Asha Bhosle and the Five Elements
The Pancha Maha Bhoot or the pancha bhoot or the 5 elements is a group of 5 basic elements which according to Hinduism is the basis of all cosmic creation. If we look at the beautiful nature,, the entire physical world has its foundation in these 5 elements – Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Ether. Even a single, tiny living cell is a unique combination of these 5 elements. We can call them as the building blocks of all that exists. But why am I discussing it here? This particular article is about Asha Bhosle. The diva needs no introduction. Her work, her voice speaks volumes about her. Known for her voice range and often credited for her versatility, her work includes film music, pop, ghazals, bhajans, traditional Indian classical, folk songs, qawwalis, regional numbers, Rabindra sangeet, Nazrul geetis…etc etc etc. She’s an octogenarian now but her voice is young. A challenge for younger generation of singers. She has breathed life into hundreds of songs. A voice for all seasons. However, before her voice became a sensation, Asha Bhosle had to struggle through her professional (and her personal) life. A struggle which was never visible on her face (she has always smiled through it) and a struggle where she became a winner through her voice. But everyone has to balance themselves through the struggle.The balance which is taken care of by the permutation and combination of the 5 elements. Likewise Asha Bhosle’s struggle and later her career, in the music industry, was balanced by the Panchamahabhoots. They not only helped her balance but also brought out the subtle essence in her voice. What Mahabhoots you ask? Let us begin with that.
Earth – The foundation to all that matters. Without a foundation one cannot grow. The Earth element in Asha’s career was S.D.Burman. Just like the element, he kept her grounded, calm but energised. Making her sing like Geeta Dutt (who was on top when Asha was a new comer) in the beginning, building her confidence and slowly weaning her off from it and nurturing her own golden voice. It was S.D.Burman who formed the foundation of her career. It was he who took care of the way she modulated her voice. That’s the reason why Asha Bhosle sounds completely different in all his songs.
Asha Bhosle’s rendition is just superb. She’s all perfection. The sentiments she brings with each throw of the word, a daughter readily connect with her. The song is also a painful reminder of a dark chapter in her erratic personal life. S.D.Burman does full justice to the lyrics and her voice by keeping the instruments negligible bringing out the pathos aptly. Her voice brings out the sadness of lost innocence, the need of reconnecting with those days which will never come back.
This song will make you wonder whether Ab ke baras was really rendered by the same person. While all the songs for the female lead of the film were rendered by her elder sister, S.D.Burman gave the sizzlers to Asha Bhosle for he knew that she’s sure to sizzle and Asha Bhosle did not mind crooning those even if the songs were not picturised on the lead actress. It was only her who could sound seductive, romantic and teasing all at the same time.
Fire – Bringing courage and confidence. The fire element in Asha’s career was O.P.Nayyar. Just like the element, he was the driving force in her career. The energy in her voice, the creativity of singing different from others and making her own brand name. O.P.Nayyar knew her voice could do all this with some care and hard work. He was the constant encouragement, boosting her morale and giving justice to her liquid golden voice.
Asha’s way to stardom was under OPN when she sang the quintessential….Aaiye meherban. But even the romantic….Ye kya kar daala toone….is no less than a star. Her voice sounds as beautiful and gorgeous as Madhubala on screen. OPN lavished all his best tunes on Asha. The subtlety and the finesse in this song cannot be matched anywhere else. OPN, a rebel himself, made Asha rebel against the setting trend then and make her own mark.
From a hardcore romantic song to wickedly sensuous Ye hai rehmi zulfon ka andhera….OPN threw all these challenges to her and she accepted and won those challenges. He voice is as intoxicating as Mumu on screen. You feel drunk while listening to this song. The wicked, small laughs almost make you trip on them. Her voice is all sweetness. She sounds a blend of intoxication and sin without being sleazy. The Fire element taking charge here.
Water – The ability to adapt. The water element in her career was Khayyam. He guided her to sing selflessly, to let her voice flow avoiding the unhealthy attachments. Their most celebrated work together being Umrao Jaan where he asked her to sing a note lower than her usual scale. She not only adapted it but was mind blowing in it. People started to see poetry and music together through them. Though theirs can’t be called as a winning combination all through they have in all 25 odd movies together and of course the non film album Asha Aur Khayyam which has 8 beautiful renditions. Music lovers can very well term this combination as the soulful one.
Though there were other music directors who skillfully used her voice for club songs or cabarets, it was Khayyam who gave her to sing the first club song or as we call it a cabaret right at the beginning of her career. Footpath also had romantic numbers rendered by her. So it was a mixed bag for Asha in her initial years and Khayyam went ahead with her in several other films in a similar way.
Phir Subah Hogi is an example of their fine tuning even before Umrao Jaan. This particular ghazal by Sahir becomes immortal with Asha’s rendition. Khayyam maintained the melody of the pathos driven numbers through Asha’s voice.
Air – Self expression and communication. The air element in Asha’s career is surely music composer Ravi. He brought in all the compassion and love in her voice. Her voice communicated with the listeners through Ravi’s songs. Many such songs which people hum or sing in their day to day life but they do not know or remember the music director of that particular song. Music Director Ravi has such connect with his audiences. From a beautiful lori to sweet seductive to pathos, Asha has expressed all her feelings through Ravi’s songs.
Ravi highlighted her natural voice even in party numbers. He always relied on the easy going nature of her voice. The way she sings that portion la lala la la la…in this song is the best example of it. Her voice calm and deep, dominates all the instruments. This self expression won her all the accolades.
An immortal bhajan which makes one reflect our own thoughts. Ravi excels in composing this semi classical bhajan and Asha excels in her singing. The song which can be heard on the loop right from the beginning doha which gives goosebumps. Asha communicates the philosophy of life through Sahir’s lyrics. Her voice here is reflective and again an expression of self.
Ether – Source of wisdom and intuition. The ether element in Asha’s career is R.D.Burman. All that was needed for intelligent singing came through her songs she sang for Pancham. The throw of words, the nakhras. They worked together to create history. Redefining the norms of music not only in western numbers but also in the semi classical ones. True that Pancham has given the most soulful numbers to the elder sister, but the unconventional and difficult ones came into Asha’s kitty. It was as if he created them just for her voice.
The song which no one can dare to sing. For who can perform the vocal gymnastics like her in the song. The song is far from any of the contemporary film music. It has a style of its own and the stylish Asha does it effortlessly. The ether element accommodates all the properties of other elements in it. And Pancham did just that. He not only accommodated all the above elements but also gave her, her own creativity.
Her songs became more soulful and sensitive with Pancham. Such was their musical connection, such was their bond, giving space to each other without dominating the creativity. Depth and expressions took whole new turn with this particular song from Ijazat. It was this connection that brought them together. Some of their regional songs saw an intelligent high in the 70s – 80s era. Their songs and experimentation together increased the thinking quotient of the listeners and music lovers giving them a new high.
Apart from these 5 composers, there are 2 more composers whom I would love to mention – Jaidev and Hridaynath Mangeshkar. These 2 composers gave her career a new dimension on the whole, in the non film and regional songs respectively. But that altogether is a different subject for discussion.
The unmatchable singer started her Hindi film career in 1948 and unlike many of her peers who hung up their boots early, she continues to work and travels the world giving concerts. With the help of these 5 elements in her career, Asha Bhosle struck a right balance and conquered the music world in the sub continent. The diva is an octogenarian now, but her voice is ageless.