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R.D. Burman: Trendsetter
by Raju Bharatan
He was a jet-set trend-setter.
Naushad Ali, in his prime, was referred to as 'The Maestro with the Midas Touch'. I would likewise refer to Rahul Dev Burman as 'The Maestro with the Mod Touch'. "RD Was by far the stand-out talent among the younger line of composers, at all times innovative like me, at all times experimenting like me,'' says Salil Chowdhury. "In fact, I would go step further and rank him alongside all the top composers of my generation, such was his range and variety.''
Salil is never one given t
o sentiment, not even when he is speaking of a composing prodigy who is no more. Salil, in fact, has no great opinion of Naushad. But he does rate RD highly. Salil's point is that Naushad was, at all times, predictable, RD was not.
To each his own view. But RD's early passing should teach us vintagers a permanent lesson: Never to be dismissive of young talent. The Naushad-S.D. Burman generation consistently ran down R.D. Burman. Today, when so many of RD's tunes live on in the mind and heart after his death, the generation is constrained to revise its view.
That is why I would not hesitate to pass instant value judgment on either Nadeem-Shravan or Anand-Milind. Copy they may, but was there any composer in his time who was accused of being more imitative than R.D. Burman? The point is, within the ambit of being imitative, you can be creative. You can bring your own stamp even to a tune whose base is borrowed. This RD consistently did. Much of his early work was considered inspired by foreign composers. Yet he stayed on to become an inspirational influence to the younger array of composers. So fresh-sounding was RD that you just could not believe he was on the scene for 33 years. RD, in his lifetime, could not even dream of the possibility of his death meriting an editorial in The Times of India. Even his illustrious father was not accorded this editorial distinction when SD discovered, on October 31, 1975, that somebody up there liked him even more than we mere mortals on earth did.
Dada Burman composed some of his best tunes for Bimal Roy's Devdas: Talat's Mitwa mitwa yeh kaise anbhuj aag re and Kis ko khabar thi kis ko yakeen tha, Lata's Ab aage teri marzi, O jaane wale ruk jaa koti dam, Jise tu kabul kar le, Geeta-Manna's Aan milo aan milo Shyam saanwre, Saajan ki ho gayi gori and, not the least, Mubarak Begam's Who no aayege palat ke and Rafi's Manzil ke chah main. When word spread that R.D. Burman was scoring the music for Gulzar's 'Devdas', the idea of his compositionally measuring up to his father was treated with withering contempt. But, today, can we be sure tht RD would not have done as good a job as SD on 'Devdas'? After all, RD had his roots in Ali Akbar.
Just think, would the Gulzar-RD teaming not rank as being as creative as any musical collaboration we have known in our films? Who but the Gulzar-R.D. Burman du could have got Lata-Kishore to articulate, as tellingly in 'Aandhi' as these two singers did, Tere bina zindagi se koyi shikwa to nahin, Is mod se jaate hain and Tum aa gaye ho noor aa gaya hai? Who but this team could have got Bhupinder to blend so sensitively with Lata in Beeti no beetayi raina ("Parichay"), Meethe bol bole bole paayaliya ("Kinara") and Naam gum jaayega chera yeh badal jayaega ("Kinara").
Lata's articulation of Meri awaaz hi pehchan hai gar yaad rahe has become the Gulzar-RD puchline by which her velvety vocals are treated by us now and forever. Much like Asha Bhonsle, in her profound grief, being left all to herself today in a Bharat Vyas-. Bulsara vein of jag ke liye, aaj rone do mujhe pal ek apne bhi liye.
The Gulzar-RD combine, on Hema Malini in 'Khushboo', offered us a spot comparison of the best that could be drawn out of Asha and Lata alike on the same heroine: Bechare dil kya kare sawwan jale bhadon jale, on the one hand, do naina mein ansoo bhare hain nindiya kaise samaye, on the other.
I have studiedly touched on the softer side of RD, which was best represented in his case by Gulzar, to bring home Pancham's true intrinsic worth as a composer. As the pace-setter, RD was the trend-setter in the 70s. If the 90s found him confused and uncertain about what to give, it was because RD made the cardinal mistake of going public, in the film glossies, about the fact that 23 of his films had flopped in a row.
