A multifaceted, ever-youthful singer who has enthralled listeners for over 60 years
Birth: 8 September, 1933
Over the past several decades, Asha Bhosale, with a voice smooth as silk, has mesmerized audiences and listeners not only in Maharashtra and India but all over the world. There isn’t a song she cannot sing; there isn’t a concert she cannot electrify; there isn’t a rendition which she cannot perform. A voice that captivates the old and young alike, she is a true musical gift to Maharashtra. Ashatai, as she is fondly referred to, was born in the Mangeshkar family where she inherited the rich and deep-rooted musical tradition from her father Master Dinanath. Over time, under his grooming and the guidance and accompaniment of her immensely talented siblings Lata Mangeshkar, Hridaynath Mangeshkar and others, her voice came of age.
Ashatai started her career as a playback singer for films with the Marathi film Majha Bal. During the 1950s she sang in many Hindi films as well, but none of those films clicked. Her contemporaries were great singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Shamshad Begum and Geeta Dutt who virtually ruled the industry. It was an uphill task for Ashatai to prove her worth among such greats. To add to her woes were her difficult domestic situation, the responsibility of her children and unsupportive circumstances. She stood up to the task and with great self-confidence and self-belief saw herself through the tough times successfully.
The years 1957-58 saw Ashatai’s fortunes take a u-turn. She got a chance to sing for S. D. Burman and capitalized on the opportunity. Through her golden voice she made the melodies from the films like Kalabazaar, Lajwanti, Nau-Do-Gyarah, Chalti Ka Naam Gadi and Sujata, timeless. Ashatai struck gold in the decades to follow, singing for several music directors and composers. Her melodious voice not only made a hit of the song but the film and the actors too.
The great music composer, O. P. Nayyar and Ashatai made a great team. Songs such as Ankhon se jo utari hai dil mein (Film: Phir Wahi Dil Laya Hoon, in 1960), Jaeeye aap kahaa (Film: Mere Sanam, in 1965), Woh haseen dard de do (Film: Hum Saya, in 1968) captivated the hearts of listeners all over India.
Songs by music composer R. D. Burman like Piya tu ab to toh aaja from the film Karwan, the 1971 FilmFare Award winning song Dum maro dum and Jaane Ja from the film Jawani Deewani showcased a totally different dimension of Ashatai’s voice. She also sang in the film Umrao Jaan, in which she mastered the Ghazal. Working with Khayyam, her song Dil Cheez Kya Hai won the National Award in 1981. Later, Mera kuch saamaan from the film Ijaazat won the National Award in 1986.
Ashatai’s songs in Marathi also gained immense popularity. The songs she has sung with the likes of great music directors and singers such as Sudhir Phadke, Hemant Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Suresh Wadkar and Anuradha Paudwal are still very famous. Works of poets like Borkar, Aarti Prabhu, G. D. Madgulkar, Shanta Shelke, Suresh Bhat and Sudhir Moghe to the new generation poets like Saumitra came alive in the voice of Ashatai. A few famous Marathi songs of Ashatai include Tarun ahe ratra ajuni, Jivalaga rahile re door, Hee waat door jaate, Phulale re kshan majhe, Jhini jhini waaje, Gele dyaayche rahuni, Gandh phulancha gela sangun, Aaj kunitari yaave and Eka talyat hoti. She has also handled various genres of Marathi music very gracefully.
Not only is qualitatively judging Ashatai’s work with all kinds of directors, actresses and singers next to impossible, so also is trying to make a list of the songs she has sung in all kinds of languages and genres. From music composers S. D. Burman to A. R. Rehman in Hindi, from Datta Davjekar and Shrinivas Khale to Sridhar Phadke in Marathi, from Madhubala and Meena Kumari to Tabbu, Urmila Matondkar and Aishwarya Rai, Ashatai lent her voice with ease and perfection. Her duets with Mohammed Rafi, Kishor Kumar and Sudhir Phadke were as melodious then, as are the duets with today’s young Hrishikesh Ranade. She has sung, in over 900 films in fourteen different languages, a total of approximately 12,000 songs.
Be it semi-classical, light Marathi songs, Hindi and Marathi film music, NatyaSangeet, Ghazal, Lavani, and Disco-rock-pop, Ashatai is able to render, even today, with the same aplomb and melody.
Touring places like Canada, England, America, Dubai, Sweden etc., working alongside foreign musicians, releasing albums like Rahul and I, and working with Leslie Lewis,
Ashatai continues to experiment even today. Defying all odds and her age (74), she recently released another album with Sanjay Dutt and Australian cricketer Brett Lee called Asha and Friends. Needless to say, the album received an overwhelming response.
Ashatai has received awards of all kinds during her career as a singer - from national awards and numerous FilmFare awards to over fifteen Maharashtra State Government awards. She has also received the Madhya Pradesh Governments’ Lata Mangeshkar award. In 2008, she was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan. The greatest honour in Indian cinema - the Dadasaheb Phalke Award - was accorded to Ashatai in 2000-01. She has also received several other international honours such as the Nightingale of Asia from the Indo-Pak Association and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC through the hands of Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Ashatai is not only a great singer but also a good mother, a great cook and a keen follower of cricket. Despite her tremendous success over the years, she humbly chooses to lead a simple life. A sensitive person to the core with tremendous respect and affection for all those with whom she worked with over the years, Ashatai finds it difficult to associate herself with today’s reality shows. Voting out a young participant from a competition still gets a tear in her eye probably on account of reminiscing on her own hardships of her early life.