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When memory serves right

Whenever journalist and writer Raju Bharatan mentions an old film, he goes into complete detail about its music. And even more noteworthy, as he says, “I write purely from memory.”

“But memory can be dangerous.” he adds on a serious note. “You and I know these facts. Long after writing, I suddenly feel I have typed a mistake. And when I cross-check, I realise I was correct.”

At 82, Bharatan maintains a razor-sharp mind, and speaks with the encyclopaedic knowledge he has always been known for. The prolific writer has just released his latest book, Asha Bhosle – A Musical Biography, and happily announces: “I am the first person to write biographies about both the sisters, or at least I think so.”

This is his fourth book on music, but Bharatan is also renowned for his cricket journalism and radio commentary in the good old days. The first book, written in 1995, was Lata Mangeshkar: A Biography. Many years later, he wrote A Journey Down Melody Lane, which narrated various incidents about old Hindi film music, and Naushadnama, capturing the great music director Naushad’s life.

As for the journalist’s choice to document Bhosle’s life, he says, “I started writing it on September 17, 2015.” Bharatan continues, “My basic idea was to talk about how she took so long to make a mark, and how three composers — O.P. Nayyar, S.D. Burman and R.D. Burman — played a role in her success,” he adds.

Suddenly, this Bandra East drawing room we are sitting in is entirely engulfed in nostalgia. Most sentences begin with, “You see, Naren…”

He says, “Those days — and I am talking of the 1950s — Lata Mangeshkar was the first choice for all composers, except O.P. Nayyar. Shankar-Jaikishen and Madan Mohan hardly gave Asha a chance, Salil (Chowdhury) was obviously pro-Lata and Naushad (Ali) preferred Lata’s voice for many years. O.P. was the only one who groomed and moulded Asha.”

According to Bharatan, Nayyar knew Bhosle’s limitations: “He figured she initially could not sing the high notes, so he wrote songs to suit her range. But to give credit to Asha, she overcame that weakness later,” he says. “With R.D., it was mainly the high notes, except the odd examples like Ijaazat, where she showed her other class.”

As is well known, S.D. Burman gave Bhosle a chance only after his spat with Mangeshkar. “From August 1958 to August 1962, SD and Lata never saw eye to eye,” Bharatan says. “Asha was to benefit, but I think he only continued from where O.P. left off, giving her similar songs that suited her range. There may be exceptions, of course.”

The writer says that at one point, Bhosle faced huge competition from Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum. “Lata was always number one,” says Bharatan. “If Geeta didn’t have her personal issues, Asha may never have risen to the same position. Shamshad was always preferred by music directors for specific kinds of songs.”

It seems, then, R.D. Burman was responsible for giving Bhosle a new style. Bharatan explains, “More of the cabaret and disco songs. Everyone knows that the more melodious and classical-based songs went to Lata. Considering that R.D. and Asha were married then, he still knew which songs to give whom.”

Bharatan clarifies there were other composers too. “Ravi (Shankar Sharma) did some great work with Asha in Vachan in 1955, and Khayyam (Mohammed Zahur Hashmi) brought out her light classical and ghazal side in Umrao Jaan in 1981.”

As for A.R. Rahman, he adds, recording songs with the sisters was always a mere ritual. “He would make them sing one song in his films, but largely depended on newer singers.”

The writer says Asha Bhosle – A Musical Biography covers other aspects of Bhosle’s film music career, especially how opportunities became scarce when Alka Yagnik and Kavita Krishnamurthy suddenly became popular in the late 1980s. He decided to concentrate only on her Hindi film music, and not her forays into indie pop, remixes, ghazals and regional music, though he has mentioned them in passing.

Because of her musical explorations, many believe Bhosle was more versatile than Mangeshkar. “It was more of a generational thing,” clarifies Bharatan. “The younger people are more attuned to Asha’s sound. But the fact is that Lata could sing all kinds of songs. It was just that she decided to go for the more melodious and classical ones.”

Even though his book extensively covers the singer’s career, Bharatan has only skimmed the surface of her personal life. “This is a musical biography. So I have mentioned her personal issues only if they were directly connected to her music.”

Anticipating a question on the sisters’ so-called rivalry, he says: “Let people read the book.”

The conversation could go on. It does, actually. For another half an hour, the musical encyclopaedia is in full form, on one condition: “Don’t print this, please. This is for your personal digestion.” We talk about everything from films such as Madhumati, Baiju Bawra, Mughal-e-Azam to composers like Naushad Ali, C. Ramchandra, Shankar-Jaikishen, Anil Biswas and Salil Chowdhury.

This article has been written two weeks after meeting with Bharatan. To be safe, there are notes, but I haven’t checked them. So when Bharatan reads my story today, I too can tell him, “I wrote this purely from memory. Only had to cross-check certain dates.” I hope I am correct.

The author is a freelance music writer

Asha Bhosle: A Musical Biography is available at Amazon for Rs. 389/-

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 11:40:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/When-memory-serves-right/article14578537.ece

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