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Speaking of Asha Bhonsle's Birthday: Thinking of Madhubala and Geeta Dutt

It is Bhosle who taught women across many generations to live and live well with a song on their lips, even if the men in their lives let them down.
(L-R) Madhubala, Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhosle.

Reading the two pieces in The Wire on Asha Bhosle’s songs, I recollected my long-held dream: to write on two women in the Bombay film industry who were talented and incredibly beautiful, but who ruined their lives for men. The first is of course the divine Madhubala, who carried a burden of sorrow on top of a heart condition. She died, arguably of unrequited love far, far too soon. The words from The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster – ‘cover her face, mine eyes dazzle, she died young’  – could well have been written for her. No one was like Madhubala.

Also read: Asha Bhosle at 90: Ten of Her Timeless Gems

She was unbelievably beautiful, but she was saved from the label of being just another lovely woman by her naughty smile, and her full-throated laugh which gave the audience such joy. Think of her in Chaalti Ka Naam Gaadi, where she tries to delay the ‘bad boy’ (whose name is eminently forgettable) by lip syncing to Asha Bhosle’s voice ‘Ruk jao na ji, aisi kya jaldi’. She again lip syncs in the same film to Bhosle’s voice who accompanied Kishore Kumar in ‘Haal kaisa hai janab ka’. The only other actor I can think of who has quite the combination of Madhubala’s beauty and naughtiness is Alia Bhatt.

The charm that Madhubala and countless other women actors brought to the screen was in major part due to Bhosle’s voice, whose 90th birthday we celebrated on Saturday. She rivals my favourite singer Geeta Dutt, who had an amazing range. Geeta could sing tragic numbers like ‘Kaise koi jiye, keher hai zindagi’ in Baad Baan, seductive numbers like ‘Mujhe jaan na kahon meri jaan’ in Anubhav and saucy songs like ‘Yeh lo main haari piya ’ in Aar Paar. If there is anyone who has the same range, it is Bhosle. Increasingly as Dutt descended into melancholia caused by alcoholism, music directors began to replace her with Bhosle, from S.D. Burman to O.P. Nayyar. Later R.D. Burman came into her life. The array of numbers Bhosle sang put her firmly onto the top of singers of her generation and for decades after.

Also read: Whether in a Cabaret Song, Romantic Number or Bhajan, Asha Bhosle Brings a Depth of Feeling Uniquely Her Own

She could sing ‘Acha ji mein hari chalon man jaaon na’ filmed on Madhubala in Kala Pani. And she could sing the despondent ‘Jab namee mohabbat…kya kahiye hame kya yaad aaya’ for Nalini Jayant in the same film. Both these songs were sung for the male lead, the debonair Dev Anand. I love her song in Imaandar, ‘Aaur is dil mein kya rakha hai, tera hi naam likha rakha hai’. And of course Venice will always be associated in our minds with Zeenat Aman lip-syncing to Bhosle’s number ‘Do lafzon ki hai’. Bhosle sang the wonderfully lyrical ‘Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko’ for Yaadon ki Baraat, though the male actor she sang for is again quite forgettable. My favourites are the song picturised on a peppy Asha Parekh ‘Daiya yeh mein kahan aa phasi’ in Caravan, the seductive number filmed on Tanuja ‘Raat akeli hai’ in Jewel Thief, and and playful ‘Jhumka gira re’ filmed on Sadhna in Mera Saaya.

Madhubala could play great comedy roles, and who can forget her as Anarkali in Mughal E Azam. But she suffered from emotional trauma because of, reportedly, Dilip Kumar’s indifference. Dutt was amazingly gifted and so very beautiful, but she fell into an alcohol-induced haze because Guru Dutt decided to love Waheeda Rahman. So much talent and so much beauty lost for the love of a man! It is Bhosle who taught women across many generations to live and live well with a song on their lips, even if the men in their lives let them down. Her spirit, her courage, her sense of fun transcends age. Asha, may you continue to flash your dimples at us and sing peppy songs, remind us that life is worth living, and that no woman should shed her zest for life despite age. Happy birthday.

Neera Chandhoke was a professor of political science at Delhi University.

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