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September 16, 2003

What you can learn from Asha Bhosle

In many ways, Asha Bhosle is pure gold. Tempered by the fire of life, the dross has melted away.

Within the many experiences that have dotted her 70 years are many lessons that, if learnt, can reshape the Hindi music industry.

Lessons that aspiring singers need to learn.

Lessons that aspiring music directors need to learn.

Lessons that aspiring lyricists need to learn.

Today, the music industry is not exactly a source of joy and pride for Ashaji. But, as she reveals in this interview to, she does not despair of the future. Instead, she expects a golden revival:

How important is formal training and riyaaz (practice) in the life of an artiste?

Training is very important. You should have a teacher. And the teacher must be good. Barabar gale to samajhna chahiye [He should understand your voice].

Practice is also very important. You need to purify your voice and maintain it. You need to know how to breathe properly. You need to improve your lung power. Only if you learn and practise all this will you prevail for a long time.

Those who are not trained singers will find that their voice quavers. That should not happen. The quaver should be used only where necessary and not because a singer cannot hold a note or a tune.

Today's singers don't know Hindi. As far as their knowledge of Urdu is concerned, let's not talk about it at all. Their enunciation and pronunciation are terrible. Those who know Urdu are pained when they hear the language today. Mujhe bhi takleef hoti hai [Even I am pained].

Only when you know the nuances of a language can you sing a song well. When you don't know how to pronounce words, when you don't know the meaning of the words, how will you imbibe a song with feeling?

When I had to sing in Bengali, I started listening to how Bengalis speak. When I had to sing a song in Punjabi for the first time, I had no clue about the language. I was very young then but I would keep listening to how the Punjabi people spoke. I kept learning the nuances of the language. Now I sing so well in Punjabi that even the Punjabis will say this is a Punjabi singing.

Every Hindi singer needs to learn the nuances of the Urdu language.

Yeh sab seekhne ki baatein hain [This is a matter of learning]. Ab main boloongi [If I point out these things out now], they will say I have become too big for my boots.

What did you learn from the music directors you worked with?

Each had their strong points. Madan Bhaiyya [the late Madan Mohan] was unique in his own way. Jaidevji has his own style. As did Shankar-Jaikishen and S D Burman.

In that era, there were people like Hansraj Behl, whom people of your generation may not even remember. And A R Qureshi, whom you know as Ustad Alla Rakha. There were Dhani Ram and Lacchi Ram. There was C Ramchandra who gave me Ina mina deeka, and so many others like them.

I am who I am because of music directors like them. They were the ones who taught me playback singing. They introduced me to the workings of the music industry. I did not even know how one should stand while recording a song. They were the ones who said, peeche jaao, aage aao, woh karo, yeh karo [move back, come forward, do that, do this]. I learnt from them.

When I first came into the industry, Shankar-Jaikishen did not take me. S D Burman did not take me. R D Burman did not take me. None of the big music directors took me.

The smaller music directors took a new girl on, gave her songs to sing and taught her what playback singing was all about.

Is it fair of me to say I am a singer today because of R D Burman or S D Burman? You tell me, the fact that you are educated today -- will you give credit to your college professor or to the person who taught you your ABC?

The people who help you begin your journey and stand by you are the ones who are most important. I have not forgotten the days when I used to travel by train from Borivali to Charni Road [in Mumbai]. I used to walk from the station to my class, where I learnt singing from Naurang Nagpurkar.

Today, most of you will not even know his name. I learnt my sa re ga ma from him. The fee was Rs 5 a month.

Lekin aaj har insaan apne se bade logon ke saath naam jodkar apna badappan dikhata hai [But today people want to show how important they are by associating themselves with people who are more important than themselves].

Mujhe kabhi koi chhota-bada dikhta nahin [I have never been able to see anyone as big or small]. I don't have that attitude. Maybe that is why I am happy.

When you reach a good point in your life, you should never forget the struggle that got you there. I haven't. That is why I have not become swollen-headed. People who forget their past and become proud and arrogant are the ones who are unhappy. Those who remember their struggle and their days of poverty will always understand the world. Duniya ko badi achchi tarah se dekh sakte hain [They can see the world through clear eyes].

My father was a well-to-do man. There was money in the house, but I needed to live my life on my own terms. I don't blame anybody for the difficult phases in my life. Karna bhi nahin chahiye [You should not blame anyone]. Apne karam hote hai, apna bhog hota hai, apni taqdeer hoti hai [It is your deeds and your fate].

Baaje ka har sur achcha hota hai [Every note in an instrument is good]. But if you hit a discordant note, the whole song becomes besura [out of tune]. If you hit a good note, jeevan sudhar gaya [your life improves]. This is a matter of fate; it is not anyone's fault.

Are you in touch with the people who helped you when you began as a singer?

Many of them are no longer alive, but those who are, I meet them with a lot of love and affection. They are surprised that Asha meets them with so much simplicity and humility.

In order to be a good creative person, is it necessary to be a good human being?

Absolutely! Being a good human being is, according to me, the most important thing. If you are not a good human being, your talent means nothing.

