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Asha Bhosle

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Dinesh Raheja

Asha Bhosle, the puckish grandmom of Indian pop, has shown tremendous grit to reach her current position of eminence.

Conservatively braided, soft-spoken and sari-clad she may be, but she has carved out a 54-year-long career only after grimly surmounting daunting odds -- both personal (an impoverished childhood, a troubled marriage) as well as professional (a long apprenticeship, constant comparisons with sister Lata Mangeshkar).

What is remarkable about Asha is that she has notched her achievements with her spirit intact. Her trademark joie de vivre is evident not only in her archetypal breezy numbers but also when you see her videos or watch her at a stage show, doing a neat Hrithik Roshan-style dance step.

Golden Oldies
 Actress  Song  Film
 Madhubala  Aaiye meharban  Howrah Bridge
 Nalini Jaywant  Nazar laagi raja  Kaal Paani
 Meena Kumari  Tora man darpan  kehlaye  Kaajal
 Vyjayanthimala  Ude jab jab zulphein teri  Naya Daur
 Nutan  Kaali ghata chhaye  Sujata
 Waheeda  Rahman  Bhanwra bada nadaan  Sahib Biwi Aur  Ghulam
 Asha Parekh  Aaja aaja  Teesri Manzil
 Sadhana  Jhumka gira re  Mera Saaya
 Mumtaz Zindagi ittefaq hai  Aadmi Aur Insaan

It may look as though she has spent the better part of her career trapped within the carapace of her image. After all, she is the singer who led the charge of the 'light' brigade for a quarter century!

Consider her range: from cabaret pop (Piya tu ab toh aaja) to ghazals (Yeh kya jagah hai doston); to disco (Laila mein Laila) to bhajans (Tora man darpan kehlaye), Asha has always skipped from genre to genre without missing a beat.

She was born in 1933 to classical singer Master Dinanath. Her father's death resulted in her seeking work alongside elder sister Lata. She acted and sang in a few Marathi films in the early 1940s, and got her break as a playback singer in Hindi films with Chunariya (1948), and plunged into a hasty early marriage.

Success did not come easily. In the early 1950s, she struggled to bag the odd prize assignment from topnotch composers. Besides Lata, she also had to contend with Geeta Roy and Shamshad Begum.

Among her earliest successes was Gore gore haathon mein in the Meena Kumari starrer Parineeta (1953), where a 20-year-old Asha sounds heartachingly innocent.

Her career witnessed an upsurge in 1954. S D Burman gave her a couple of hit songs to sing in the Dev Anand starrer Taxi Driver (the club number Jeene do aur jeeyo setting an early precedent for her image). In the same year, Naushad made Asha sing a couple of songs in Amar. Boot Polish's Nanhe munne bachhe and Jagriti's De di hamein azaadi showcased her ability to project a childlike innocence.

In Nagin, Lata sung eight songs for heroine Vyjayanthimala while Asha had one sole Yaad rakhna for a side artiste, but she imbued it with winsome freshness to hold its own against her didi's colossal hits.

Her career flowered after O P Nayyar gave her the heroines' songs in Naya Daur and Tumsa Nahin Dekha (both, 1957).

Simultaneously, S D Burman's fallout with Lata proved lucky for Asha (she got the lion's share of Paying Guest and Nau Do Gyarah), as did C Ramchandra's growing distance from his favourite Lata (she got Asha and Baarish).

More golden stuff!
 Actress  Song  Film
 Rekha  In aankhon ki
 masti mein
 Umrao Jaan
 Hema Malini  O saathi chal  Seeta Aur Geeta
 Zeenat Aman  Chura liya
 hai tumne
 Yaadon Ki Baraat
 Dimple  O Maria  Saagar
 Madhuri Dixit  Pyar ke mod pe  Parinda
 Urmila Matondkar  Tanha tanha  Rangeela
 Kajol  Zara sa jhoom  Dilwale Dulhaniya
 Le Jayenge
 Karisma Kapoor  Le gai le gai  Dil To Pagal Hai
 Aishwarya Rai  Kahin aag lage  Taal
 Gracy Singh  Radha kaise na jale  Lagaan

With these composers teaching her the tricks of exploiting emotions in each song, and the rich bass in her voice proving a viable alternative to Lata, she made a distinctive niche for herself.

She may have been influenced by Geeta Dutt in the early years, but by the time the two got together for Kya ho phir jo din rangeela ho in Nau Do Gyarah (1957), Asha sounded distinctive and supremely confident.

In 1958, Asha was part of the Madhubala resurgence with four hits (Phagun, Howrah Bridge, Kaala Paani, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi) and by 1959's Sujata, she was singing heroine Nutan's song (Kaali ghata chhaye), while Dutt sang the mother's song (Hawa dheere aana).

She was No 2 after Lata in the 1960s. Composer Madan Mohan employed her vocals only for the racy Jhumka gira re in his Lata-dominated score for Mera Saaya.

But O P Nayyar (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, Mere Sanam), Ravi (Gumraah, Waqt, Do Badan), and Lata campwallahs like Shanker-Jaikishan (An Evening In Paris, Shikaar), and Naushad, by the mid-60s, gave Asha the female numbers in Dil Diya Dard Liya.

Her association with R D Burman hit big time with Teesri Manzil (1966). The two married and began a musical jugalbandi.

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In the 1970s, Asha and Lata were firmly established as the yin and yang of Hindi film music. Asha sang for heroines like Hema Malini (O mere raja) as well as vamps like Helen (Piya tu ab to aaja), Bindu (Mera naam hai Shabnam) and Aruna Irani (Sapna mera toot gaya).

In 1981, Khayyam, a staunch supporter from the Phir Subah Hogi (1958) days, asked the songstress to lower her pitch and render the exquisite ghazals for Umrao Jaan.

She rode the crest of the Bappi Lahiri wave in the early 1980s with Himmatwala and Tohfa. But the deteriorating quality of Hindi music and the wave of new singers like Anuradha Paudwal, Alka Yagnik and Kavita Krishnamurthy resulted in her cutting down her assignments in the late 1980s.

Solace came in the form of qualitative highs like Ijazzat (1987). In the 1990s, she hit the jackpot with remixes of her old hits. She also made a thumping comeback in films with Rangeela's Tanha tanha. A torrent of hits followed in the 1990s.

Today, she is game for challenges like composing songs for her album Aap Ki Asha or singing something worthwhile for Gen X composers like A R Rahman or Sandeep Chowta.

This eternal songstress can still make us forget she is a grandmother when she belts out a torch song like Kambakht ishq.

That is the sign of a true artiste.

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Saturday's Child
Varsha Bhosle: Backstage at Eternal Asha
'There will never be another Lata or Asha'
Helen: Bollywood's first sophisticated seductress

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