Interview after a special award

A delayed airflight from Indore had our hearts doing a double flip at the filmfare awards night. Would she make int in time to receive the Special Award for her inspired renditions of the songs – Tanha Tanha and Rangeela re?

Although Asha Bhosle announced her retirement from the Filmfare awards, and though this fact is known to the readers of the magazine, they still voted for the superstar singer in overwhelming numbers.

Back to the nail-bitin ghour, AB’s courteous daughter-in-law, Anuja, kept us posted on cell-phone about the vicissitudes of the Indore flight. Just five minutes before the announcement of the award, the diva rushed into the venue, looking composed, even if she said, "Don’t even ask how I managed to get here."

Pheeew, we went.

And after the function, we caught up with her at her Peddar Road apartment during a relaxed early evening hour… keen to know what continues to make AB a prime force in the world of movie music today….

Has the year 1996 been special for you?

I’d like to start by saying that I used to inform my mother about every little thing that happened to me. If she couldn’t hear what I was saying, I would write down what I had to say on a piece of paper for her. I would pour my heart out to her during the time when I didn’t have much work… and she would very sweetly say, "Asha, there is no one else like you… there isn’t even any heroine who can be like you."

May be some people will say that I’m making up things or that I’m sounding very dramatic, but six to seven days before my mother passed away last year, she took one look at me and laughed a lot. She said that I should never worry, that God would always be with me.

Some months later, I was in San Francisco where I had gone to cut a record – Legacy – with the great Ali Akbar Khansaab. And I started getting numerous phone calls, informing me that my songs of Rangeela had become extremely popular. Tanha Tanha had started topping the charts.

It was almost as if what my mother had said had come true. It’s because of what my mother… and my father made me believe in – in honesty and straight-talk – that I’m still here after a career spanning 52 years. Imagine, I’ve won the Filmfare Special Award at the age of 62. I am sure it is because of the aashirwaad of God and my parents.

Your badi didi, Lata Mangeshkar, won the Special Award last year for her songs in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun..!

Yes I am aware of that. She has their aashirwad too.

Why did you retire from the awards?

Because the Filmfare awards would mostly go to didi, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar and me. New female singers who were coming in were missing out on the awards. Moreover, often I would feel that an award-winning song is the result of teamwork. It would be written well and composed well. I would feel that it was unjust for me to walk away with all the credit and the trophy.

Could you cite specific instances?

I got the award for Garibon ki suno (Dus Lakh) but neither Rafisaab nor Ravi were awarded for this song. Similarly, I got the trophy for Chain se humko kabhi (Pran jaaye par vachan na jaye) but O.P.Nayyarsaab didn’t. I won for Piya tu ab to aa ja (Caravan) and Dum maaro dum (Hare rama hare krishna) but R.D.Burman didn’t. I was honoured for Yeh mera dil pyar ka diwana hai (Don) but Kalyanji-Anandji weren’t.

Do you every feel like returning to the Awards competition again? Why not withdraw your retirement?

Why should I? Now that I’ve received the Special Award, why should I want more? (Smiles) And this special trophy is so pretty.

I’ve always wondered about your professional relationship with your didi. Isn’t there an element of love-hate about it?

(Without flinching) I don’t know anything except that ours is a blood relationship which can never be altered. When I am ill, she is by my side and vice versa. When we meet, we don’t discuss the music business at all.

She’s older than me by four years. I give her the izzat that is due to an elder sister. I touch her feet.. and at times I even press her feet before she goes to sleep at night because I know she enjoys that very much.

I don’t think much should be made about who is the No.1 and who is the No.2 between us. In classical music, if you say Bade Ghulam Ali Khan is No.1 then would you say that Amir Khan, Vilayat Khan, Annapurnaji or Ravi Shankar is No.2? Why tag us with numbers? It’s wrong.. such things are brought up only by those who want to create a rift between us. But let me tell you that they’ll never succeed.

In fact, I’m very proud of the fact that we are complete family of singers. My brother (Hridyanath Mangeshkar) and my other sisters (Usha and Meena) are also singers. Where else would you find such a family?

However, there is a general feeling that injustice has been done to you throughout your career.

Injustice? (Laughs) Lekin us mein bhi mazaa aata hai.

Wouldn’t you feel angry about being denied your due?

There was a time when I would feel angry, very angry I would want to explode.. yeh boloon ke woh boloon? There were attempts to set up obstacles in my way. I wouldn’t be given the best songs, only the secondary ones. Yet, I was loved by the public. I won my share of awards, too, despite everything. If I’d won them easily, then there would have been no sense of achievement.

Anyway, right to this day the injustice persists. But then out of the blue, something providential happens to me, something willed by God. Otherwise, why should A.R.Rahman have given me songs? I must have done something good in life to deserve them.

How have you managed to preserve a youthful voice?

Everyone asks me – what do you do to keep your voice that way it is? And I say, nothing, nothing at all. I eat the same food, the same daal chaawal. And I do my daily riyaaz.

