Asha Bhosle and R.D. Burman – a musical journey and a concert

It took me six years to complete my Ph.D. It has taken me over sixteen years to come close to completing my collection of all of Rahul Dev Burman’s released music.  My personal journey began just before Panchamda died in 1994. Over the years I’ve laughed, cried, fallen in love, and celebrated the seasons of my life with his music. So when I heard that Asha Bhosle was coming to town to perform in the 2010 “Rahul and I” concert along with Sudesh Bhosle, I had to go. Ashaji has always been my favorite Bollywood playback singer and I’ve grown up listening to her from a very early age. I didn’t know who Panchamda was, but when I was three I sat by the gramophone and sang along to “Kine de reshmi churi,” one of the evergreen non-film Bengali gems that everyone in West Bengal knows.

Twelve members of R.D. Burman’s orchestra come up to the stage and start playing. I recognize the tune after two seconds of the intro. Sudesh Bhosle comes on stage and starts singing “Bachna ae haseenon” from Hum Kisise Kum Nahin. The crowd goes wild. Sudesh moves effortlessly on to another Kishore Kumar song, “Kehna hai” from Padosan. The orchestra plays the song to perfection. Not a note missed in the preludes or interludes, and I should know I have the notes memorized. After “dekha na hayre” (Bombay to Goa) and “Jahan teri yeh nazar hai” (Kaalia), two songs with lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri, Ashaji comes on the stage with the sizzling number “Mera naam hai Shabnam” from Kati Patang. She is almost 76 and she still brings down the house with the high notes. Ashaji then sings “Aaja aaja main hoon pyar” from Teesri Manzil.

Teesri Manzil is one of the first cassettes that I ever bought. I bought it in an HMV combo-pack with number of non-RD film scores. At that time I was a huge fan of Rafi Sahab and liked his voice even better than Kishore Kumar’s. Cassettes I had back them include scores from films such as Mere Sanam and Kashmir ki Kali. I was really into Bollywood music from the 60s and 70s.

Ashaji sings a few other memorable numbers sharing anecdotes of her relationship with Pancham with the audience. Later in the night Sudesh Bhosle comes back on the stage and they sing “Jaan-e-jaan dhoondta phir raha” from Jawani Diwani.


I think back to the one of the most vivid memories of chotomama, my uncle. My uncle is getting married and I am one of the barjatri going on the bus. We have no music, so I ask chotomama to buy a cassette. He gives me one of the most memorable compilations in Bengali in modern history – Mone pore Ruby Ray with Ashaji and Panchamda’s Puja numbers. One of the numbers on the cassette is the Panchamda-Ashaji duet “Janina kothai tumi”, the Bengali version of the song in Jawani Diwani. Years roll by. HMV becomes Saregama. Cassettes become CDs and them mp3s. That cassette still reminds me of chotomama.

On the stage, Ashaji starts singing Chura liya from Yaadon ki Baarat and the crowd goes crazy again. The crowd chants “once more, once more” once she is done and she gifts them with the “sajaonga…” stanza originally sung by Rafi Sahab.

I am in college. I have floppy hair that brushes my ears. I wear baggy trousers and a black jacket with a print of a scorpion on the back. Ashaji has just released the Rahul and I album with compositions rearranged by Leslie “Lez” Lewis. I am trying to figure out the chord structure of the original and cursing my parents for insisting that I study instead of learning to play the guitar (which is what I want to do). I convince myself this is a song that I’ll have to learn if I’m to ever become successful in my love life.

Ashaji is requested by someone from the audience to sing “Sanam teri kasam.” One of my wishes come true. This song has amazing chords played on keys and Ashaji’s version from Sanam Teri Kasam is better than Kishoreda’s in my opinion.

Two friends with no careers, no future, no jobs, and no ambition are riding bicycles around town aimlessly. Sanam Teri Kasam, Love Story, Romance, Teri Kasam. We are singing songs from this sparkling phase of R.D.’s career, mostly those in the voices of R.D. Burman and Amit Kumar.

Ashaji continues with songs from the early 80s. “Poocho na yaar kya hua” and the eternal classic “Yeh vaada raha”. The band is playing to perfection and I am snapping my fingers on cue. Then Ashaji moves on to numbers that the audience has heard many times. She sings Dum maro dum and “Piya tu aab to aaja”. Sudesh comes back on the stage and starts singing the Rafi number “Kya hua tera wada” from Hum Kisise Kum Nahin. Showing an amazing versatility in his vocal range, Sudesh sings in voices reminiscent of Kishoreda, Panchamda, and Rafi Sahab in the famous medley from the film that includes “Chand mera dil”, “ae dil kya mehfil”, “ho tum kya jaano”, and ending with “mil gaya humko saathi.” Each song is exceptionally tough to perform, but the notes are perfect. The brass-section is truly amazing.

