A Rivière of Asha Bhosle – S D Burman Gems
Asha Bhosle – one of the titans that reigned over Hindi Film Music (HFM) for several decades! Well, who does not know her? Her songs, be it a golden era RD number or be it a millennial ARR number, make even the youngest of the generations dance to their tunes. While most of her compeers are a part of the history, Asha Bhosle still continues to be history in making! Officially acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most recorded artist in 2011, she is the most versatile singer in HFM with astounding vocal acrobatics and fluidity of throat.
Was her journey to this position a cake walk? Certainly not! It was rather an uphill battle. She entered the film industry in the late ‘40s, when the dynamics of HFM were undergoing a seismic shift. Some female singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum had just started dominating the playback scene. Asha Bhosle was struggling to pave her way through these challenges, particularly the fierce competition by her own formidable sister. She kept on groping for her own path until O.P. Nayyar confided in her and helped her explore her capabilities and bring them to the fore in the early ‘50s. She then predominantly featured in O.P. Nayyar’s music almost for 2 decades; and thereafter in R.D. Burman’s music starting from the ‘70s. Meanwhile, Ravi also made extensive use of her voice, particularly in the ‘60s.
Apart from these composers, one more stalwart composer, S.D. Burman made considerable use of her voice. Asha Bhosle got an entry into the Burman camp from Lal Kunwar (1952) and remained a secondary singer there until Lata Mangeshkar and Dada Burman were at odds for a few years in the late ‘50s. Albeit a Lata-centric composer, Dada Burman proved that he could not only survive, but also succeed without Lata Mangeshkar by coming up with many outstanding compositions that suited her style of singing.
Asha Bhosle also filled this vacuum competently and wholeheartedly by grabbing a plethora of opportunities that this historic rift opened up for her. Singing under Dada Burman’s baton during this period helped Asha Bhosle explore her inherent versatility to a greater extent; and emerge out of Lata Mangeshkar’s shadow and O.P. Nayyar’s style.
Though Asha Bhosle has rendered some awesome songs for Dada Burman even beyond this period (e.g. Dil Ki Manzil Kuchh Aisi Hai Manzil – Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Raat Akeli Hai – Jewel Thief, Phurr Ud Chala – Tere Mere Sapne), their combined songs in this period were par excellence. Her transformation from Geeta-esque Asha to a complete playback singer with her own adaptable style is clearly seen in these songs.
Let us relish a few of the wonderful Asha-numbers from Dada Burman’s treasure trove recorded during the period of Dada Burman’s hiatus with Lata Mangeshkar, in the chronological order.
Dhalki Jaye Chundariya Hamari Ho Raam – Nau Do Gyarah (1957)
The film was produced by Dev Aanand and was the directorial debut of Vijay Anand. At some juncture in the film, the hero (Dev Anand) and the heroine (Kalpana Kartik) realise that they are in love and the heroine starts declaring it amidst the bounties of nature. The words born from Majrooh Sultanpuri’s inventive pen are full of suitable similes and metaphors – love is opening eyes in her mind, like a cool breeze that one can feel but can’t see, like the spring silently announcing its arrival. She wants to be a flower and dispense the fragrance of her love all-around; she wants to become a cuckoo and fly here and there singing the songs of love. As the tune is somewhat folkish, Majrooh Sahab has kept the first line “Dhalki Jaye Chundariya Hamari Ho Raam” in a regional dialect.
Dada Burman has translated her happiness into the catchy composition just with sitar, whistle (that makes up for absence of Dada Burman’s favourite flute), tabla and Ashaji. That’s Dada Burman!
She has more than perfectly captured her happiness and excitement in her adorable rendition though lilting aalaps and amazing modulations. Even if you just listen to the audio, you end up visualising a mind chirping and dancing with happiness.
Koi Aaya, Dhadkan Kehti Hai – Lajwanti (1958)
‘Lajwanti’, starring Nargis and Balraj Sahni, was an Asha-dominated soundtrack – 4 solos and 1 duet out of total 6 songs. All her solos in the film paint different shades of emotions, “Koi aaya, dhadkan kehti hai” being the romantic one. Beautifully penned again by Majrooh Sultanpuri, the song expresses excitement on arrival of someone who was eagerly awaited, coupled with natural feminine bashfulness.