You do not do this in films, where a 24th film could prove a superhit and wipe out the memory of all earlier failure. As it turned out, that 24th film was 'Sunny', the film in which RD showed his class afresh the way he got Asha and Suresh Wadkar to vocalise the tandem: Aur kya ahd-e-wafa hote hain. But the resurrection came too late. RD had irretrievably damaged his cause with that '23 flops' acknowledgment. Look at Naushad, to this day he carries on as though nothing has happened.
But RD, he was incredibly naive for one who had hit the high spots. For one who had been a wave-maker, RD just did not know how to blow his own trumpet, he needed Bhupinder to do that for him! RD strangely had no comprehension of his own talent, no sense of achievement. Even his father did not settle for the 'Chalti ka Naam Gaadi' attitude that RD did. This, when RD was no less adept at scoring in every idiom, ranging from Kishore-Manna-Mehmood's ek chatur naar kar ke singar ('Padosan') to Asha's Mere kuchh saaman tumhare paas pada hai ('Ijaazat').
Asha aptly pinpointed RD's contrasting class when she named Mera kuch saaman tumhare paas pada hai ('Ijaazat') and O mere sona re sona re sona re ('Teesri Manzil') among her ten best of all time. Likewise, Kishore Kumar had accorded RD a rare honour when be picked not one but wo of his tunes among his all-time ten best: Chingari koti bhade (from 'Amar prem') and Mere naina saawan bhadon (from 'Mehbooba'). No doubt, Kishore Kumar was to RD what Mohammed Rafi was to OP. Yet there was no cause for RD to have sat paralysed for as long as he did when Kishore passed away. It was a body-blow, of course. But never in this industry must you give the impression that it is a death-blow. RD did exactly that on the passing away of Kishore.
With reason, you might say. After all, who but Kishore could have rendered for RD with such meaning and feeling, O mere di ke chain ('Mere Jeevan Sathi'), Kehna hai kehna hai khena hai aaj tume yeh pehli baat ('Padosan'), O maanjhi re ('Khushboo'), Musafir hoon yaaron ('Parichay'), Yeh jo mohabbat hai ('Kati Patang'), Raat kali ek khwab main aayee ('Buddha Mil Gaya'), Diye jalte hain ('Namak Haram'), Zingadi ke safar mein ('Aap Ki Kasam'), Meri bhigi bhigi si ('Anamika') and Kuchh to log kahenge ('Amar Prem') to mention just a fistful of tunes that lend teeth to the argument that RD it was who, even more than SD, switched the aural-oral allegiance of a whole new generation from Rafi to Kishore. RD had proved with 'Bhalika Badhu', in 1976 itself, that he had only to wok on son Amit Kumar to draw out of him the Kishore Kumar effect: Bade ache lagte hai, yeh dharti yeh nadiya hey raina aur tum. It would have needed very hard work on RD's part, no doubt, to get Amit going in Kishore's footsteps in the quicksands of filmdom. But he should have readied himself for this slog after having already scored with the same Amit Kumar in 'Love Story'. Yet Pancham just sat back, arguing Kishore was Kishore. This was true. But only upto a point in films, where a music director has to be something of a quick-change artist. I am not arguing against Kishore Kumar, only for Amit Kumar. RD's music had got so cast in the Kishore mould that, immediately, Pancham needed a prototype. And what better prototype than the son?
Of course, RD was unlucky that Kishore's passing was followed by the first signs of a sway, in the industry, away from Asha Bhonsle. None of the new singers were a patch on Asha. But a younger set of music directors wanted younger singers. The Bhappi Lahiri challenge had built up to a point where RD should more urgently have explored variety in the voices he employed, without really moving away from Asha Bhonsle. But here, too, RD was slow to react.
Once again I am not arguing against Asha Bhonsle, only for R.D. Burman and the spirit of youth he had represented when he made his big breakthrough with the same Asha through 'Jawani Diwani', 'Yadon Ki Baarat' and 'Khel Khel Main'. Asha, as the Mera naam hai shabnam - Piya tu ab too aa ja - Chura liya haim tume ne jo dil do - Sapna mera toot gaya girl had sex-symbolised the ethos of RD's music in the 70s. But the 80s was a new decade that called for new adjustments.
RD, at one point, had overtaken the formidable team of Laxmikant-Pyarelal. But he let himself be beaten back by vastly inferior talents in the 80s, while Laxmikant-Pyarelal fought back like tigers. In retrospect, it can therefore be said that RD faltered at the crucial moment, LD didn't. And this is an industry in which you are only as successful as your last film. A record of 23 flops took some living down. RD buckled under the pressure.
