Asha Bhosle remains the reigning queen of melody worldwide-she is also an amazing cook and her restaurants which feature her cuisine along with those of some celebrity friends, are usually so full, its hard to get in if you don’t make reservations well in advance.
In an exclusive interview Anand talks about growing up in the household of the legendary Mangeshkars, and what makes his mother such a unique personality.
So what are the early memories of music?
Strangely none of mom and my aunt. I never saw them rehearse before us. The only person I saw practicing with a tanpura was my uncle, their brother Hridaynath ji. In those days rehearsals would start early and go on till late night, and after singing so many songs on a daily basis for so many hours, I doubt they needed to come home and practice. Unlike today, those
days recording of a song could begin at 8 a.m. and go on till 10m p.m. The directors, musicians and singers were one big family. Today everything is on the run. So while growing up I was clueless about my mom being this famous singer. My friends at school would tell me –hey your mom and aunt are famous singers and I would retort-no you are mistaken. My aunt and mom don’t sing-its my uncle who is a musician. In any case I was never considered Asha Bhosle’s son-my friends always thought of me as Anand their friend and it was only incidental that asha bhosle was my mother. Those are the friends I still keep in touch with.
Were you ever trained in music?
We were kept very far away from Bollywood. Mom knew this was a very tough line and she didn’t want us to go through the intense struggle she faced. She didn’t have the opportunities to do other things-we did. Mom wanted us to excel in academics and focus on a career away from the film and music industry. My oldest brother Hemant always wanted to be a commercial pilot
and though he did dabble with music and gave music in some films as music director, he didn’t like the way things worked and went back to his first passion and became a commercial pilot.
Yes there would have been comparisons with mom but they would have been favorable comparisons-people would have said, wow she is a great talent just like her aunt and mother. I still crib that she just took what came naturally to her for granted.
I was never really trained in music though I have a good ear for it. My interest was in studying economics and commerce and that is what I did.
I used to however be fond of music and absolutely loved R.D. Burman’s tunes. Whenever mom was recording for him, she would send the car for me after school. I was about 11-12 years old then and would be given the privilege of going straight into the singers’ cabin where mom would be rehearsing. For the final take however I would be sent out by her, so I could sit where
I could hear the entire music accompanying her song, but most importantly, she claimed she was nervous having me in the room with her!
Today when I look back, I realize I was like that fly on the wall when history was being made-I was there when some of the best songs by R.D., mom and Kishore Kumar were being recorded.
Can you share some memories of the great musicians you spent time with?
Mohammed Rafi was a really nice person, soft spoken, dignified and very decent and obviously a wonderful singer, but it was Kishore da who was such a joy to be around. He was this mad hatter genius, who would come up with amazing improvisations and mom and he would enhance the song even further competing to add that one touch, to out do the other. The competition was
always healthy and they were very appreciative of each other’s talents. Kishore da would always sit on this high chair and sing, mom always stood and sang, and between them they would create sheer magic. There was laughter all the time when Kishore da was around.
What can I say about Pancham da(R.D. Burman). I don’t think India has produced a genius like him in this century. I used to hate most of the music I heard growing up. If you see people like Lakshmi Kant Pyarelal, everything had the same theka..there was nothing new, nothing unique in the way they created music.
R.D. on the other hand, was so talented. He was always thinking music. One day he was in the shower and took a bottle of Listerine, filled it up and blew in it..The sound of that blowing became a part of the song Mehbooba o mehbooba. So there they were in the recording studio, filling the bottle and blowing into it, trying to get the note that R.D. wanted. The sound
of the note was affected by the level of the water. R.D. said, we are surrounded by sound-a cricket chirps, a car starts, the wind blows-there is sound everywhere-you add rhythm and music to it and it becomes part of a song.
His father S.D. Burman was more interested in the classical genre. He could never understand the value of the modernization and new improvisations his son brought into music and he would tell R.D. to stick to the classical genre. And yet a lot of the music in Taalash-Karle Pyar Karle for example is R.D.s tune, and arranged by him. Even in the classic movie-Guide-Mohse Chal kiye jai was supposed to be S.D’s song, but my aunt Lata Mangeshkar told me that it was R.D, who taught her the song and the rhythm patterns were all his. Piya tose is S.D.’s tune but the arrangements are all R.D.’s.
As a duo-the father and son’s combined talent can never be matched again.
