“I consider Chennai my second home,” says Asha Bhosle who was in the city for a recording of a television reality show. Priyadarshini Paitandy catches up with the legendary singer

It’s not often that you expect legendary singer Asha Bhosle to ask you what your favourite Bengali song is. So when she asks which one’s my favourite I am at a loss for an answer that will impress her. Finally, when I come up with a satisfactory choice, she smiles and says, “These are the ones I like,” spontaneously breaking into a medley.

Asha was in the city to shoot for an episode of Vijay TV’s Airtel Super Singer 4 on which she was the guest of honour. The shoot lasts a little over six hours post which one wonders if she will have the energy for an interview. But she appears spirited with hardly a trace of fatigue. “I am 80 but do not consider myself old. It’s all in the mind. Aapke mind main jo hota hai woh face pe dikhta hai. I consider myself young…30 years,” she laughs.

The special episode also features video clips of A.R. Rahman and Kamal Haasan and has music director Karthik Raja, actors Prabhu and his brother Ramkumar visiting the sets to meet Asha. “I consider Chennai my second home. Earlier, I used to stay at Sivaji anna’s (Ganesan) house and even though I didn’t know the language Kamala amma and I would talk till late in the night,” she says.

First visit to Chennai

She remembers visiting Chennai for the first time in the 1960s. Meenam restaurant used to be her favourite then. “Anna used to take us for lunch and the whole restaurant would be emptied for us.” Today she sees quite a few changes in the city… there’s metro rail coming up, the airport looks nice, but the people haven’t changed, they are still simple. Yes, they dance at weddings and wear lehengas but at heart they are still traditional, she observes. She recalls Pasamalar, the first Sivaji movie she ever saw and hums a few lines of popular yesteryear hits ‘Athan enathan’ and ‘Naan pesa ninaipathellam nee pesa vendum’.

Some of the participants are a tad nervous to perform in front of her. “Don’t be scared. I am a simple person,” she says, and at the end of their performances encouragingly adds, “Romba nalla!” The audience on the sets go into raptures every time she croons a song, some of her harkatein even cause goose pimples. The reason that her voice still sounds young and fresh is the result of regular riyaaz. “Without riyaaz the voice starts shaking. At least for half an hour in the morning it’s important to sing Om and Sa Re Ga Ma. I also avoid sour and cold things. I crave ice cream but I have to heat it before eating it,” she laughs.

The music industry might be developing in terms of technology but Asha feels it is at the expense of good music. “It’s easy to become a singer nowadays. Everything is computerised. Earlier, while recording a song we would have the orchestra, the other singer alongside…but now we have to stand alone in a room and sing with headphones on. We don’t even see the hero’s face. Aise main feeling kahan se ayegi?” she wonders.

Seven decades in music

For a singer whose career spans seven decades in the industry, what does music mean to her? “Music is like breathing to me. I can’t live without it.” This dimpled diva also holds the Guinness Record for being the highest recorded singer in the country. And of all the songs she’s sung, which has been the most challenging? “All Tamil songs are difficult,” she smiles.

The singer still has a busy schedule with recordings happening periodically. She recently recorded an entire concert with the Dutch Metropole Philharmonic Orchestra in Holland where her granddaughter Zanai sang with her.

Up next is a recording for Karthik Raja which will feature her along with Ilaiyaraaja, besides Bengali songs by R.D. Burman, and a few Sufi and Gujarati songs. And what does she do when she takes a break from music? “Reading and cooking are my hobbies.” We hear that Asha tai is a fabulous cook. Though we get to hear her splendid voice every other day, unfortunately we are not privy to her culinary skills. I guess, one can’t have everything.