All this cannot alter the fact that RD set a trend with Asha as he did with Kishore. No other composer would have dared to jettison Rafi the way RD did -- even Dada Burman was hesitant in making a switch here. But RD showed the way and others followed suit, courtesy Rajesh Khanna. Amitabh Bachchan, to beat Rajesh Khanna at his own game, had to take on his voice. Kishore thus became established as the Voice of Youth and it was RD who had set the course for this. RD's hold on electronics, his insights into Western notation, gave him a rare edge. But, minus Kishore, RD found his keen edge blunted. There was a generation change due in our film music. RD failed to see this change coming in 1987 as he had one in 1971. The cross commercialism of the neo-film industry also undid him. When Bhappi Lahiri started quoting less at one point, RD should have stuck to his price. He caved in. And paid the price.
But the price never did matter much to RD. This way, he was like Dada Burman, who was happy working only in his set-ups. RD always was a bit of a loner, comfortable only in his own selection company. He was unsuited to the totally groupy style in which the industry began to function in the 80s. As Gulzar too began to lose commercial clout, there was less and less opportunity for RD to make a different kind of music, which he loved to do. He needed Gulzar badly to balance his hula-hula stuff. The 'Ghar' style of Gulzar option, by which RD could come up with something like Aaj kal paaon zamin par nahin padte mere (Lata) and Aap ke aankhon mein kuch mehke huye se raas hai (Lata-Kishore), was no longer available to RD in the late 80s.
RD's mod image as a youth composer also became a bar to his inevitable growth as a composer. When 'Shanarabharanam' was to be remade in Hindi, the point about who should compose for the film was referred to me. I suggested the name of R.D. Burman and then rang to ask Pancham whether he was game. "I would love to do the theme, be sure I'll surprise them with the purity of my classical score,'' RD said.
Yet his image was all wrong for the theme. There was no chance, I was told, of the distributors accepting the label, 'Music R.D. Burman', in a weighty remake of the scale of 'Shankarabharanam'. The remake finally went to Laxmikant-Pyarelal as 'Sur Sangam'. The K. Vishwanath film flopped in the face of a thematic enough score by LP. What kind of a score would RD have created? The same kind as he would have evoked for Gulzar's 'Devdas' vis-a-v9s S.D. Burman. But the RD image just did not classically jell.
It was this image that RD unsuccessfully fought in the later part of his career. As convener of the Sur-Singar Samsad Film Awards committee, i remember RD's Lata classic from 'Chandan Ka Palna', O Ganga maiya paar laga de, coming up for live consideration. But it was finally rejected, not on its own merit, but on the grounds that Sur-Singar's name would be in the mud if it presented a classical award to R.D. Burman.
In the end, therefore, RD discovered that he was acceptable neither as a light composer nor as a serious one. Result: he got confussedabout what to give. And once this confusion enters a composer's mind, it is the end.
Yet the end, when it came, saw those who had come to scoff, remain to praise. RD had become part of our vintage mind-set without our being aware of it. We knew, in our heart of hearts, that he was as much a trend-setter as his father, if in a different style. But we had religiously refused to acknowledge his fibre and calibre. Those who the gods love, die young. And when they die after having influenced a whole generation in its musical thinking, we finally grudgingly accept that the jet-setter was like one other in films.
For a composer of the depth and dimension of Salil Chowdhury to rate R.D. Burman alongside the top composers of his era is, indeed, acclaim indeed. It needed uncommon talent for the son to emerge from 'The Jet' shadow of his father. Pancham came into Dada Burman's music room as early as 'Nujawan' (1951). And even at that early age had a keen enough musical ear to question SD's use of Rabindra-sangeet in the purely Goan setting of Kaise yeh jaagi agan ('Jaal').
Handpicked by Guru Dutt to score the music for his 'Raaz' at the age of 19, RD discovered that this cineaste was never firm on any tune he okayed. ''I don't know about other composers,'' Pancham told me, ''but I personally found Guru Dutt could never make up his mind about the final tune he wanted. You could never say he had finally okayed a piece of music and that, to my way of thinking, is not the sign of a direction who knows his mind. Raj Kapoor, by contrast, was totally different. He okayed the very first tune I played for 'Dharam Karam', the tune that acquired on him the grab of Ek din bik jaayega maati ke mol''.