Dada Burman has composed this fast paced peppy number quite brilliantly with his typical pauses and tune-phrasing. Her aalap and notes of piano in the prelude announce the arrival of the awaited one. The excitement starts building up and Asha Bhosle starts crooning in a honeyed tone. The interludes comprising violins, flute and santoor keep on declaring that romance is in the air.
Asha Bhosle’s end-to-end coltish rendition exceeds expectations in meeting the demand of the composition. Her stress on some syllables while pronouncing some words sounds so coaxing! All in all, it is a treat to ears. All her solos in the soundtrack are good examples of her stunning capability to adapt to the moods of the songs.
Najar Laagi Raja Tore Bangley Par – Kala Pani (1958)
Soundtrack of Kala Pani – another Dev Anand production starring himself and Madhubala in the lead roles – is more known for the Rafi solo “Hum bekhudi mein tumko” and the playful Asha-Rafi duet “Achchha ji main haari”. But it also has 3 solos by Ashaji, out of which the Mujra “Najar laagi raja tore bangley par” is the best.
This is yet another awesome composition by Dada Burman with his minimalistic approach – using bare minimum elements of a Mujra, viz. saarangi, violins, tabla and ghungroo. It is said that the swaying beats of tabla in the song were highly appreciated by classical experts. Majrooh Sultanpuri’s amazing lyrics come with a folkish tinge. There is another interesting thing about the lyrics. The courtesan wants to marry someone, but she does not express this at once; she reveals her intention step by step in each antara. Starting with “ban ki koyaliya”, a cuckoo cuckooing around his house, she goes closer as “kaari badariya”, a rainy cloud hovering and raining over his house; and yet closer as “bela chameliya”, a jasmine climber hugging the walls of his house. Finally, her expression culminates into “tumri dulhaniya”, his wife rightfully and proudly occupying his house. What a brilliant use of climax by Majrooh Sahab!
Ashaji starts the song with a sharp aalap and takes it forward through her beautiful murkis and harkats. In no time, you start tapping your foot getting spellbound by the mesmerising rhythm and Ashaji’s dancing vocals.
Kali Ghata Chaaye – Sujata (1959)
‘Sujata’, a classic by Bimal Roy starring Nutan and Sunil Dutt in the main roles, is the story of an untouchable and orphaned girl, ironically named as ‘Sujata’, brought up by an upper class and caste couple. Though Sujata considers the couple as her real parents and loves them wholeheartedly, she never gets the sense of belonging, as her foster-mother consistently treats her “beti jaisi” (daughter-like), always denying her the status of a real daughter. Deprived of love, one fine day she gets a hint of unconditional love from a family friend, Adheer. She is on the horns of a dilemma – she is quite eager to embrace the love; and at the same time, mindful of the futility of her feelings, as Adheer also belongs to a higher cast. Yet, her heart overpowers the brain momentarily, and she starts expressing her eagerness and excitement clandestinely through the song.
The pleasant tune, composed in raag Pilu, is based on folk music. Dada Burman has created a masterpiece, again with the help of just so much as flute, sitar and Ashaji. How well Dada Burman knew that nothing more was required to convey the happiness of a deprived low-key girl! Besides the use of flute in the prelude and the interludes, subtle touches of flute between two lines of each antara (a typical Dada Burman touch) seem like drops of honey. Somewhat muffled yet impactful percussion surely makes you tap your foot and nod your head. Simple yet befitting words by Majrooh Sultanpuri enhance the beauty of the song.
According to me, this is one of the best songs Ashaji has ever rendered. Her humming and aalap in the beginning compete with flute in sweetness. Perfectly stepping into the shoes of Sujata who is secretly murmuring her eagerness to herself, Ashaji has crooned the entire song in an extravagantly saccharine tone. Her outstanding rendition in this song is worth a separate elaborate write-up. It is therefore better felt than described for now.
