Asha Bhosle: The Undisputed Queen Of Playback Singing

Even though Asha Bhosle has been less prolific of late she’s one of the few evergreen singers from the golden age, whose music still ringing loud and clear, connecting with many young listeners of today.

Ragini Daliya
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Asha Bhosle birthday
Legendary singer Asha Bhosle turns 89 today. A singer who has remained relevant through generations, Bhosle's craft and mellifluous voice have withstood the test of time and transcended the boundaries of languages. She made her singing debut in 1943 and over the decades has sung over 11,000 songs in 20 different languages, gifting us tracks for every occasion and mood.

Bhosle, just like her elder sister late Lata Mangeshkar, studied classical music from their father, Dinanath Mangeshkar. It didn’t take long before she too became a playback singer. Both the sisters started out in the Hindi film industry when playback singing was at a nascent stage. And yet, for many years, Bhosle had to struggle with the tag of ‘Number 2,’ living under the gigantic shadow of Lata Mangeshkar. But with her hard work, dedication and versatility, Bhosle eventually carved out a legacy of her own.

Asha Bhosle birthday: A legend in her own right

For decades, there have been incessant talks about the unspoken rivalry between the two sisters. Bhosle once addressed the tales and said, "She’s my sister and my favourite singer. People did carry tales and try to create trouble, but blood is thicker than water. I remember, sometimes both of us would be at a function and some industry types would ignore me and interact only with her, as if to prove their loyalty. Later, didi and I would have a good laugh!”

Mangeshkar too addressed rumours of professional rivalry with her sister, explaining that Bhosle had ‘evolved’ differently from her. “There never was any professional rivalry between us. She evolved a completely different style of singing from me. What she could do, I couldn’t do. Even with Pancham (RD Burman, who was married to Bhosle from 1980 till his death in 1994 ) the songs that I sang for him were very distinct from what Asha sang for Pancham. I sang 'Na koi umang hai' for Pancham in Kati Patang. I could never do 'Mera naam hai shabnam' in the same film. It had to be Asha. Our individual areas of singing were clearly marked out.”

Asha Bhosle birthday Asha Bhosle And Lata Mangeshkar

A voice to the Helens of the world


Dressed elegantly in her signature saris, hair adorned with a gajra, Bhosle was far removed from the sequined body suits and frenzied dancing of the “vamps” in Hindi movies. Yet it was her voice that lent supreme to the Helens of the world, in the mandatory cabaret or club songs of seventies’ cinema. It were her velvety vocals that set a milestone with '">Dum Maaro Dum', a hedonistic anthem composed by Burman pictured on the gorgeous Zeenat Aman, pushing the established ideas of morality and music. The defiant hippie cry was subsequently banned on Air India Radio, even though plot of the movie was anti-drugs.

The first music director to recognise and groom Bhosle’s talent was OP Nayyar. He gave her a break in 1956’s C.I.D, but she finally came into her own with Nayyar’s 1957 hit Naya Daur. According to Bhosle’s “musical biographer” Raju Bharatan, the Nayyar-Bhosle combination produced 324 songs, a staggering number that includes hits like 'Dekho kasam se', 'Aaiye meharbaan', 'Isharo isharo', 'Jaaiye aap kahan jayenge', 'Yehi woh jagah hai' and 'Aaao huzur tumko', to name just a handful.

Bhosle's sultry vocals elevated RD Burman's composition; their musical partnership eventually grew into a romantic relationship – her second marriage.

“Music was the basic foundation of our marriage,” Bhosle once said about her husband, popularly called Pancham. Talking to film critic Khalid Mohamed, she noted, “We could listen to Bismillah Khan, the Beatles, Shirley Bassey.. and so many more for hours and hours. Pancham would emerge from his shower, in a lungi kurta, at 9.30 am and till 3 pm, we’d be humming together to the albums of John Coltrane, Earth Wind and Fire, Sergio Mendes, Santana, the Rolling Stones, Blood Sweat and Tears, Chuck Correa, Osibisa. Our taste for music was eclectic, and that was our everlasting bond.”

With Burman, she could brilliantly switch between the rock-infused 'Aaja aaja' (Teesri Manzil); cabaret Piya tu ab toh aaja (Caravan); the seductive 'Chura Liya Hai Tumne' and the classical 'Piya baawari' (Khubsoorat) on another.

Pancham and Bhosle's marriage spanned fourteen years but the couple had to deal with much speculation towards the end. She was juggling work and two homes, one with Pancham and the other with her children living in her Peddar Road  flat. Although towards the end the couple were reportedly estranged, she continued recording the songs he composed in the eighties for movies like Parinda, Ijaazat and 1942: A Love Story.


However, it is 'Mera kuch saaman' from Gulzar-RD Burman’s Ijaazat that defines her brilliant career, a song that till today continues to be a poetic missive to love, regret and the power of memory. With Khayyam’s Umrao Jaan, whose dulcet ghazals continue to mesmerise listeners, Bhosle achieved an unparalleled range in playback singing.

Even though Bhosle has been less prolific of late she’s one of the few singers from the golden age who is instantly identifiable, her voice still ringing loud and clear, connecting with many young listeners of today.

Suggested Reading: The Nightangle Of India Passes Away, Leaves Her Songs To Remember Her By


Asha Bhosle women in music