Hear this 'Dharam Karam' tune carefully again, is it in any way inferior to any of the many straight-line tune Shanker composed for Raj Kapoor? Give credit to RD for the fact that he instinctively recognised what, precisely, Raj Kapoor wanted. And got it right the first time out. RD thus tuned as easily with Raj Kapoor as he had with Dev Anand. He vibed easily enough with Rafi when that singer was at the top. And then helped turn Kishore into a singing legend. If O.P. Nayyar peerlessly exploited the bass in Asha's voice, it was RD who discovered her true range to strum.
RD's spaciously ambient music room at Santa Cruz in Bombay, to who does it go? to Asha Bhonsle as his legally wedded wife? If so, what does Asha do with it? I know Asha Bhonsle has always secretly nursed this ambition of being a composer herself. Will Asha take up where RD left off? The spirit of RD, will it come back to us through the still resonant vocals of Asha Bhonsle? and what of younger singers under the baton of Asha Bhonsle? A baton what would have been handed on to Asha by her very own Pancham? Come on Asha, there still is the Santa Cruz room at the top.
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Asha tai and i
short little man, ekdum Bangali
I have to admit, as I climb the stairs to the first floor, that I've never been more nervous in my life. Songs play in my head - Piya tu ab to aaja and Dil cheez kya hai - but the effect is far from soothing. Because I'm about to interview the person who sang these songs, and what introduction can I possibly come up with for Asha Bhosle, apart from the fact that for a fan of her music like myself, I'm awed by the privilege of meeting her?
But still, here I am at her door at 11 am sharp. A maid lets me in. And there she is. Asha Bhosle, a tiny, saree-clad figure, busy on the phone - making travel arrangements, of all things, for some relatives. She looks tired. The shoot for her new video ended last night at 11 pm. Don't think that's late? Hullo, she's 72. She's your grandmother, bubba. And possibly the most active septuagenarian Indian music artist today.
There can't be a soul under the age of 60 in India who hasn't grown up with Asha Bhosle's voice somewhere in the background. She was born in 1933 and has been a professional singer for 60 years. She's also been interviewed so often that I can't imagine there's a single question she hasn't been asked yet - and neither can she. "Just don't ask me about the state of music today," she warns, smiling, as she settles down for the conversation. Ah. A standard question, I presume.
So I begin with what I hope is not a standard question. What are her first thoughts when she wakes up every morning? To judge by her reaction, this is a new question for her, because she laughs and thinks before replying. "These days and #8230; I don't really know," she says. "I generally wake up to the sounds of my grandchildren playing. They come to my room and wake me up. But otherwise my eyes normally open by 5.30-6, and then I think, what do I do so early? I may make myself some tea, sit around and #8230; Very funny thoughts come to mind. I'm a bit of a dreamer, been one since childhood. I sometimes have very bizarre thoughts, like I'm travelling in a plane and we crash in a forest and the savages kidnap me and force me to sing, and what song should I sing then?"
She laughs at the very thought and continues: "See what I mean? Just really funny and bizarre thoughts. Like, I don't really remember roads. I still don't know how to get to Lokhandwala! I'm always in my own world. My eyes may be open but I'm always dreaming of various other things connected to various other things." I know for a fact that Ashaji sang her first playback number in 1944, when she was just 10 years old. What I didn't know is that she also acted in that film. Two films, in fact. "The first was a Marathi film called Majha Bal where I both acted and sang. I played an orphan and I get together with the other kids and sing a song," says Ashaji. "The other one was Badi Maa where Didi (Lata Mangeshkar) sang for me."
Was it fun, I inquire, and receive a sardonic look in response. "I absolutely hated acting," she says shortly. "I decided right there that it's a terrible experience. Just for one shot you sit around all day in the studio. Lighting, re-takes, repetition and #8230; baap re. I salute actors. You need tremendous patience." But at that age, singing wasn't a whole lot of fun either. Picture a little girl in front of a big mike in a studio and you may have an idea of what went through Ashaji's head the very first time she sang playback. "I was so scared that I thought to myself I'll never sing again," she laughs. "I was very nervous and afraid. I just wanted to get it over and go home."
