (Alibaba and 40 thieves) and the Maharashtrian Laavani-styled Laungi Mirchi were good to hear. The Shaan-duet – Mitawa was not fitting into the scheme of the film and hence got chopped.  In 'Jailyatra' his offering of 'Paake akeli mohe chhed raha chhaliya' was nothing but a clever rehash of Lata's 'Samadhi' solo -'Bangle ke peechhe teri beri ke neeche'!

The Pancham-composed duet from 1972-film 'Sanjog'(Amitabh, Mala Sinha and Aruna Irani) is interesting as Lata and Asha come out into the open to accuse each other, saying 'Yeh jhoothi baat hai-Yeh sachchi baat hai'! Lata gets to say the final word (as always!) when she asserts – “Tum Na Maano Din Din Hai, Raat Raat Hai!

In Final Analysis

  • Most of the duets are tailor-made for Lata who sings for the heroine who is supposed to score over the sidekick for whom Asha has to sing! No wonder she delivers the goods!
  • Asha's greatness is that in spite of such situational imbalance she refuses to be swept over and leaves her stamp on each song!
  • The only significant duet where Asha has definitely scored over Lata is Madan Mohan's 'Jahan ara'-classic -'Jab jab tumhein bhulaya tum aur yaad aaye'! Just listen how Asha repeats Lata's line: 'Chhaye rahe nazar mein teri zulfke andhere'. Oof! That’s breath-taking!
  • Hemant Bhosle- Asha's son- composed a nice Lata- Asha duet for 'Taxi-taxi'. In 'Laayi kahan aye zindagi'- Hemant’s 'Maa' gets to sing two or three stanzas whereas 'Mausi' gets one stanza! Family justice!  (Just kidding!)
  • Incidentally the only Marathi duet sung by these sisters is in their dear brother Hridaynath’s music. The song- ‘Yeshil Kadhi Partuun Jivlaga’ from the film Antaricha Diva is superb in its own right but pales in comparison to the sisters’ solos for the talented composer.
  • So, brilliant solos (individually) but middle-of-the road duets (with each other) just seems to be a common pattern throughout their careers!

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