Asha Bhonsle in Kuwait

A chat with the Editor for Kuwait Times Spectrum Alex Fernandes.

Asha Bhonsle’s is ‘the’voice with aptitude-ebullient, inimitable, dynamic and supreme-easily making her a world-renowned singer in the Indian film industry. "Today’s music is just to see, not to hear. I mean it is all cleavage and loud blaring rhythm that we get to see on our satellite channels. Gone are the days when veterans like Naushad, C.Rmamachandra, Chitragupta, Madan Mohan, Khayam, S.D.Burman and R.D.Burman to name a few had the real zest for defining music in their films. Nowadays, there’s nothing much that is meaningful and valuable to be witnessed," Asha said at a press conference held yesterday at the Safir International. 

Having played back for over 11,000 numbers and completed five decades in the music industry. Asha now seems to rest churning out only selected and better numbers and experimenting in newer styles with the younger generation of musical directors like A.R.Rehman. 

She is the quintessential Indian singer of the era, cherised by millions across the globe. The flexibility of her voice and her talent have no comparison. thanks to which, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan chose her to learn and perform rare and historical musical compositions from the roots of his Senigharana, passed down and know only to him. 

In a formal ceremony at his residence in San Francisco, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan adopted Asha as his daughter and gave her the title of ‘Gurukanya’. This entitles only her to learn, teach and keep alive the musical traditions of Mia tansen, Bahadur Khan, Ustad Allauddin Khan and himself among others. 

Asha complained that the weahter here is to chilly as we ensconced ourselves in a warm place inside the Safir lobby for an exclusive interview : Given below are excerpts : 

Alex Fernandes : How do you feel about being honoured as a special guest for the Padma Vibushan Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma & Padma Bhushan Ustad Zakir Hussain show ? 

Asha : It is a great privilege and I would like to thank the organiser Anant Kapadia for giving me the opportunity once again after 10 years to be in this country with beautiful people around. I hope the performance of our world- renowned maestros will be well appreciated on Friday. 

Alex Fernandes : How would you describe classical music in terms of today’s pop, rock, reggae, metal rock, punk rock etc.? 

Asha : Classical music has a class that only lovers of classical music can express. Today’s generation has a different taste for music. We can’t force the younger generation to pick up a taste in classical music as they have a lot of other better things to do, i.e. the MTV and V Channels which help them stay tuned to favourite chart busters. 

Alex Fernandes : How many songs do you have to your credit in the span of five decades ? 

Asha : (trying to recollect the exact figure, she enthuses that it is around 11,000) If you read the book ‘Sur Asha’ on me, I think you will get the exact figure. The writer of this book went deep into my history to trace out the exact number of songs I have sung. And, matter of factly, I feel he is right with is statistics. 

Alex Fernandes : If you don’t mind a personal question about Latadidi. Is it true that Latadidi has sung more songs than you ? 

Asha : (heaving a sigh, she puts off the question and amicably states that she wouldn’t like to comment.) It is left to your imagination to guess. 

Alex Fernandes : Do you think the statistics for your songs are right ? 

Asha : To be frank, I really don’t know the exact figure, but I can assume that Rafisaab and Kishoresaab are far behind by a margin of some 4,000-5,000 odd songs. But, as to Latadidi, I feel there’s no one to beat her record in the musical field. 

Alex Fernandes : You are a versatile singer. You can belt out any song, whether it is folk, classical, pop, jazz, devotional, ghazal or mujra, with great precision. But Latadidi cannot sing pop or fast numbers like how you pick up the tempo of the rhythm so fast. What would you say about this ? 

Asha : Latadidi is more powerful than I am where singing is concerned. In fact, I have inherited a lot of my singing prowess from her. She is my teacher and I feel very proud to announce to the world that I am Latadidi’s sister. As for her not singing pop or mujra numbers, I really don’t know. I feel she was not approached by any of the music directors to do it for them. Otherwise ‘Didi’ is great. 

Alex Fernandes : Ustad Ali Akbar Khan has selected you specially to learn and perform rare historical compositions from the roots of his Seni gharana. Why ? 

Asha : Firstly, I feel very proud about this top honour and I appreciate it and would like to encourage all upcoming singers in India and abroad not to lose hope but to display their talents whether they are appreciated or rejected as there is always a successful route one can comprehend with hard work and true dedication. 

Alex Fernandes : You are the only Indian singer in the world who can gear a 100,000 strong audience with a single foot tappin ? How do you accept this compliment ? 

Asha : Success to me means a lot and I sincerely appreciate the likin and the fame my fans have given me in five decades. I feel on cloud nine for this compliment. This really shows how a person cares for another, not only by music but also by love and passion. As for me pulling a crowd, it is due to hard work and true dedication. This really proves where I stand today. 

Alex Fernandes : You have been in the musical field for quite a long time. Did’nt you feel the need to get your children into the same profession ? 

Asha : I never felt the need. In fact, I have dicouraged them from entering this field as it can bring the limelight for a short while and it all depends on sheer luck. Once you are a failure, people will speak ill about you. So in order to eliminate all these complexities in life, I have not supported them on this issue. 