It was performing that was the problem, not the singing itself. "As a child I used to sing a lot," Ashaji remembers. "When I was by myself, I would sing at the top of my voice. But if anyone else came into the room, I would fall silent. Visitors would come and I would be asked to sing, but I wouldn't. I'd only sing after they left. So I think my mental make-up is such that I needed a push to get out there and sing. Only then would I would perform, not otherwise."
In the 1930s, Ashaji was just a new voice in the music industry. To begin with, she was Lataji's younger sister, and Lataji was already a singing star by the time Ashaji made an entrance. Then there were other vocal legends of the time to contend with: Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum, Noor Jehan and #8230; What was it like back then? I ask.
"It was chaos," she says. "Everyone would prick up their ears the minute somebody new came into the picture. It was like, who is this new singer? How does she sing? What's her voice like? One day I was taken to a studio in Worli. In those days we just had two track analog recordings, so there I was, along with two other girls, in front of a single mike. I had one solo line to sing. One singer would sing her part and move to make place for the second one. And I could not get my chance. They wouldn't let me. I just stood to one side. I was just a newcomer, what could I say? Then masterji (the music director Hansraj Bahl) came and said, 'Let her sing.' So I stepped up and sang and everyone sat up and said, 'She has great quality to her voice. Great modulation.' And then masterji gave me two solo songs for the film Raat Ki Raani."
After that break, Ashaji met the music composer Roshan, who was an assistant at the time. "He took me to another big music director of that time, Khurshid Anwar, and every one began to appreciate what I had to offer," she remembers. "That's how I began getting work. But one thing I have to say is that whatever song I got to sing, big or small, I put my best into it. No thoughts otherwise. It was constant practice towards perfection." There's never been any doubt about that. Ever. But I want to know what Ashaji thought of the other singers of the time. Stars like Lataji, her sister, Geeta Dutt and Noor Jehan.
She stops to think, and takes a deep breath before replying. "Well, I have always liked Didi's songs and have been a constant listener and admirer of her style and the tonality that she applied to the compositions," she says. "And Noor Jehanji was a great singer, I listened to her a lot. But the rest of them never really impressed me as singers. I liked English music a lot. I can't speak the language, but I like the music. In Kolhapur, there used to be a theatre called Padma Talkies. I remember seeing Gone with the Wind there, and all the Frank Sinatra films, the Dean Martin films and #8230; all the popular films.
Then there was Carmen Miranda (a hugely popular Brazilian singing star in 1940s Hollywood), and there were all their singing styles, their dancing styles, their orchestras. I really love that period. Unfortunately, what we had here was the usual sad screechy violins and poor production systems. So from that point of view, our musicality did not impress me as much as western orchestrations and arrangements. Either I would listen to that or Lata Mangeshkar's songs."
I can't believe what I'm hearing. Lataji or western music, and nothing else? I give Ashaji a sceptical look. "Definitely," she defends her statement. "Because what used to happen in our industry then, is that if a singer sang in a particular style, then that singer would be given only that kind of songs to sing, all the time! Which is very boring. That's why people say my songs have such variety. When I first heard Carmen Miranda sing, I was bowled over. A few years later I incorporated one of her phrases into a song I was singing. The music director, C Ramachandra, jumped up in astonishment and shouted, 'What'sthat you're singing? It's fantastic!'"
Obviously then, I remark, that international interjection must have worked well for the song. Ashaji agrees that it did. "But then everybody got on the defensive and criticised my non-traditional approach," she says. "Certain music directors said it was a travesty of Indian music and shouldn't be done." A typical response, I think out loud. Nobody likes a rebel. Anything hat ke would shake them up. Ashaji concurs.
I look at my watch, it is noon. An hour has passed already and I have only an hour left before Ashaji has to leave for a radio interview. And I haven't even reached halfway down my list of questions yet. The noise outside has become deafening. Peddar Road, where Ashaji's apartment is situated, is not only one of Mumbai's arterial roads, but also one of the city's busiest streets, with residential apartment buildings, a school, a college close by, a hospital, restaurants and shops - the works. Ashaji's first floor flat faces the street - and the balcony doors are wide open.
So there's a cacophony of honking cars, buses and the occasional wail of an ambulance speeding by. And here I am, sitting in front of the first lady of Indian film and pop songs. It all seems so surreal, like I'm in some black and white film of the '50s. It's only natural then, that my thoughts turn to films of the '50s. Specifically the film Naya Daur, where Ashaji came into her own with the song Maang ke saath tumhara, written by the great composer, OP Nayyar. In fact, she had a very successful run of songs with OP, with hits from a multitude of films including Kashmir Ki Kali, Howrah Bridge, Mere Sanam, Ek Musafir Ek Hasina and others. What was that period like for her?
