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There's a brimful of Asha, even at 86

Theres a brimful of Asha, even at 86

We chat exclusively with the iconic Indian singer who was in town to celebrate her 86th birthday at her Dubai restaurant, Asha's at Wafi Mall

By Michael Gomes

Published: Mon 9 Sep 2019, 11:26 AM

Last updated: Thu 12 Sep 2019, 12:53 PM

"I know why you guys have deliberately not put candles on my birthday cake," remarked legendary Bollywood singer Asha Bhosle, upon being presented with a cake when she dropped into the Khaleej Times office on the afternoon of Saturday, September 7, the eve of her 86th birthday.
"Perhaps it will remind you all of Diwali (the Festival of Lights)!," joked Asha, one of Bollywood's most celebrated singers, who is as effervescent and charming as ever. Ardent fans will recollect the hit 1997 song, Brimful of Asha, by British band Cornershop. The lyrics truly pay tribute to the legend and her boundless energy which she displayed with much elan while talking to us. When she cut her cake, she scooped a slice and gave the first bite to her son Anand, before anyone else.
"It's a delicious cake," she said after taking a bite. "You know, I'm here today because of him (Anand). He's my backbone."
Considered one of the most iconic singers from the Hindi film industry, Asha Bhosle ruled Bollywood for more than six decades, along with her famous elder sister Lata Mangeshkar. She sang her first film song Chala Chala Nav Bala for the Marathi film Majha Bal (1943) and made her Hindi film debut with the song Saawan Aaya for Chunariya in 1948. Since then, she has recorded a phenomenal number of songs and was honoured by the Guinness World Records with a certificate for the most studio recordings (singles) for recording up to 11,000 solo, duet and chorus backed songs in over 20 Indian languages.
This year Asha decided to celebrate her 86th birthday with her fans in Dubai at her restaurant, Asha's, at Wafi Mall on the evening of Saturday, September 7. Diners had the chance to witness the cutting of the cake by Bhosle along with a talk by the legend. The five-course menu, also featured three of Bhosle's favourite dishes and the music throughout the evening focused on hits from the 70s and 80s by R.D. Burman (who Asha was married to), Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, and of course Asha.
In an exclusive chat with City Times, Asha touched on myriad topics and shared interesting anecdotes from her past, including her love for cooking, Bollywood music, her fashion sense and more. 
What are your earliest birthday memories?
First of all, this is the first time I have come to the Khaleej Times office. It's been 17 years since I last celebrated my birthday. So I decided to celebrate my birthday in Dubai because I love this city. I have a lot of fans in the UAE who used to watch me on television or in shows and wish me, so this year, I thought why not go and celebrate my birthday with them? And here I am!
Talking about past birthday memories, I recollect one particular birthday celebration. It was my 60th birthday. It was a surprise organised by my children. I had come back (from work) tired. My children suggested we go out for dinner to celebrate. We went to the Khyber restaurant (in Mumbai) and they took me to a dining hall on the first floor which was completely dark. Suddenly the lights came on and there was a huge crowd who had turned up for the celebration, including my mother, sisters, brother, singers and music directors from the film industry. It was a grand celebration and perhaps my most memorable birthday. 
You are perhaps the only Bollywood artiste who has such a successful restaurant chain; now we hear that you've also opened an Asha's outlet in Abu Dhabi. 
I believe that behind every successful person, there is another person, be it a brother, son, father or anyone else. In my case, I have my son Anand Bhosle. He is my backbone. Today, I am here because of him. He will never see me bow down. Then there are my twin grandchildren... we started this restaurant (in Wafi Mall) in Dubai when they were only 8 months old, so they have been lucky for us. 
Now it's been more than 17 years since we are running this restaurant. If your intentions are pure, the service is good and food is delicious, people will flock to your restaurant. Just like my songs, where we used to work hard and sing with all sincerity.
Which modern singer deserves to wear your crown?
If I have to choose someone it would be Sunidhi Chauhan. She imitates me a lot, though she lacks my range. Nevertheless, she knows how to express herself and whatever she sings, she sings well.
Recently, Lataji mentioned how you became successful because you carved your own unique path. When you started out, was there any pressure to sound a particular way?
Initially, we used to fear senior singers (of copying them). But I never imitated anyone, I had my style. I could have sung like my sister (Lata), my voice is quite similar to hers. But when two people had the same voice it was obvious that they (music directors) would choose my elder sister. So I thought that I should bring my individuality to my sound which should be different from hers. In any case, we were poles apart when it came to our personality. I used to cut my hair, wear jewellery and colourful saris, while Didi is very traditional. I am very talkative and she's not. But I have to stress that if I had not changed my style I wouldn't be here today.
Music has advanced with time. Today's singers may be good, but they don't have the opportunity to work with the kind of music directors that we had, so their talent cannot be fully explored. We had a lot of challenges in our days and we faced it every day - we had to sing in a variety of styles like sad songs, happy ones, peppy cabaret songs, mujra numbers etc.
Most of your hits are being remixed these days. Are you happy with the way they are being reinterpreted? 
