‘Versatile’ the word that effectively sums up Asha Bhosle's career. Who else can boast of having worked as extensively with trendsetting composers across three generations, from O.P. Naiyyar's breezy, foot-tapping ditties of the 1950s to R. D. Burman's pop blitzkrieg in the 1970s to A. R. Rahman's sensational contemporary rhythms? Her distinctiveness arises from her enormous appetite for experimentation. She sang one of Hindi cinema's first rock 'n' roll numbers, 'Eena Meena Deeka..' way back in the 1950s. She has recorded memorable ghazals with the likes of Ghulam Ali and Jagjit Singh, pop songs with Biddu and innumerable disco numbers with Bappi Lahiri.
Asha Bhonsle, one of the Mangeshkar sisters was born on September 8, 1933 to the well-known actor and singer Dinanath Mangeshkar. Like her elder sister Lata Mangeshkar, Asha also initially did a small stint as a child artist. Being trained in classical music by her father Dinanath Mangeshkar it was but natural that she turned to playback singing, like Lata did. In April 1942 her father Dinath Mangeshkar died, causing an upheaval in the family which moved from Pune to Kolhapur and later to Bombay. Around the age of ten, she sang her first film song in the Marathi film ‘Majha Bal’.
Asha made her playback debut in Hindi films in the year 1948 with the film ‘Chunariya’ under Hansraj Behl’s baton. It took a long, long time for Asha to really make her presence felt. By the end of 1949 with the release of ‘Lahore’, ‘Barsat’, ‘Andaaz’ and ‘Mahal’, Lata Mangeshkar became the first the love of all music directors. Besides, other music directors thought of (more experienced) Shamshad Begum and Geeta Dutt first in the absence of Lata. This left Asha almost empty-handed.
Only some low budget films, or on occasions where Lata was not available did songs come Asha's way. It was composers like Master Krishna Dayal, Vinod, Hansraj Behl, Basant Prakash, Dhaniram, Sardul Quatra and others who gave songs to Asha in early days of her career. Apart from ‘Chunariya’ the only films in 1949 where Asha had sung were ‘Lekh’ and ‘Khel’. In ‘Lekh’ she has a solo, besides a duet with Mukesh 'Ye Kafila Hai Pyaar Ka Chalta Hi Jayega' under the baton of Master Krishna Dayal. Fame came her way only after ‘Armaan’ (1953). There she sang for S.D. Burman that famous song 'Chahe Kitna Mujhe Tum Bulavo Ji, Nahi Bolungi Nahi Bolungi', the song that had a tandem duet, with Talat Mehmood.
Asha Bhosle sang many songs with Geeta Dutt, some of which became very popular. They both started singing together in the late 1940s. Geeta Dutt was already an established singer by 1949, while Asha was still struggling to make it to the ‘elite’ club.
The first movie to have them singing together was in fact ‘Chunariya’ itself. They sang the trio with Zohrabai, ‘Saawan aaya saawan aaya saawan aaya re’. Asha and Geeta instantly developed a liking for each other which led to a musical collaboration for over a decade.
They appeared in many duets/trios together in the coming years. Geeta Dutt had certain sensuousness in her voice which came to be appreciated, particularly after ‘Baazi’ (1951). Asha was relatively raw at the time and was highly influenced by her style of singing. Craving to carve a niche for her, and in an apparent attempt to step out of the shadow of Lata Mangeshkar, Asha emulated Geeta’s singing in the initial part of her career. In the 1950 movie ‘Beewi’, one could easily make out Asha trying to follow her lead in ‘Mausamhai namkeen sawariya aaja re’. Asha benefited immensely from their collaboration and started maturing as a singer.
Khurshid Anwar’s ‘Neelam Pari’ (1952) saw a distinctly confident Asha Bhosle in the song ‘Ek tu duji main’. ‘Dharti se door gore gore’ in 1952's ‘Sangdil’ had her almost matching Geeta’s spirit under Sajjad Hussain.
This transition consummated with OP Nayyar’s ‘Naya Daur’ (1957) which proved to be the breakthrough movie in Asha’s career.
The next few years saw the peak of their alliance. The two singers appear in the wonderful ‘Kya ho phir jo din rangeela ho’ in ‘Nau Do Gyarah’. They sang together in 1959 for SD Burman for the movie ‘Insaan Jaag Utha’ one of the best female-female duet ever, ‘Jaanu Jaanu Ri’. The dew fresh delicacy in their voices created magic. With ultimate sweetness, they teased each other about their respective lovers.
This camaraderie of mutual-admiration and competitiveness was seen in full swing till 1960, with both singers singing many unforgettable duets together.
The year 1961 had them singing just one song together, ‘Meri gal sun kajrewaliye’ in ‘Batwara’ for S Madan.
For personal reasons, Geeta Dutt had refused to sing for Waheeda Rehman. As a result, most music directors used Asha to sing for Waheeda. It was around this time that rumours were rife of Asha trying to stifle Geeta’s career by manipulating music directors. But their personal relationship remained as good as ever. Though, they rarely worked together after that. S D Burman brought them together again in his 1962, Lata dominated venture, Dr. Vidya for ‘Aaye haaye dilruba’, which happens to be their last duet.
Geeta Dutt’s voice worked beautifully with other female singers, especially with Asha Bhosle. The pair boasts of some of the best known same-sex duets in the history of HFM. Their magic especially came out with composers S D Burman and O P Nayyar. Both these composers started their careers with Geeta ji, delivering hits after hits in the late 40’s and early 50’s, but eventually turned to Asha Bhosle due to Geeta Dutt’s lacklustre approach towards her career in the latter half of the decade. Around this time, she made that famous phone call to OP Nayyar asking why he no longer called her to sing. He said he would, but never really could fulfil his promise.
Asha Bhosle has gone on record to say that she enjoyed working with Geeta Dutt a lot, and that every duet they sang was a learning experience for her. She is even reported to have said that she tried to copy her style in some songs!
The untimely demise of Geeta Dutt has left an unfillable void in the lives of her numerous fans, and Asha Bhosle is no exception. Time and again, she has expressed her desire to work on a tribute to her favourite singer, the immortal Geeta Dutt.