Today you have talent, tomorrow you may lose it. Today you have money, tomorrow you may lose it. What remains is what you are as a human being. After you die, people should mean it when they say you were a good human being. Mar gaye is liye achcha bolo aisa bhi nahin hona chahiye [They should not feel compelled to speak well about you just because you are no more] [laughs].

How much personal understanding should there be between two singers?

There should be a good understanding. If your partner understands you well, your performance on the stage will be good. When I do my stage shows, I always make it clear from the beginning: Mere saath tumhe chalna padega; main jo kar rahi hoon uska jawaab dena hoga [You'll have to keep pace with me].

Were there times when you were not confident of your ability to sing a song that was offered to you?

It happened just recently, when I was offered Ustad Ali Akbar Khan's classical record [Legacy -- Asha Bhosle & Ali Akbar Khan]. I had initially refused to do it. He is a descendant of Tansen [the legendary singer in Emperor Akbar's court] and wanted me to sing songs of that era. I said I could not do it. But he was confident I could. And that album got recorded.

Then there were the ghazals I had sung for Ghulam Ali Khan [Meraj-e-Ghazal]. Initially, I had refused to do even that. I finally agreed because of my daughter, [ columnist] Varsha [Bhosle]. She said I must sing it. I said it is very difficult. She said I should at least try.

So, one night, I switched on the tape of the ghazal I was expected to sing and fell asleep listening to it. When I awoke at five in the morning, I was humming the song. That is when I knew I could sing it.

This has happened to me many times over the years when I have felt a song is difficult, lekin ho jata hai [but I manage to sing it].

Today, very few songs are memorable. Why is that?

The Seventies was a golden period for music, both around the world and in India. Then, music started degenerating because the music directors who were giving good songs had aged. Their age began to reflect in their music. Yet, they composed decent music.

The depth that was there in the music of the past is missing today. The younger music directors who came in have not studied music. Nor have they learnt anything from the older music directors. They just copy, saying, yeh mera guru hai woh mera guru hai [This one or that one is my guru].

The difference that exists between an educated man and an uneducated man also exists between a trained musician and an untrained one. Some of the younger music directors were successful. Once a song worked, they composed another. But there is no foundation. If a building does not have a good foundation, it will always remain weak and fall sooner or later. The same thing is happening in the music industry today. Ek aata hai, fataak se jaata hai [Success is shortlived]. This is why they need to learn music; they need to study music.

In those days, we also had great lyricists. Like Sahirsaheb [Ludhianvi], Majroohsaheb [Sultanpuri], Shakeelsaheb [Badayuni], Bharat Vyas. They had learnt their craft, or maybe they had God-given talent. Aaj wohi kami hum mehsoos kar rahe hain [Today, one feels the loss of such talented writers].

How do we improve the quality of music in the industry?

Anybody who wants to become a music director must have some knowledge of [Indian] classical music and Western music. Only then will they be able to create music. They should know the language.

We also need good writers. Majroohsaheb knew both Persian and Urdu. When you read his writing, you realise the beautiful grasp he had over the language. Today, there is no one like that.

Singers today are content having a good voice. They are not interested in enhancing it. What they don't realise is that an untrained voice gets ruined quickly.

I see this in everything today. People want everything quickly -- name, fame, everything. This is wrong.

Think for yourself. How long does it take for you to become a graduate? How long does it take for you to become a doctor? Everything takes its own time. If you want to become a qualified professional as soon as you complete your 10th standard, is it possible?

Now, children want to earn as soon as they complete their 10th standard. Wohi jaldbaazi mein woh maar khate hain, aisa mujhe lagta hai [They lose out because they are in such a hurry].

Many new music directors and composers would come to me and say they are new, they do not have anything. They would say, 'Mere paas kuch nahin hain.' They would ask me to help them. I would agree.

They would say, 'Ashaji, let this picture be completed, you will sing in our next film as well. We will pay you for your work in that film.' One fellow even gave me a sari for singing in his film. Once I sang for their film free, they never showed me their faces again.

This has happened so many times. I am unable to trust anyone now. Today, when someone requests me to sing free and says, 'Aage dekhenge [We'll see about the future],' I tell them, 'Abhi ki baat keejiye [Talk of the present moment]' [laughs].

If you don't have money, it is okay. But don't tell me that you will pay me later.

When people become successful, they forget that someone had done them a good turn. Dukh bhoolna achcha hai lekin kisi ka ehsaan bhoolna achcha nahin hai [It is good to forget your sorrows, but it is not good to forget someone's favour].

Do you see a bright future for the industry, a revival of the golden era of the Seventies?

Koi na koi achcha aayega [Someone good will arrive]. Today, for example, A R Rahman is a very good music director.

There will be a time when things will change. I will wait for it. I don't know whether it will happen in my lifetime; but a golden era for music will definitely arrive again.

Written by Savera R Someshwar
Interviewed by Savera R Someshwar, Syed Firdaus Ashraf, Rupali Nimkar

Design: Uday Kuckian

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