Have you listened to the immortal number, Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahaan nahin milta, kahin zameen toh kahin aasmaan nahin milta (Film- Aahista-Aahista, Lyrics-Nida Fazli, Music: Khayyam, 1981)? This soul-gladdening ghazal was sung by Bhupinder Singh and Asha Bhosle separately and both the versions are equally mellifluous. This generally doesn’t happen because male versions often become more popular, example Dil jo na kah saka wahi raaz-e-dil…. (Film: Bheegi Raat, Music: Roshan, 1965) was separately rendered by Rafi and Lata, but it is Rafi’s version that’s often played and remembered.
But Kabhi kisi ko mukammal… sounds ethereal in the voices of Bhupinder and Asha. Here lies that proverbial Midas touch Asha’s voice is imbued with. A music critic aptly said that Asha has a ghazal-worthy voice, coupled with a perfect diction, that belies her Maharashtrian upbringing and pronunciation. The way she enunciates the sound ‘z’, one feels as if Urdu is her mother-tongue. The beauty of Asha’s voice is its amazing adaptability and ability to innovate. On this count, one can safely put her on the same pedestal with the great Rafi.
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In popular music, what is of cardinal importance is the innovative quality of a singer and also his/her vocal range. Many female singers have great voices but they can’t innovate as easily and effortlessly as Asha can. Listen to her Yahi woh jagah hai, yahi woh fiza hai (Film: Ye raat phir na aayegi, Lyrics: Shamsul Huda Bihari/ Music: O P Nayyar). Her light-sobbing voice (sisakti aawaaz in Urdu) immortalised the number and evoked a gamut of emotions. The huskiness in her voice complements the interlude sobs in the song and the resultant tremble made the number a Shahkaar (masterpiece). This is known in Urdu as a larazti aawaaz (throbbing voice).
Asha’s larazti aawaaz is tailor-made for songs that have a light coquettish streak. Remember Noor Devasi’s song Aao huzoor tumko sitaron mein le chaloon (Film: Kismat, O P Nayyar, 1968). Who can forget those drunken hiccups in this song? Babita, the actress, is still remembered because of this immortal number. S D Burman would often say that Asha had an impish voice which left its traces long after the song was over. The quintessential example is: Ta thai, ta-ta thai, ta-ta tai tha from Tere Mere Sapne (Lyrics: Gopaldas Saxena ‘Neeraj’, 1971). Burman Da had Lata or Bengal’s Sandhya Mukherjee on his mind for this song. But he also wanted someone with a mild frivolity in her voice and he finally zeroed in on Asha because she had already sung a similar but slower duet with Rafi in the film: Bambai ka Babu (1963).
The way she sang sa, ni, dha, pa ma, ga, re, sa, ni……in that evergreen song Deewana mastana hua dil jaane kahaan……‘ Burman da was sanguine that she’d sing in the same vein for the song Ta, thai…….based on rural Bengal’s Bhatiyali music.
Listen to it on YouTube, this fast-paced number is in sync with Hema Malini’s dancing movements. The same playful Asha could evoke tears through her song, Naina hain pyase mere, pyasa hai praan mera (Film: Avishkar, Lyrics: Kapil Kumar, Music: Kanu Roy, 1973). The poignancy in her voice gnaws into your heart and tugs at the heartstrings. This ghazal-worthy voice reaches its apogee in a number that the cine-goers couldn’t see on the marquee because the film Praan jaaye par vachan na jaaye (1974) doesn’t have the number in the movie.
It was: Chain se humko kabhi aapne jeene na diya (Lyrics-S H Bihari). With this ultimate song, O P Nayyar and Asha parted ways never to be together. True to Frank Sinatra’s famous statement that the end must always be the most memorable, Chain se humko kabhi is indeed considered to be the finest creation from OP’s inventory and Asha’s humongous singing cornucopia. Listen to it at night and you’d like to bracket it with Beethoven’s Moonlit Sonata or Chopin’s Nocturnes.
It’s so emphatically poignant that words fail to describe its ineffably lingering cadences. There’s a kind of muslin fluidity to it that’s simply indescribable. It’s what we call in French, je ne sais quoi. Yet another charming and fabulous number that comes to mind is her Sheeshe se pee ya paimane se pee (Phool aur Patthar, Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni, Music: Ravishankar Sharma, 1966). Picturised on Shashikala in the movie, this vintage gem of a song by Asha has a vixen ring to it. The song oozes oomph and exudes a vamp’s titillating blandishments. And how can one miss her soulful number from B R Chopra’s Dhund (not ‘Dhundh’)?
The song, Uljhan suljhe na, rasta soojhe na is a perfect example of a quasi-ghazal that stays with the listeners forever. Not just in solo numbers, Asha’s voice registers its presence in duets as well. She sang more than 900 duets with the formidable Rafi and sang so beautifully and in tandem that nowhere does one find her voice secondary to that of Rafi. Readers must have listened to her duet with Rafi: Mujhe gale se laga lo, bahut udaas hoon main (Film: Aaj aur kal, Lyrics: Sahir/Music: Ravi, 1963).
Asha could bring out the pain and pathos of Nanda with her huskily-velvet voice. Or, think of that romantic number, Dhalti jaaye raat, kah le dil ki baat from the movie Razia Sultana (old one, 1961/Anand Bakshi/Composer: Lachhiram/Asha-Rafi). Nirupa Roy (yes, it was filmed on the eternal screen mother of Hindi cinema along with P Jairaj!) never got tired of listening to this mushy number that happily belied her typical screen image and persona. Even in bhajans, Asha remains peerless.
When she sings Tora man darpan kahlaye (Kaajal, Sahir/Ravi, 1965), one wonders is this the same Asha who sang Ye hai reshmi zulfon ka andhera… The spectrum of Asha’s singing is not just vast.
It’s boundless and because of this oceanic ambit of her voice, she could sing all sorts of songs and even at the age of 86, the magic is undiminished. To quote the Bard of Avon: Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety. What was spoken of Cleopatra, applies to Asha. Long live, Asha ji, and keep enthralling us with the charisma of your exquisitely intoxicating voice.
Sumit Paul is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and religions.