When you take her longevity, achievements, versatility and work outside cinema into account, then Asha Bhosle is undoubtedly the greatest Bollywood singer of all time.
Starting off as a child in the 1940s, she is incredibly now in her eighth decade of captivating audiences with her unmistakable voice. The singing icon turned 83 on Thursday (September 8) and later this month, she will deliver two UK concerts as part of her farewell tour.
Eastern Eye went back in time to compile an alphabetical guide to a record-breaking artist who has entertained so many millions across different generations.
A is for Acting: The singer had a brief brush with acting as a young child before concentrating fully on music. Then nearly 70 years later, she made her full-fledged acting debut in the low-budget 2013 drama Mai, where she portrayed a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s, who is abandoned by her children. Talking of acting, the biggest Bollywood leading ladies have mimed to her vocals across four generations.
B is for Boy George: Asha has done a number of international collaborations including the song Bow Down Mister with Boy George in the 1980s. Her other high-profile international musical collaborations include with REM’s Michael Stipe, Australian cricketer Brett Lee, boy band Code Red and Kronos Quartet (see K). Singers who have sampled Bollywood songs featuring Asha’s vocals include Sarah Brightman and The Black Eye Peas.
C is for Cooking: The biggest passion for the iconic singer away from music is cooking. She has gone from making food for fellow film stars to opening successful restaurants internationally, including in Dubai and the UK. She has personally trained some of the chefs in Asha’s to prepare her signature dishes.
D is for Discovery: Perhaps the most notable musical discovery Asha has made is Adnan Sami. She first spotted the talent of the chart-topping singer, songwriter and musician when he was just 10 years old, while touring with her late husband RD Burman. She then sang with Adnan when he grew up on his star-making smash hit album Kabhi To Nazar Milao.
Talking about Asha, Adnan said: “She is like a mother to me. As a singer, I think she is one of the most phenomenal artists India has ever witnessed with the ability to make any genre her own. She has excelled in any genre that has been presented before her.”
E is for Elope: When she was just 16, Asha eloped with 31-year-old Ganpatrao Bhosle and married him against her family’s wishes. Apart from causing a decades-long rift with her elder sister Lata Mangeshkar (see S), it turned out to be an abusive marriage and they separated in 1960. She had three children from that first marriage and five grandchildren.
F is for Father: The greatest earliest influence on Asha and her siblings was their father Deenanath Mangeshkar, who was a theatre actor and a classical singer. He died when his children were very young, but they never forgot him. They opened a hospital in his name, along with starting an award ceremony named after him.
G is for Goar: The singer was born as Asha Mangeshkar in Goar in the then princely state of Sangli (now in Maharashtra) on September 8, 1933. Her father died when she was nine and it was then that the family moved to Mumbai. Asha and her elder sister Lata began singing and acting in films to support their family. H is for Honours: The acclaimed singer has won a number of global accolades including seven Filmfare Best Female Playback awards out of 18 nominations. Asha would have won many more, but after receiving the award in 1979, she emulated her elder sister Lata and requested that her name not be considered for the award nominations after that.
She was later given a Special Award for Rangeela in 1996 and the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. The Indian government gave her its highest cinematic honour, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, in 2000.
I is for Inspiration: The singer has inspired countless music acts around the world, including British group Cornershop, who released chart-topping song Brimful Of Asha in 1997. Their track dedicated to the Bollywood great was a huge success glob-ally and even spawned a number of remixes.
J is for Judge: Asha has featured as a judge on a number of popular musical reality TV series including Sur Kshetra, Indian Idol and Sa Re Ga Ma Pa.
K is for Kronos Quartet: In 2005, American string group Kronos Quartet teamed up with Asha to re-record songs composed by her late husband RD Burman. Their subsequent album You’ve Stole My Heart: Songs From RD Burman’s Bollywood was released to great global acclaim and was nominated for a Grammy award in 2006 in the Best Contemporary World Music Album category. L is for Languages: The most prolific singer of all time, Asha has sung in more than 14 languages including Assamese, Hindi, Urdu, Telugu, Marathi, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, English, Russian, Czech, Nepali, Malay and Malayalam.
M is for Majha Bal: Asha sang her first film song Chala Chala Nav Bala for the Marathi film Majha Bal in 1943. She made her Hindi film debut with the track Saawan Aaya for the film Chunariya (1948). She delivered her first solo Hindi film song for the movie Raat Ki Raani (1949).