She looks away toward the balcony. "During that period there were many music directors, and with every one of them I had at least one hit song," says Ashaji. "But I would always get songs for the second heroine, the vamp and so on. Never the heroine. But in Naya Daur I sang for the main lead played by Vyjantimala, and I got this film because of the producer, BR Chopra. Nothing else." Producers were emperors in those days, she says, and they made all the decisions, not the directors or music directors. So Ashaji gives Chopra all the credit for her success in Naya Daur and subsequent films, not OP.
As far as I'm concerned though, the OP Nayyar-Asha team created music magic. They were at their peak in 1957-1958 with around nine releases in both years and a string of successful scores, including Naya Daur, for which he won a Best Music Director award. In about 70 films, they scaled new heights in Indian film music. He moulded Asha's voice and gave her style and respectability. But I can't go into that with her right now, because Ashaji's grandchildren have just returned from school, and there are kisses and cuddles all around. After a bit of cajoling, the children are taken by one of the maids, and we're able to get back to the interview.
I decide to move on to a pivotal year in her career. 1966. The year of the film that changed her as a singer - Teesri Manzil. As an observer of music trends, I am curious to know what Indian film music was like in the '60s. After all, there were huge changes in music styles all over the world in that decade. What was the atmosphere like in the Indian music industry then? She smiles fondly. "Well, there were a lot of recordings happening, lots of film work. But the atmosphere was such that no music director would listen to anyone's work in progress.
Nobody would copy another's work. If a composer knew that a certain musical phrase was familiar, then the whole composition was changed so as to keep the song as distinct as possible. There were great lyric writers, too. Shakeel Badayuni, Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, H S Bihari, among many others. Great lyrics, deep meanings. Unlike today."
The popularity of the songs of the '60s even today will attest to that fact, but now I'd like to focus on the Teesri Manzil phenomenon. Not undermining the breakout performances of Shammi Kapoor and the tour-de-force music of RD Burman, Ashaji goes into an anecdote. "We were having a sitting at Pancham's (RD Burman) bungalow in Khar. Pancham, Majrooh saab, Nasir Husain, Shammi Kapoor and I were there. Pancham sat at the harmonium and began to present songs for the film. He started singing Deewana mujhsa nahin, which is actually a Nepali folk song - O kancha maatailo," she begins.
"When Pancham sang the first line, Shammi jumped up and began to sing the Nepali song! Everyone fell silent, we were all thinking, that's the end of the music of this film. Then Pancham took his taaveez which he wore around his neck, kissed it once, touched it to his forehead and started the next song, which was Aaja aaja, and Shammi just erupted with joy and everyone went ballistic and #8230; with a huge sense of relief though," she laughs. "But that was a completely different style of singing, so on my return home in my car, I continuously practiced singing 'aaja aaja' in that breathy way, and my driver asked me if I was having an asthma attack!" Her laughter is hearty, and I laugh with her, appreciating the memory that is still so alive in her mind.
But her mention of Shammi Kapoor instantly conjures up images of Mohammad Rafi in my mind - it's amazing how the star and the singer are so indelibly welded together - and that in turn reminds me of Kishore Kumar. These singers left a huge void when they passed away, and I ask her if she feels it too. "Void?" she questions with a smile. "There is a huge chasm, a gigantic vacuum! They were both unique singers. Rafi saab would sing what he was told to sing, true to the composition. An exact rendition was his strength. But Kishoreda was the magician. He would reinterpret the song in his style, giving it a new twist. There is a saying that goes: 'In between the heart and the head is the throat.' If you sing from the heart, you exaggerate, if you sing from the head, you calculate. The trick is to align the two and let your throat do the singing, then the song is perfect. That's what Kishoreda would do. And that's what I had to preempt and return to him in the songs we sang together."