Alex Fernandes : Your son Hemant Bhonsle composed music for some films in the past. Then all of a sudden it was a vanishing act. What really happened ? 

Asha : I am really proud to answer this question. I feel thrilled. My son Hemant was not a failure. His ambition was to be a pilot and now he is. Regarding music, he still gets offers from film directors and just to please them he says yes so as not to hurt their feelings. 

Alex Fernandes : What about Varsha Bhonsle, your daughter ? 

Asha : Varsha is happily married. And once one is married, one has a lot of responsibilities on one’s head. Singing was her forte, but as I said before I discouraged them from taking up the profession. Varsha is a columnist for The Times of India and the Sunday Observer and she is a versatile in different talents like music, food, politics, health and fitness. She is doing pretty well for herself. 

Alex Fernandes : Can you comment on today’s playback singing ? 

Asha : Well, the playback singing of today is not up to the mark. The lyrics are something and the music is something. Still it is well appreciated by the generation of today. There is a certain time for all this liking. We had our share in the past and now with satellite dishes and various channels, the world is changing fast .It is very difficult to find pure music until and unless concerts are conducted where we can exhibit talent in the true spirit of musical experience. 

Alex Fernandes : Our film industry lacks meaningful songs like the ones composed by Shair Ludhianvi, Gulzar and veteran directors Jaidev, S.D. Burman, R.D. Burman, Madan Mohan, Salil Chowdury, etc. 

Asha : I don’t really blame the music directors. If we sing something classical or a song with a feeble tune, it is ignored and the singer is lambasted 20in print. It is not that we sing it the way we want to, it is the music director who asks us to sing it in that fashion. The picturisation of the song demands it and that’s how a song is liked or rejected. The verdict is in the hands of the masses. 

Alex Fernandes : You really took both the old and the young by surprise with your ‘Rangeela’ numbers. The songs were very colorful for the audience, not to mention Urmila gyrating her svelte body on the silver screen. You also have another song to your credit, sung for Karishma Kapoor in ‘Bal Brahmachari’. I could say that you were superb even though the original song was plagiarised. 

Asha : (Sheepishly) I hope you are not making fun of me. It is A.R.Rahman who wanted me to sing the songs in that tempo and, believe me, I was surprised by its success. To me, music is like a breath of fresh air and I enjoy music that is sweet and classy. 

Alex Fernandes : Can you tell me something about your being a singer ? 

Asha : I have lots to tell you, but do you have the time for all this. I dedicated my entire life to singing, as I have inherited the voice of my father late Dinanath Mangeshkar, whom I am very proud of. I owe my entire success to my late father. Besides singing, I prefer reading and I like to strain my eyes on various books available in Marathi and Hindi. I try my hand on translations too. Cooking is one of my favourite hobbies and I cook for the entire family when I have no singing assignments. My son, who is sitting in front of you, is also a great cook, whose preparations I relish. 

Alex Fernandes : Are you semi-retired or have you cut down your assignments ? 

Asha : ‘Are baba, kal mein Muzzaffir Ali ke liye do gane gaye. Khayamsaab ke liye bhi. Khayamsaab ke saath kaam karne bahut maza aaya bahut saaloon ke baad.’ I’m very choosy. The film is ‘Dasman’ and just before I came here for the press conference I was rehearsing a song in my room for music director Deva, it’s a Mani Rathnam film. 

I have sung songs in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi for their versions. I think the songs will be a big rage like the Rangeela songs and I hope and pray that all my fans would love it. The other day I sang a song for the film ‘Maa’ and I had to sing in two different tones, that is one for the mother and one for the daugher. I had no problem doing so as I have sung many such songs in the past with tempo toned lower. 

Alex Fernandes : How do you feel here after a span of a decade and what surprises have you for the audience on Friday ? 

Asha : Surprises tho kuch nahin. But I will be glad to see all of you grace this function as it will be one of the best, I think with Pandit Shivkumar and Ustad Zakir performing in our midst. It will be a privilege to see them perform and it will make me feel proud to see the two maestros perform in Kuwait. 

Alex Fernandes : I feel like going on and on. My last question is a request when will be back sooner or later we would like to hear you sing in Arabic for our Kuwaiti citizens here who are also your avid fans ? 

Asha : Singing is no problem. I can sing in any language as I translate the language in Hindi and then sing, whether it is Arabic or Russian I can sing it with flawlessness.

Asha Bhonsle’s achievements could easily fill several volumes. She has received the prestigious Filmfare Award (Indian equivalent of the Oscar) eight times and has been honoured with various awards from several government bodies, including the National Award, doctorates from the Universities of Amaravati and Jalgaon, the title ‘Nightingale of Asia’ from the Indo-Pakistan Association in the U.K, 14 Maharashtra state government awards and the coveted Sur Singer award also several times. 

The magic however continues undiminished. Asha, being so rare and undauntedly full of energy, is constantly busy and yet always exudes an air of cheery calm. She is devoted mother and grandmother. Between hectic recording schedules and constant touring, she makes to browse through books and art galleries wherever she is. A voracious reader and lover of art, she is the ‘Renaissance Woman’, reveling in life and in everything it has to offer. 

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