A few years ago, I was at Lahore University, Pakistan. Its campus is very huge. I was going to the main gate and on the way, is the auditorium. A musical programme was going on. Suddenly, a beautiful voice wafted through the air and entered my consciousness. A female voice was singing Asha Bhosle’s immortal number: Chain se humko kabhi aapne jeene na diya, zahar bhi chaha agar, peena toh peene na diya... from a rather forgettable flick, Praan Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye (1974, but the song was recorded in 1972).
I stopped and listened to the entire song. Then I went to the auditorium to know who was the girl who sang what was arguably Asha’s best number in such a soulful manner. I asked if she knew the original singer of the song. Her reply surprised me. She said, Asha ji ne, aur ye naghma film mein liya hi nahin gaya! (Ashaji sang it and the film didn’t have the song!). She was right. Cine-goers could never see the rendition of this song on the marquee because the film didn’t include it.
That a Pakistani girl was so knowledgeable about Asha Bhosle and other Indian singers was worth appreciating. Asha’s magical voice has enthralled scores of listeners not just from India, but also from all parts of the world just like her elder sister Lata Mangeshkar, whose voice mesmerises the entire world. Though belonging to the same field, both the sisters have carved a niche for themselves with their uniqueness.
Do you know, when Asha Bhosle started her singing career, her voice sounded like that of Lata? But she never deliberately or consciously tried to change it. But as luck would have it, her voice developed a desirable huskiness (known as aakheen in Arabic and istaaf in Persian; in Urdu, it’s called ziraqat) following her first pregnancy. It became kharaj ki aawaaz in colloquial Urdu, which is considered by vocalists as the most versatile and varied type of voice. With this mild huskiness (remember Meena Kumari’s voice), when she began to render songs, they made a lasting imprint on her listeners.
Asha’s naturally husky voice made it easy for her to sing in a playful manner, yet with complete control over the notes and nuances. Just listen to the evergreen number Mujhe pyaar ki zindagi dene wale... (Film: Pyaar Ka Sagar) Asha sings just like Meena Kumari who sang it on screen and their identically husky voices gel so well! Or Saa ni dha pa maa ga re sa..., (Rafi-Asha, Film: Bambai Ka Babu), or Ishaaron-ishaaron mein dil lene wale... (Rafi-Asha, Kashmir Ki Kali) All three songs are remarkable for Asha’s voice modulation and flawless enunciation.
The crescendo and de-crescendo (bathos or crinzon in vocal music) are on par with the male voice in these three numbers and bring out the crux of a parallel composition. Remember, in vocal duet compositions, a female voice has to hold fort, lest it gets diluted by the male baritone. But Asha always emerged triumphant in duets and could sing with the male singers in tandem. That’s something not just remarkable, but is also an evidence of her versatility.
A critic aptly said about Asha, Asha gaane mein doob jaati hain aur uss kirdaar ko zinda kar deti hain (Asha delves into a song and enlivens the character). All composers have accepted the fact that Asha is the best female exponent of filmi ghazal. There have been amazing ghazals in films and Madan Mohan Kohli made Lata sing them in many films. Chain se humko... can be adduced as a quintessential filmi ghazal or a rizal (a rare cross between a nazm and a quasi-ghazal. Or just listen to Gulzar’s Mera kuchh saaman tumhare paas... (Ijazat, R D Burman).
A rather prosaic quality of this longnazm has become a masterpiece in the voice of Asha because she’s a singer, who uses pauses to her advantage. It’s a pause-induced, soporific number requiring mild and exceedingly deft handling of seemingly disjointed cantos. It’s indeed very difficult, but Asha made it appear so simple with her top-drawer rendition.
No wonder, whenever she is requested to sing impromptu, this song invariably becomes a given. One more significant thing about Asha is the youthfulness of her voice and its quick adaptability. It has stood the test of time and the ebullience is undiminished even after so many decades. Her voice is tailor-made for peppy numbers as well as for sombre manifestation of emotions like the song she crooned for the film Kalpana: Bekasi had se jab guzar jaaye... Asha’s musical transition is effortless and her gamut is boundless. Her voice is an asset and a balm for frayed nerves, especially in this age of cacophony and non-musicality.
(Today is Asha Bhosle’s birthday)