The greatest playback singers in Bollywood history, Asha Bhosle

The greatest playback singers in Bollywood history, Asha Bhosle

Asha Bhosle

One of the greatest playback singers in Bollywood history, Asha Bhosle has recorded over 10,000 songs for over 800 movies. Although every class (ghazals, pop, etc) of song was within her vocal range, her specialty was in sensual songs or Western-styled songs–she had an uncanny knack for making every actress for whom she sung, from Zeenat Aman to Urmila Matondkar, smolder on screen as never before.

Born on 8 September 1932, Asha, like her sister, the legendary Lata Mangeshkar, was trained by her father, Dinanath Mangeshkar, in classical music, and it was only a matter of time before she too turned to playback singing. She made her debut with the film Chunaria (1948), but it took her a long time to make it to the top. Between 1948 and 1957, she sang more songs than any other playback singer, but the majority of these were in small, indistinct films–and whatever big film she got a chance to sing in, it was usually for the heroine’s best friend or in a duet with bigger singers like Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt, or her own sister. And unfortunately having made an ill-advised marriage that alienated her from her family, she had no choice but to take up all available assignments to provide for her children.

However, in 1957, she got her big break with composer O.P. Nayyar in the films Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957) and Naya Daur (1957). And 1958 saw the release of three of her films: Lajwanti (1958), Howrah Bridge (1958), and Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958); their hit songs took Asha right up to the top. Thereafter, she became Nayyar’s premier singer until the early 1970s, and they created musical magic together, particularly in the films Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon (1963), Mere Sanam (1965), Humsaya (1968), and Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye (1974).

Initially Asha’s singing style was initially reminiscent of Dutt’s, but she soon overcame that and evolved her own distinctive style. Her voice possessed a lilting, versatile quality that could capture any song at any form or scale. By the end of the 1960s, she was second only to her sister, and the two of them were the queens of Indian playback singing right through to the 1990s. However, in spite of her incredible vocal range, she was getting typecast in singing sensual songs.

The 1970s saw her start a new relationship (which eventually became her second marriage) with composer Rahul Dev Burman - and so saw the birth of a great combination. A master of 1970s pop and disco music, Burman gave Asha a hip and happening sound altogether, and the two of them made their greatest hits with Haré Rama Haré Krishna (1971), Jawani Diwani (1972), Procession of Memories (1973), and Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977). Unfortunately, she again got stereotyped, this time in singing mainly Western-styled songs.

However, in 1981, the composer Khayyam revealed another, more lyrical quality to Asha’s voice. Their collaboration in the Urdu film Umrao Jaan (1981), where the songs were mostly poetry, reveal some of her finest songs. And Permission (1987), another such film, got her the National Award. Today, unlike her sister, she has remained active in playback singing–she still makes actresses sizzle in songs, most notably in the films Rangeela (1995), Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), and Taal (1999). She has also released several Indipop (Indian pop) music albums, and their success has reaffirmed Asha’s.

Recently, she was nominated for the prestigious Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World-Music Album. Even at 70, there is no stopping Asha Bhosle.

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