What does it feel like on one’s 90th birthday? If one is Asha Bhosle, legendary singer and sister of the even more legendary Lata Mangeshkar, marking the 90th milestone of life means going on stage and performing for several hours in front of a packed audience. That is what Asha Bhosle did last night, singing her career-best hits at the Coca-Cola arena in Dubai.
It has been an incredible journey of an artiste who was born on September 8, 1933, just two-and-a-half years after India’s first ‘film with sound’, Alam Ara, was released on March 14, 1931.
Lata and Asha went on to become the two most decorated cinema playback singers and recording artistes of their generation — or, for that matter, of any generation until now. While Lata Mangeshkar received India’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, in 2001, Asha Bhosle received the second-highest civilian award, Padma Vibhushan, in 2008.
Still very sprightly at 90, Asha remains immersed in her art, performing at sellout live concerts, such as the one held in Mumbai in February this year.
Speaking to the Press Trust of India before her September 8 concert in Dubai, Asha said, “Music kabhi khatam nahin hota. Yeh dariya hai (Music never ends; it’s like a river). If anyone says, ‘I feel complete’, then this is wrong to say, because no one is complete. It is always about how you can change or evolve with time,” she said.
She is happy with her ability to perform live even after all these decades. “At the age of 90, I have to stand for three hours on stage and sing songs — I’m happy I can do that at this age,” said Asha.
Her career as a playback singer began when she was just 10 years old. She sang her first film song Chala Chala Nav Bala for the Marathi film Majha Bal in 1943. Eighty years and some 12,000 songs later, Asha shows no signs of slowing down.
The iconic singer, whose voice has emoted every nuance and every mood for actresses down generations, from Meena Kumari to Kajol and hundreds of others in between, said that music came to her like breathing.
“Humari saans nahin hoti hai toh aadmi mar jata hai (A person would die without drawing breath). Mere liye music meri saans hai (For me, music is my breath). I have spent my life with this thought. I have given a lot to music. I feel good [that] I’ve come out of the difficult times. Many times, I felt I would not be able to survive, but I did,” said Asha.
She is not only a survivor but an astute businesswoman, too. Her signature fine-dining restaurant, named Asha’s, is present around the world, including in the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.
Dubai is close to her heart — she spent her 86th birthday in the city, cutting a cake at Asha’s in Dubai, and now she has spent the 90th birthday, too, in Dubai, performing on stage.
Concert organisers released a video on Instagram, in which the singer is seen performing one of her biggest hits ever, the song Dum Maro Dum from the 1971 film Hare Rama Hare Krishna. The film’s music — each and every song was a chartbuster — was composed by the all-time great Rahul Dev Burman, affectionately called “Pancham”, who later got married to Asha.
RD Burman’s music and Asha Bhosle’s voice came together to make a combination that was unique in the history of Hindi cinema playback.
She has done outstanding work with other composers, too — perhaps, most notably, with music director Khayyam, who chose her for the 1981 film Umrao Jaan, starring Rekha. The film swept the National Film Awards in 1982, including a Best Playback Singer (Female) award for Asha. She won another one a few years later, for her work in the 1987 film Ijaazat.
Despite her massive fan base in India and abroad, and her global music collaborations, there is something left on Asha’s wishlist: “I’ve sung songs for the main [actress] and for the dancers as well. I believe I could fit in well with anyone. But I wish I had sung more songs in different languages. I wish I could have done more classical singing.”
Looking back at her vast body of work, the singer said that navigating the ups and downs in the highly competitive music industry had not been easy, but she believed in destiny. “In every field, there’s politics. In films, too, there’s politics; so it is not easy,” she said.
“I believe a lot in destiny and I believe [that] whatever is meant for me will come to me; and what is not meant for me, I’ll never get that. I faced difficulties, but today when I look back, it all looks mazedaar (fun) as I came out of it,” said Asha.
‘I’ve never done a show on such a big level’
Talking about her Dubai show to PTI, Asha expressed her excitement, saying, “It is like a Broadway show, there are many dancers, musicians and technicians. The stage is going to be big. I’ve never done a show on such a big level. It is a special show.” The singer added, “I didn’t plan to celebrate the [90th] birthday this way. My son and family members wanted it to be celebrated this way.”
This lavish music concert in Dubai comes almost five decades after Asha’s first international show in 1976 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, which was attended by iconic Indian film stars Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan.
Asha’s plan for her Dubai concert was to showcase her entire musical arc. She said, “The songs will play out according to my journey, like the classical songs, the film songs I did, and how I changed my style, the songs that I sang with other legendary singers and musicians. In a way, we are paying tribute to all the legends who have left us.”
—With inputs from the Press Trust of India