I was the first one to do remixes. Do you remember the album Rahul and I? I sang for the remixes in my original voice but improvised. I am the one to show them (the next generation) the path. Remixes are following the current trend in music. So it's okay for them to do it. Not many singers these days are classically trained. That's why their lifespan in the profession is limited.
New singers can sing, but what they lack is emotions and expressions. That's why we don't enjoy many of the songs these days, they sound very mechanical. I remember when I visited the Google headquarters in the USA, I was told that they have developed a software that can replicate my voice. So I questioned them. 'You can duplicate any voice, but what about human emotions and feeling, is a machine capable of doing that?' And they agreed with me.
How does it feel when you see people still listening to your classics?
Among old songs you have songs for any mood like happiness, joy, sadness. We had legendary lyricists like  Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel. Besides the lyrics, we also had good music directors and wonderful singers and the three would combine well. So it was a blend of these three factors, and on top of that, we had to inject the song with our individual feelings, expression and style. That's the reason past songs still live in people's memory. 
What is the difference between yesteryear and current music?
Massive. Composers knew classical music, they were maestros. That's why you will still hear radio stations blasting R.D. Burman's songs even these days. In those days, music directors would compose tunes based on an artiste's vocal capabilities. I remember once asking R.D. Burman why he was giving me so many difficult songs to sing, and his reply was, 'Because you can sing it. That's why I compose them, but if you don't want to, then I will compose an easy tune for you. I compose because I know you can deliver - you and Kishore (Kumar)'. We three were a powerful combination.
How was Kishore to work with? 
He was a very fun loving person, but eccentric because he was a genius. He was a singer, music director, songwriter, filmmaker and actor. There were so many qualities to him, and he was a very jovial person, he used to make everyone laugh -  it's very difficult to be sad yourself and make others laugh.
How did you shape your voice for different songs?
I recollect S.D. Burman telling me, 'Asha, think you are Helen (the actress) when you are singing for her character'.
But I was fat while Helen was fit! So how could I feel like her, I asked R.D. jokingly! And he told me, 'You just have to think in your mind you're Helen though you're not (physically)'. 
So from that time onwards, I study and imagine the character to bring out the feel in the song. Once I was made to cry before recording a song to give it a realistic touch. 
Asha on her style sense
She has an enviable collection of saris, and is always so well turned out for events with her trademark bindi and necklace in place. "I don't like saris which are made of very fine material and I don't like saris which are long/lengthy," explains Asha. "I'm not among those women who bring the entire store down to select a sari. My sister used to do that! She would spend the entire day in a shop to select a sari of her choice. I am not like that, I don't spend much time on selection. I just go through a couple of saris before zooming in on my choice. I mostly go for shades in turquoise or white. I like saris with exquisite border styles." And what about matching jewellery? "Actually, I don't have a large collection. Whatever I wear is gifted to me by my children or daughter-in-law."
Who does she think is the most stylish person in Bollywood now? "Me (laughs)! Back in the day, I was very fond of necklaces and glass bangles - I would match them with the border of my sari. I also used to wear earrings and style my hair in two plaits. In those days, I was considered very fashionable." She still is!
I have loved cooking since childhood, says Asha
"I used to love cooking from childhood. I remember those early days in Kolhapur when all my sisters and I used to get together to cook whenever there was a festival or other auspicious occasions. So that's how my love for cooking started. But I seriously got into cooking only after my children were born. Whenever I would be invited to someone's home for dinner, I used to request them to share their recipes with me. But these women would never pass on the actual recipes. Nevertheless, I used to memorise them, like my lyrics, and try them out. Sometimes the dishes would turn out good, but not always. But I never gave up and kept on trying till I perfected the recipes." 
What about learning from her sister Lata, did she pass on any recipes? "Didi (Lata Mangeshkar) knew only to make two or three dishes, but she would never allow us to enter her kitchen to find out what masalas she was using in her dishes! She would guard her recipes and keep them a secret."
So what's her favourite dish? "It's difficult to point out one dish because I used to cook so many dishes, and after cooking so much, I didn't have the appetite to eat. However, I would say my favourite is simple dal (lentil), chawal (steamed rice) with lemon or chilli pickle and some ghee (clarified butter) over the rice. I just love it!"
What were her husband R.D. Burman's favourite dishes? "He used to love biryani and sweet dishes, and Bengali dishes, but more than any other cuisine, he used to love Lucknowi dishes. Those were his favourite."
Asha thanks Khaleej Times for maintaining values, standards
"Khaleej Times is a reputable paper in this region. They write and publish the truth. They don't dwell on gossip. I have tremendous respect for the people working here, who are concerned about maintaining the values and the standards of the newspaper. I thank them and want them to continue with the good work."

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