It is impossible to discuss Asha Bhosle without mentioning the word ‘versatility’. From Eena Meena Deeka of the 50s and Dum Maaro Dum of the 70s to Kambakht Ishq of the new millennium; from soulful bhajans and mellifluous ghazals to stirring cabarets, she has rendered them all. Whether it was the pain of pining in 'Mera kuch samaan' or the joy of being young and alive in 'Mein chali mein chali', Asha Bhosle conveyed every emotion with conviction in her rich, inimitable voice. Traversing the trajectories of high and low notes came to her with natural felicity and she could switch between every conceivable mood with great ease.

A Padma Vibhushan awardee whose career spans several decades, hers is a voice that is both loved and revered in equal measure and has found a permanent place in the South Asian music lover’s consciousness. A towering personality, Asha Bhosle today is an artist who has touched all milestones of excellence and at 90, her zest for life is exemplary.

Having been trained in classical music by her father, late Deenanath Mangeshkar, it was only natural for Asha Bhosle to take up playback singing as a career. She sang her first song in 1948 for a film called Chunariya and has not stopped singing since then. The empress of Indian playback singing will turn 90 on the 8th of September 2023 and she will be performing her chart-busters from a career of over eight decades, live at Dubai's Coca Cola Arena, on her birthday.

City Times spent an afternoon with the legendary singer to learn more about the show ‘Asha@90 Live in Concert’, her life as a playback singer and what keeps her going strong. Some excerpts from the interview:

About the Importance of birthdays

I never celebrate my birthday. The only ritual I have followed over the years is that I pray at midnight and after praying for the health and safety of my family members, I would eat at home with my kids and that is how I have been spending my birthday all these years. But last year, Salman Ahmed from PME events insisted that he would curate a show on the occasion of my 90th as he believes it is a landmark year and I had promised him that we would do it. And here we are with our entourage to perform on my 90th birthday.

About Dubai being her second home

My relationship with Dubai dates back to the 70s. I was transiting through Dubai on my way to London and I remember seeing just sand as far as I could look. There were only a few houses in the desert and there was no electric supply at the airport. I remember the runway was lit up with the help of fire torches when our aircraft landed. Today Dubai has become like my second home. When I come and see how the city has changed, I can’t believe it because I have seen it since the time when there was not a single building in sight. Today everyone loves to come to Dubai. As if some Aladdin came and rubbed the magic lamp and changed the city overnight. The reason for holding the concert in Dubai is because everyone from the west and the east can visit here easily.

About the preparations for the show

We have been working on the concept for the past six months. It is not the usual concert where we perform a list of songs and then leave. This is going to be a 'paisa vasool' experience for all those who are coming. And I am sure the audience will shout ‘once more’ as we reach towards the climax which is the highlight. My son is a director, so he has conceptualized the concert which will also showcase my journey in a very engaging way. The show is going to focus on many facets of my life starting from my childhood till now. I will be starting and closing the show and will also sing many songs in between. We have a troop of 23 dancers who have been rehearsing tirelessly for months. We have Sudesh Bhosale who is a seasoned live performer. As far as the setup is concerned, in my whole career I have not seen any stage or an event of this magnitude. Just by this statement, you can imagine how huge the concert is going to be.

About the culture of remix and covers

I try to look at the remix culture in a positive way. In a way, it exposes the new generation to real music, melodies and lyrics. If you talk about my song 'Abhi na jao chod kar' which was featured in the latest film Rocky Aur Rani, it not only brought back a song from sixty years ago, but it also introduced a lot of new listeners to the legendary poet Sahir Ludhianvi. So I would say it’s beneficial for all of us because it encashes on the iconic songs from the Indian jukebox that are timeless. Today, no one can create a classic, so they borrow from the inventory of songs from the past. Also, there are so many singers who are running their shops through Lata didi’s, Kishore Kumar’s, Rafi sahab’s or my songs. I feel proud when I see someone presenting my song with a twist. I am fine as far as it sounds melodious. I was one of the few artists who forayed into the world of remixes, and I released Rahul & I, Shaam-e-Ghazal and others. It was because I wasn’t getting a lot of songs and Pancham had just passed away, so my son Anand motivated me to sing these songs again and those albums had record-breaking sales. Since those days, my son Anand has been by my side like a rock and if I am able to sing today with zest, it is due to him.

About the film industry being unfair to Pancham during his last years

Pancham, during his last days, wasn’t too happy because of the treatment he received from the industry and even from his peers. I wouldn’t single out the film industry. The whole world is like that. It’s selfish. When your time is right, you have an entourage circling around you and the moment you stumble, people disown you. The world operates like that, unfortunately. If one brother earns and the other one doesn’t, most certainly, the other brother will be asked to leave the house and is perceived as a burden. This is how the world works today.

About how 'riyaaz' came to her rescue

If I can sing at 90, it is only due to 'riyaaz'. I do my 'riyaaz' every morning, and sometimes, when I am unable to sleep at night, I practice even at 2am. When I am travelling and I don’t have the 'tanpura' with me, I 'riyaaz' with playing the tanpura music. It was 'riyaaz' that helped me regain my composure and strengthened my resolve to carry on after bearing the loss of losing my loved ones. Whenever my children aren't around, I get terrible thoughts and at times like these my 'riyaaz' helps me to overcome my anxiety.

About whom she would like to invite from the past and the present to a dinner at Asha’s

If I could handpick my guests, I would first and foremost call Kishore and Rafi sahab. There wasn’t a bigger foodie than these two in the industry. I remember Rafi sahab would bring Sheer Khormas from his house with a thick layer of butter on it. Then I would invite Chintu and Shammi Kapoor. They loved my cooking and I have fed them a lot during those times. Didi was fond of my fish curry and so was Yash Chopra. And yes, could we have an extra seat on the table for Anand Bakshi please?

Her respect for Noorjehan

I met Noorjehan on the sets of the film Badi Maa and I remember Lata didi and I would just watch her in awe. I didn’t know Hindi then, so we would just keep looking at her. Lata didi also had a small role in the film. We used to address Noorjehan as 'Badi Apa' and I would always feel intimidated by her. I remember, later in my life, I released an album of ghazals by the name Kashish that had a very famous ghazal Neeyat-e-Shauq which Noorjehan had sung. I gave the cassette to her when I met her in London. The next morning when I went to see her to get her feedback, she hugged me and said “Shabaash beta! you sang it better than me”. That was her way of giving blessings.

Sadiq Saleem is a Dubai-based write and can be contacted on his Instagram @sadiqidas

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