In spite of being so talented and so imaginative, Pancham da was always open to suggestions. He would allow his singers to improvise. People like mom could sing the same song ten different ways and then he would sit down and take what he thought was the best out of that. Only A.R. Rahman does that these days. He will let mom sing the way she wants. She will sing the
same line 10 different ways and he then sits down and takes what he feels is the best.
Of course R.D. in a very nice way, would extract the very best out of his singers and make them sing until he was satisfied.
Like he would tell mom-Asha ji, you’ve reached 90 percent-you just have to extract that remaining 10 percent and slowly and steadily get it out of her!
Your mom jokingly complained that R.D gave his best songs to Lata ji. I heard her sing Raina beeti Jaye and she actually sang it better. I have always considered your mother a better singer than her sister. When I said that to her, she hushed me up!
Mom is very loyal that way. I can’t say that loyalty is reciprocated but thanks for saying that. As her son I believe that she is indeed the greatest singer in the world, but I’m obviously biased! Well R.D. was a very talented musician but he also never had the courage to stand his ground, even if he felt my mother would have done a better job with a song. He would often
tell me in private that mom would have sung this and this song better. The producers are the ones who hold the purse strings, and Pancham da was insecure-he felt if he stood up and told the producer that let Asha sing this, the producer would not repeat him in his next movie. R.D was also much younger, and too respectful-unlike senior musicians like O.P Nayyar who would
throw a producer out if they dared interfere in his work-he would tell them don’t tell me how to do my job-get out.
I still remember this incident with Khayyam sahib who gave the memorable music of Umrao Jaan, among other films. He was facing hard times and a producer approached him to give music in his film. Khayyam Sahib said-fine, this is the way I work, and these are my requirements. The producer said-well actually this is not what we want-instead can you do this and that?
Khayyam sahib got up, politely showed him the door and said-you see that road –if you go straight and turn that way, it will take you to musician Bhappi Lahiri’s house-he will be able to do what you want, I wont. In spite of being so hard up, he would not compromise on his integrity as a musician. R.D was too tentative. He was heavily into cricket and one day he said
to me-you know your aunt Lata is like Bradman and your mom is like Sobers. Your aunt does great batting, but your mom does batting and bowling and even gets the wickets.
He knew mom’s caliber and did his best to bring it to the forefront but his hands were tied. Mom on the other hand would often record songs for her sister when she was away, so that Lata ji could come back and dub over that. But there was one song from Sholay which Lata ji sang, that R.D openly said Mom would have done a better job, if the producer had agreed to let
her sing it. The song was jab tak hai jaan, jaane jahan main nachoongi picturised on Hema ji.
Of course there were songs like chura liya, dum maro dum and lo mera pyaar le lo, which no one but mom could have sung. The level of difficulty that she was given to sing in many songs, were far beyond what Lata ji often sang, but mom made it look easy. It’s only when you attempt to sing those songs you realize how beyond your scope they are. No wonder many of the new
singers have not touched some of those songs, even when they do remakes of the golden oldies.
In the song O meri jaan maine kaha, a note that mom hit was outside the scale.
One of the songs that had R.D was totally ecstatic about was teri meri yaari badi purani..he came back very late after recording it, dragged me to his car and drove off-he kept rewinding the song and playing it and saying-look how well she has sung this.” All the Teesri Manzil numbers were tough, most songs picturised on Helen were usually tough numbers.
I used to often visualize her sing bahon me chale aa from Anamika, instead of Lata ji.
Actually mom has sung that when she tours, but that is one song where she feels only Lata ji could have sung it and she loves the way the song came out. So whenever she sings that number she says before the song that she is simply honoring her sister’s talent, nothing else.
Does your mom ever regret not choosing classical music over film music? She has done Legacy with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
Pandit Jasraj says to this day that he wishes mom had become a classical singer, but the path was shown to her by her guru.
He told her she could choose classical and will do very well, but she will struggle and won’t make much money. The way to greatness would be this new music. She literally followed him to a T and says she has no regrets.
Look at the amazing albums she has released in so many different genres, as a result.
When you look at the poor quality of most songs that people are singing, how does your mom find a balance between singing songs like Qambaqht ishk which probably became a hit because of her style of singing, and finding something that challenges her as an artist?
That era when Raj kapoor took an entire day to record a song is over. Movies and songs are being done on the run. They are geared nowadays towards the NRI markets abroad. I think the NRIs are so home sick and so starved for connections to India, that they lap up anything sent their way. That is why a lot of films and albums that flop in India, do very well abroad.