Sach Hue Sapne Tere – Kala Bazar (1960)
While you are submerged in the negativity resulting from the heartbreak in the first love, the second love hits you quite unexpectedly. Like a burnt child dreading the fire, you are in a fix, but soon realise that the second love is the first real love. You start believing in love again and get a different perspective of life. This song from ‘Kala Bazar’ – the second directorial venture of Vijay Anand, brings these very feelings to life.
The heroine is jubilating after realising that she is in love again, and is trying to attract the hero’s attention through her dance full of childish gestures. Her joy knows no bounds! She is speaking her heart out through Shaliendra’s simple yet congruous words. Dada Burman has composed a nimble tune to suit this mood. He has optimally decorated it just with violins, strums of guitar and dholak. He also makes sure to put his own stamp with glimpses of flute between the lines of each antara. The hook-line “chiki chiki chik chak cha chhai”, albeit comprising meaningless words, adds to the cuteness of the song.
And last but not the least; the song would not sound so lively but for Ashaji’s animated rendition. She sets the tone of the song right from initial “ho ho” and humming. Her sweet throw of words and the knack of smiling/laughing while singing are astonishing. With a Geeta Dutt-esque touch, she has perfectly personified the feelings through her skilful delivery.
Ab Ke Baras Bhej Bhaiya Ko Babul – Bandini (1963)
Bandini (1963), another masterpiece by Bimal Roy, revolves around Bandini (imprisoned) Kalyani (Nutan) serving life sentence for murder and depicts the conflicts of love and hate in her mind and the sacrifice made by ordinary Indian rural women for independence of India. The soundtrack of the film composed by Dada Burman has the two extremely touching Asha numbers – “Ab ke baras bhej bhaiya ko babul” and “O panchhi pyare”, alongside the two extremely sweet Lata numbers “Mora gora ang lai le” and “Jogi jab se tu aaya mere dware”.
In the song “Ab ke baras bhej bhaiya ko babul”, sung by Kalyani’s inmate, lyricist Shailendra aptly uses the metaphor of a newly married girl longing for her maternal home in a traditional style song to portray the feelings of the imprisoned women missing their families badly, through his deeply touching words.
Dada Burman has composed the heart wrenching tune in raag Pilu, again with very few instruments like violins and flute. The pieces of violins and flute in the interludes are stabs of pathos. The temple blocks used as percussion as if indicate the time ticking endlessly for the prisoners.
Ashaji does a perfect justice not just to all the nuances inbuilt in the tune by Dada Burman, but also to the mood of the song with her rendition drenched in poignancy. It is said that Dada Burman had asked her to remember while recording how long her in-laws had not sent her back to her maternal home. Ashaji’s rendition leaves us spell bound, just like Kalyani and all her inmates, who are left engrossed in their thoughts and memories.
O Panchhi Pyare – Bandini (1963)
For obvious reasons, I couldn’t avoid the temptation of including the other Asha number from Bandini here. The song, again sung by one of Kalyani’s inmates, is the expression of self-pity in the disguise of playful envy about a bird chirping freely outside the bars. And once again, lyricist Shailendra has beautifully captured this feeling in simple yet effective words.
After the initial sher sung sweetly by Ashaji, the song starts with mixed percussion beats indicating various activities being carried out by the prisoners on screen. Then the song progresses through Ashaji’s modulations and flute, accompanied by percussion comprising dholak, triangle and temple blocks. That’s all! Time and again, Dada Burman proves that an impactful composition can be created even without heavy orchestration.
Though the song is light in the form, it is not so in substance. While Ashaji largely renders the song in a jovial tone, she brings in subtle touches of sorrow in the first stanza, where the prisoner is regretting being imprisoned; and subtle touches of eagerness in the second stanza to convey her vain longing for freedom. What a deep dive in the situation of the song! And what an amazing mastery over rendition! That’s Ashaji!
Though O.P. Nayyar and R.D Burman are generally accredited with the making of the phenomenon called Asha Bhosle, Dada Burman’s contribution in shaping her up as an efficient playback singer cannot be discounted. At the same time, Asha Bhosle, with her outstanding versatility, has studded Dada Burman’s repertoire with quite a few ever-shining gems.