N is for Naushad: The greatest and most influential music director in Bollywood during the 1940s and 50s, Naushad was so fiercely loyal to Lata that he didn’t work with Asha. There were other musicians who treated the singer unfairly because of their loyalty to her elder sister, but that didn’t stop Asha from succeeding in her own right.
O is for OP Nayyar: During her early days of struggle in the 1950s, Asha only got songs that top singers like Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum and Lata turned down. She
sang in mostly B-grade films until she teamed up with OP Nayyar, who gave her a big break in hit film CID (1956). The music director became her champion by giving her an identity and helped her turn a major corner with huge songs in smash hit film Naya Daur (1957). They would work together on several soundtracks, which helped turn her into a star. There was speculation of a romantic relationship between the two, but never confirmed. In later life, Nayyar said: “I can say that the most important person in my life was Asha Bhosle. She was the best person I ever met.”
P is for Private albums: The versatile singer has done a number of non-Bollywood albums long before it was popular to do so. One of the most notable of these was path-breaking Dil Padosi Hai, which was released on September 8, 1987 and saw her teaming up with noted lyricist Gulzar and her music director husband RD Burman. Other albums included remixes of Bollywood songs, acclaimed Indian classical ones, pop releases, ghazal collections and ones in other languages. In 2006, she recorded an album Asha & Friends, singing duets with celebrities including Sanjay Dutt, Urmila Matondhar and Brett Lee.
Q is for Queen: If you consider the variety, number of songs, the work she did outside Bollywood, her influence and her prolific live career, then Asha is the undisputed greatest singer the Indian film industry has ever produced. Entering the Guinness Book Of World Records for singing over 12,000 songs has only consolidated her position as the queen of Bollywood music.
R is for RD Burman: The most enduring partnership the singer had was with late great composer RD Burman. They changed the face of Indian music with their wide variety of songs and delivered an incredible number of enduring classics, which remain popular today. They introduced a western edge into Indian film music, which influenced pretty much all those who followed. The dream team started working together in the mid-1960s and finally got married in 1980 despite Asha being six years older. This was a second marriage for both of them.
S is for Sister: If Asha is the greatest Indian singer of all time, then her elder sister Lata is a very close second. The cold war between the two talented siblings has become the stuff of legend and was triggered by Asha eloping as a 16-year-old (see E), which Lata considered irresponsible, leaving her alone to support the family.
This animosity turned into a professional rivalry that lasted for decades, which included long periods of non-communication. This in turn spilled over to their careers, with music directors and some filmmakers taking sides (see N). Their rift is thought to have inspired the movie Saaz (1998) and recent TV series Meri Awaaz Hi Pehchaan Hai.
T is for Tragedy: She may have had global success, but the singing superstar has also had plenty of tragedy in her life, starting with her father passing away when she was nine and leaving the family in poverty. Her beloved second husband RD Burman died aged 54 in 1994. She has lost two of her children from her first marriage – her daughter Varsha committed suicide on October 8 2012, aged 56, and her son Hemant died of cancer in 2015.
U is for Umrao Jaan: Asha altered her singing style to attempt ghazals in iconic film Umrao Jaan (1981). Her songs including, mostly notably, Dil Cheez Kya Hai and In Aankhon Ki Masti Ke became huge hits and resulted in her winning the first National Award of her career.
V is for Versatility: The biggest thing that set Asha apart from her rivals and turned her into the greatest Bollywood playback singer of all time has been her incredible versatility. This won her many admirers and fans including superstar actor Shammi Kapoor, who once said: “If I did not have Mohd Rafi to sing for me, I would have got Asha Bhosle to do the job.”
W is for World Tours: The legendary live singer has been delivering sell-out shows around the world for decades, which includes many shows in the UK. She has also delivered charity concerts and inspired others with her poise on stage. She will be performing two UK shows as a part of her farewell tour later this month. X is for X Factor India: Asha was a favourite to be a judge on the second season of reality TV series X Factor India. Unfortunately it was scrapped after the first season and she didn’t get a chance to mentor the contestants on season two.
Y is for YouTube: The massive number of views that her songs get on video sharing sites shows the enduring appeal of the singer. On YouTube alone, her songs have collectively clocked up more than a billion views.
Z is for Zanai: Asha’s granddaughter Zanai Bhosle is an aspiring singer who is keen to carry on the family legacy with her impressive vocal talent. The teenager recorded a song with India’s first transgender band 6 Pack earlier this year and has excelled in a number of stage shows, including those alongside her legendary grandmother.