When I have to record a song for a film, I ask for the heroine’s name and then sing, keeping her face and personality in mind. Like I knew for Rangeela, I was singing for a dubli patlisi ladki.. Urmila Matondkar. And while singing the numbers, I would ask Rahman, "How is it… alright?" And he would quietly say, "Yes, it sounds alright." Since he doesn’t know Hindi fluently, we speak in English. It was almost like recording in a London studio… He understand the youth of today, he has brought about freshness, a new sound to film music.

After Rangeela, I’ve sung a number for Rahmanbhai’s score for Tara Rum Pum Pum and for Mani Ratnam’s new Tamil film. He’s always experimenting, doing something different which is very inspiring for the playback singer.

Weren’t you supposed to record a non-film album with A.R.Rahman?

When he gets some time off from his assignments, I think that project will become a reality. I have a feeling that it’ll be a ground breaking album.

Have music directors and producers returned to you after the success of Rangeela?

I shouldn’t say who has come back and who hasn’t. All I can say is that there was a certain amount of hesitation which has now disappeared. There are some producers… like say Ramesh Behl.. who would always work with R.D.Burman. With time, they have either passed away or scattered into different directions.

And I must also say that I’ve never mixed with the film industry. I’ve never gone to parties or tried to strike friendship for professional gain from the very beginning. I’ve never sent bouquets of flowers and tiffin of food to film people; I haven’t indulged in fake wah-wahi.

Instead I devoted my time to bringing up my children and looking after the house. I’ve been quite content in my own little world. I should thank my lucky stars that I’ve been able to maintain my dignity and integrity. And when some of my songs are appreciated by the public and the critics, I regard that as one more feather in my cap.

Do you still enjoy singing film songs?

Only some of them. Like I really enjoying singing a number for Saawan Kumar… the song has a lot of rhythm and grace. In recent times I also enjoyed singing Zara sa jhoom loon main from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Surprisingly, though this number did become very popular it hasn’t received sufficient airplay on TV or on radio… despite repeated requests for it. I did talk to Pam Chopra about this, who’s a very dear friend.. and she said that she would look into the matter.

The line Thandi Thandi Pavan in that song was given an anglicised touch.. did you improvise that on the spur of the moment?

Yes. I knew Kajol would be enacting that song. I kept her personality in mind.. and since she’s so full of life and seet, I added that naughty, angrezi-style touch.

Recently you released the album Rahul and I.. why did you feel the need to re-mix the classic hits of Pancham?

Simple because others were doing it. And they were doing it in such a careless, haphazard way… making dhaad dhoodh of the excellent compositions of Pancham. I was a bit upset that the new generation would identify him with the re-mix versions which had flooded the market all of a sudden. For instance, I met the classmates of my grand-daughter who’s studying in a Panchgani school and they knew of Chura liya hai tumne.. only from Bally Sagoo’s re-mix. They didn’t know the original song or the original song or the original composer… which was sad.

Everyone seems to be into re-mixes. Didi’s songs, my songs like Jaane jaan and Sona re as well as the wonderful melodies of Madan Mohan are being mangled out of shape. A day may actually come when I’ll have to inform my grand-daughter about who originally sang Dum maaro dum. In fact, I would sincerely request living singers to re-do their own songs.

For two months, Leslie Lewis (the re-mix engineer) thought about the pros and cons about re-mixing R.D.’s songs. After much deliberation, we decided to go ahead with the project.

Were you troubled when you heard the Bally Sagoo re-mix of Chura liya hai tumne?

Frankly, yes. It just didn’t have enough feeling… obviously sufficient labour hadn’t gone into it. I didn’t like the voice of the female singer either.

Are you satisified with your version of Mehbooba Mehbooba originally sung by R.D.Burman?

How can I comment on my work? It’s for others to tell me if I’ve done justice to the song or not. For me Mehbooba mehbooba has a lot sentimental value attached to it. Initially, it was to be performed on the screen by an artiste made up like a fat gypsy woman. Somehow, I felt I wouldn’t be right for the song then. I told Pancham to sing it himself. I know my version can’t be as good as the original. But someone else would have done it.. so I gave it a go myself. Even my children couldn’t recognise my voice immediately because I’ve sung it in a style which has never been associated with me.

You’ve done a new version of Lata Mangeshkar’s Jai jai shiv shankar. Did you think twice before going ahead?

I did wonder if didi would feel bad. But then other singers have made a terrible mess of her songs.

Are you referring to Anuradha Paudwal’s cover versions of Lata Mangeshkar’s songs?

(Laughs) I never take names! Samajhnewallon ko ishara hi kaafi hai.

In the last ten years, several new music companies have mushroomed on the scene. Have any of them harmed you in any way?

Well… I don’t know what to say on this subject. But I will say that quite often music directors are told by certain record company artistes to use certain singers. They refuse to buy the music rights if the composers don’t give in.