Producers and directors are always looking first at what sells. I personally think Shahrukh Khan was totally miscast in Devdas, but because he sells, he was taken. Will Devdas ever go down in the annals of history as a classic, like Mughal-e Azam, in spite of the extravagance-I greatly doubt it.
That is why mom does so many different kind of albums. She also sings for low budget films like Umrao Jaan, where every song she has sung has been so memorable. In fact she almost bypassed Umrao Jaan because she was so busy, but the director Muzzafar Ali who knows my sister requested her to persuade mom to at least hear the songs out. He didn’t feel anyone else could sing those songs. When mom heard the melodies, she loved them . She was told they couldn’t pay her much and she said don’t worry about that. I’m delighted to be singing these high quality numbers. Even Rekha cribbed to her about the low remuneration and
mom said Rekha do the film, the story is great, the music excellent - stick it out. People remember the film to this day for Rekha’s performance - she looked so gorgeous as well- and the film’s music. Mom’s songs are remembered to this day. The film netted Rekha the National Award for best actress. She acknowledged that it was mom’s advice that helped her stick it out.
It is films like these or certain albums that she has done away from the run of the mill stuff, that give her the creative satisfaction of having done something special.
Its also very interesting how professional my aunt and mom are-they will never give unwanted advice to any music director they sing for. Mom will sing even the most mediocre composition with her heart and soul in it. Maybe that is why all of them go on to become such big hits.
About 15 years ago David Harrington, the founder of the band started listening to Hindi music. Each time he liked a song, he would check the music director out and each time he invariably found that the song was composed by R.D. and sung by mom. He has said that he considers Pancham to be the greatest composer from India in this century at par with many western classical greats in the way he interpreted music, and in the sounds he created. While we being from the same country listen to the lyrics, David who couldn’t understand the lyrics, focused only on the music and the compositions and what he heard made him realize what a genius R.D. was. David decided that one day he was going to work with R.D and mom.
All his life R.D. was frustrated by the fact that his music was not showcased before a global audience as it deserved to be.
When David finally decided on the album, Pancham had passed away and he realized that the person who knew him most closely was mom. When she was approached to do this album, she agreed because it also meant taking R.D. ‘s music to a global audience and fulfilling his dream.
David was quite blown away by mom’s range-its like Pavarotti doing a Michael Jackson. It can only be done by Asha Bhosle. No other singer male or female can diversify their style to such a huge extent as mom can. The album was nominated for a Grammy and has been appreciated world wide.
R.D was a great musician but he never had a good manager or a good business sense. I wish he had lived to see this.
Your mom has changed with the times so beautifully, and you have been with her every step of the way. What are the things that you think capture the essence of your mother.
I think the most important thing in mom’s life is her family. She can lose everything and not be bothered as long as her family is with her. She is exceedingly loyal, she never gives up and she has amazing stamina. Mom has done with barely 3-4 hours of sleep every day for years. Her other siblings and all of us would keel over but not her, and yet nothing affects her voice.
She is extremely hard working and stubborn-when some one says it can’t be done, she will go all out to prove them wrong.
Her musical career started in 1943, and she did her first stage show in 1977. Today every one who can, hops on a plane and tries to make as much money in as short a time. For mom quality was most important. Even in her stage shows, she is clear that we will tour once every two years and bring something new each time.
Even if the songs she sings are the same, the presentation will be different and fresh. That is why when she performed in Atlanta at the Raina Foundation’s charity event, we introduced dancers, a magic show by her, the musicians moved around, instead of staying static, and she sang her life’s story in a song that we all like but no one sings-Mera naam hai shabnam, as an introduction.
Mom loves being out doors and she is a trendsetter. She loved artificial beads and wore colored saris when the trend was white saris and heavy diamond or gold jewelry. Initially people were scandalized and then every one started following her That is why all the youngsters today follow her style.
So who is mom’s favorite?
She wont say! I personally think its Hemant because she had him so young and literally grew up with him. She loves Varsha because she is the only daughter. Mom actually went to the Mahalakshmi temple to pray for a daughter, but she tells me she is very proud of the way I have handled things in life and that she thinks I’m very sharp. I let her off the hook in spite of
this answer because now that I have kids, I know there really are no favorites, you just love each kid in a unique and special way.