I mentally run through all the Asha-Kishore duets I can remember and am exhausted. Time to move on, then, to matters more personal. Somehow, today, we have begun to think that there would be no Asha without RD Burman. Unfair I know, but and #8230;
So I ask about her partnership with him. One that lasted till his passing. "Our partnership began on a professional level as music director and singer, continued into the relationship of husband and wife, and ended as the best of friends," says Ashaji. "From the point of view of a singer who is looking at a music director, he was mercurial, inventive, innovative. He was put on this earth to make music. He saw everything through music. Funny, friendly, warm, jovial yet driven and very focused. Observant, vigilant and #8230; I could go on." I am reminded by her words of the opening song of Golmaal, where a group of friends sit around a harmonium, singing a song led by Amol Palekar, and I conjure up a mental picture of RD, music, friends, fun and #8230; but music was everything to him. And that's how it was, she concurs.
So I ask her how she first met RD. Ashaji closes her eyes, going back in time. "The film was Armaan, Fali Mistri's film. There was a recording at Famous Studios. There he was, tight shirt, thick glasses, oily hair slicked back, short little man, ekdum Bangali and #8230;" This doesn't sound very romantic, and neither does what follows. "His father, the great SD Burman, was recording and he introduced us. RD asked for my autograph! He told me he had dropped out of college to pursue music. I reprimanded him for that, but he said, 'why study for something I'll never use? I want to make music. I want to be a music director.'"
I think to myself, he came to Bombay to be a music director and became a legend. A legend we lost on 4th January 1994. When RD died, the Indian music industry lost its soul. Truly. I dare anyone to disagree. But I can't imagine what it's like for Ashaji to endure that loss. "More than his songs, I really miss him," she says, her voice lower than usual. "Miss talking to him, the daily repartee, the music sessions and #8230; His last days were not very good. His name was removed from some of the work he was doing. He could not deal with the trauma of disassociation. Imagine yourself working on something for a while, and suddenly your name is struck from the credits. To an artist that is unbearable. That's what gave him his first heart attack. We took him to London for treatment but the decline had begun. It was only a matter of time and #8230;"
There's silence as Ashaji contemplates RD. And I sit here, looking at a lady of grace and grandeur. A lady of substance and survival. A lady of respectable talent and resilient mind. Because she is the phoenix that rises from the ashes of time to make the world sing to her tune. Ho ja rangeela re and #8230; the singular song that marked the resurgence of Asha Bhosle, this time to infallible heights.
"There was a time when I would sit on my own and think, after RD, now what?" she says, her voice stronger now. "And I did not see any light. But then a good friend of mine, Gopi Kishan, told me, 'Your voice is your paramour, it's what RD loved you for. Don't let that waver.' So I got up and got singing again."
And she bursts into song, right here and now. "Tanha, tanha, yahan pe jeena and #8230;"
I join in. " and #8230;Yeh koi baat hai and #8230;"
And we laugh, like little children. Asha Bhosle has seen, heard and sung more than 60 years of popular Indian film music and more. How has she dealt with each decade, each challenge? "In the '50s, I was a singer for hire. In the '60s, I became 'Asha Bhosle.' That lasted through the '70s," she says, smiling. "Then in the '80s, there was a decline. And I thought, okay, time to retire. Then the '90s brought me back. And now I've reached the point where there's no going down..." She pauses dramatically, then laughs and gestures upward. "Soon it will be time for me to go up."
I tell her that day is very, very far away. She has all the freedom in the world to do whatever she wants. And she has. Songs with boy band Code Red, Boy George, Michael Stipe, Kronos Quartet, AR Rahman. She has a loving family, her son Anand is her rock. He is with her, by her side, always. While her family wants her to retire, take it easy, she keeps going. What is it, I ask her, that keeps her going? "Love and pride," she says after some thought. "Love for singing and pride in the fact that I can. The love people have for my singing and my pride in the songs that are evergreen. When I go out on stage and I see an ocean of people singing along to every lyric that I sing, that is more than enough to keep me going."
And as fate would have it, my time with history has come to an end, leaving me with just a sliver of an opening for one last question. "What is 'your' song?" I ask. "A song that describes you, your life, your songs?" She looks me straight in the eye and says, "Pyar karnewaale, pyar karte hain shaan se, jeete hain shaan se, marte hain shaan se."
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Joined: 24 February 2006
All Credit goes to Appa ji if he did not started the thread I would not have thought about it. Probably it would be sitting on my folder. Few articles that I have collected over the years I love those great musician miss them all not complaining about the present either but the nostalgia that you grew up with is always sweeter and better. Thank for reading.
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