I am not identified with any one music company… neither do some music composers insist that they will only record with Asha Bhosle. In Mumbai, favoritism and patronage have become the rule. I was fortunate perhaps that Rangeela came from the south and the rights were purchased by the Time music company.

Have you ever thought of starting your own music label?

I want to. And my son has been encouraging me to establish my own label. So, let’s see.

How much politics assails the music industry?

Oof, don’t even talk about it. I have had to contend with politics in the music industry from day one right to today. I suppose it’ll go on right to my dying day. I’ve always been straight in my dealings but then honesty isn’t always the best policy in this trade.

When the Filmfare Special Award was announced on stage, the reaction of the general public was supportive.. I could almost hear them saying that she deserves it. At the same time, I could feel that people from the film line weren’t too happy. I received telegrams and bouquets of flowers only from those who are genuinely fond of me.

Didn’t any music company chief send you a bouquet?

Only one.. who used to work formerly with HMV.

Most of the albums have been recorded for HMV. Why did you switch to Polygram for Rahul And I?

Ever since I was 10 years old, my major work has been for HMV. Even if there has been some indifference on their part at times, I’ve felt it was like my family home. When other music companies arrived on the scene, I did record for a few other companies. But the politics and monopolies are bhayankar. This time around, I’ve recorded the album for Polygram. Let’s see how they maintain the relationship… they’ve been very good to me so far.. the working atmosphere was very courteous and result-oriented.

Now let me ask you the question that continues to be asked – were you the first choice for the memorable song. Ae mere watan ke logo? Yes or no?

Yes. I went through six rehearsals for the song. I was supposed to sing it as a solo number. All of a sudden, I was told that it would be a duet. SO, I said I wasn’t feeling well and got out of it.

Hmmm, you’re being diplomatic.

(Laughing) Sometimes, you have to be diplomatic.

How many songs have you sung?

I shouldn’t talk about it myself.. but anyone who cares to check the records will discover that I’ve sung 200 short of 11,000.

So why hasn’t your name figured in the Guinness Book of World Records?

Because I’ve never thought about it seriously enough.. because I’ve never filled up the necessary application forms.

Don’t you have the right to be there?

If someone else does that for me.. it’s okay. But I won’t personally fight for a place in the Guiness Book.

Does anyone care?

My children and my close friends do. And there’s a gentleman named Farid Malik in Pakistan who knows more about my life and my songs than I do. He even knows which colours I like and which I don’t.

Do you know that a film is being made inspired by your life story?

Who can get to the heart of my life story? Only I know the truth. If anyone is trying to make a film on my life, it’ll be imaginary and based on hearsay. In my book, I did write about what I have gone through. I talked about what happened to me.. who did what is not important.. which is why I didn’t mention too many names.

So do you still feel angry?

See, as a child I was so quiet that my mother would pinch me to see if I was alright. She would be alarmed, "Why isn’t this child crying.. is she mute?" After my marriage to Bhoslesaab, I would accept a lot. But then I saw that this world indulges in lies and deceit. I would be angry, very very angry. I wanted to hit out, get my revenge. Gradually, I realised that this was a waste of my energy and feelings. That’s why ab gussa nahin aata hai.. aur maaza aata hai.

This may sound intrusive.. but can’t help asking this – did you ever contemplate suicide?

(Immediately) On one occasion I did feel I should kill myself. I was ill, I was four-months pregnant and found myself in a hospital where the conditions were so bad that I thought I had landed in hell, I was in mental agony and I swallowed a bottle of sleeping tablets. But then my love for my unborn child was so strong, that I relented.. I was dragged back to life.

I won’t say that our love was the love of a conventional husband and wife. Our love was on a different plane. Music was our life. There’s a vacuum today. I don’t feel the loneliness that a woman feels when her man goes away. I feel the loneliness when a piece of beautiful music stops playing. The silence remains forever.

Khalid Mohamed.

2 Responses to “Interview after a special award”

  1. Daniel thomas Says:

    Sounds interesting…
    When the sisters do it(Lata and Asha) it is sounded as if it is acceptable. Asha singing Mehbooba Mehbooba was pathetic… and Lata sounded jaded in Shradhhanjali. I think this is hypocrisy. Teh sales of T-series doubled after Anuradha Paudwal sandg the cover verisons along with sonu Nigam. Just because she sang Lata numbers and Lata is still around means it is insulting..Y then Lata should sing others song and call it shradhhanjali we better hear the orginal then 70 something lata singing. Come on ladies accpet the fact your voice has gone… allow new comers to rule the roost

  2. Azfar abid Says:

    Asha is very good singer,no doubt.But i agree with Daniel Thomas on the point that when sister does then no problem and when a junior talented singer Anuradha sang Lata’s songs only for paying tribute to the legend composers then it is like a terrible mess! infact Anuradha has sang the songs very well and i have listened that there was some politics played against Anuradha Paudwal when she entered in play back singing and received a noticeable welcome due to her rich voice..

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