Yaadon ki baarat/Hum kisise kum nahin” is the first audio CD I ever buy. I don’t even own a CD player at the time, so I listen to the songs on my computer. The quality of the music is exceptional and I can hear segments that I couldn’t before on cassette.

Ashaji quietens the audience and starts to sing “Mera kuchch saamaan” from Gulzar’s Ijaazat. There are no instruments playing in the background. I have heard this song so many times, but I am enthralled. This is the most magical moment of the evening for me.

Gulzar, Pancham, and Asha made a lethal combination. I think back to purchasing Dil Padosi Hai a non-film album with exceptional songs. I think about some of the other albums with songs written by Gulzar – Masoom, Libaas, Kinara, and Aandhi. Stylistically, these songs are definitely my favorite out of all the types that Panchamda composed since they show an unparalleled understanding of both Western and Hindustani music. So many evenings singing “Tujhse naraaz nahin zindagi” and “Huzur is kadar”.

The night is coming to a close. Ashaji sings a few more songs, all amazing RD creations… I’ve heard before countless times. It is like a religious experience for me that I don’t want to end.

As I make the trip back home from the concert, I reflect on the experience. I never had a chance to hear Panchamda in person. He died just as I was coming of age. But his music is tied in with so many memories.

Tonight I was able to connect again…

Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa to nahin… Tere bina zindagi bhi lekin, zindagi toh nahin.

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25 thoughts on “Asha Bhosle and R.D. Burman – a musical journey and a concert

  1. Haven’t had the pleasure of attending Aashaji’s live concert. But I have attended one of Lata Didi. I have to say when these sisters start singing time stands still, the moment freezes and all that is left is the voice. It’s an incredible feeling that can’t be described in words.
    And the fact that you call this description (of the entire concert) a hastily written post then how beautiful it could have been had you written it taking all the time you needed.
    Reading this post took me back to all the live concerts I have attended and the memories of times (good and bad) when I was hooked to majority of these songs. Great work. Kudos.

    • Thanks for reading, Prasanna. Both sisters are living legends, though I always thought that Ashaji was more the more versatile of the two. There are some posts that you want to write when everything is fresh in memory. This was one of them. I wrote in a very stream-of-consciousness style mixing events from my own personal life. Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. This sounds wonderful…
    I have the same feeling…songs have so many memories tied around them..they come rushing back whenever I hear them.

    And going for a live concert is an experience in itself. I have attended 3 concerts of Jagjit Singh. Mind blowing is the only word that comes to mind 🙂

    • I have not been to Jagjit Singh’ concert. Last year I was supposed to go, but it didn’t work out. He is coming again this year, so I hope to hear him. Looking forward to A.R. Rahman’s “Jai Ho” concert in June as well.

      Best wishes ~ Anirban

    • Thanks, for reading Bulan. Indeed, most of the memories from college and univ. life are associated with Panchamda. Very nostalgic. We will have to have an ashor with Panchamda’s music again. Best wishes

  3. I’ve been to a few concerts and i don’t quite get that ‘mind blowing’ feeling. Feels good, though. And nostalgic, too, sometimes.
    The feeling could have been different with Asha though – a chunk of very best of Bollywood songs have been sung by her.
    It was a very nice read.

    (correct it: “….. is the first audio CD I ever buy”)

  4. Looks like you had a great time! I know exactly what you mean about songs having emotions and memories attached to them. For me the Bollywood songs of yore bring back memories of my childhood. A simpler time when radio was an integral part of our lives. Vividh Bharati was our lifeline to hindi music. Listening to manchahey geeth on hot summer afternoons in a darkened room with a creaky fan swirling above your head……

  5. You know i have never ever cared much for anything except the song..I do NOt concern much about the people who make it a succes but RD Burman is special…His songs had a soul unlike any others’….

    Tere bina zinadgee se koi shikwa …is so deep yet sans heavy lyrics…BEautifull..Beautifull…

    Havent been to any concert…*Sigh*..I want o be to one now having read youtr experience!

    • It is a different sort of experience altogether, especially if you know the songs. I’ve been to a fair share and enjoyed most of them. But this experience was more than a concert – it was almost spiritual for me.

  6. I wish I could have attended such a great show. I am always being a blind fan of RD burman and salil Chowdhury. My all time favourite singers are Lata, Asha and Rafi sahab.
    I am congratulating you that you were present at that time..

    • Hi Babuji… thanku for reading. Now I like Kishore Kumar more than Mohd. Rafi, and Amit Kumar more than Kishore Kumar though.

      It would have been great if Ashaji had sung some Bengali songs too like “Tomar jei oi haatero mala,” “Ga pa ga re sa,” “Aaj mon dole kaar isharate,” “Ekti katha,” “Tomar kach theke paliye jete chai,” and “Sondhebelai tumi aami boshe acchi dujone”… but I don’t think the audience would have appreciated.

  7. I envy you so much! Oh how I wish I could go for Ashaji’s concert.
    I too feel Asha is more versatile than the other singers. Not that I don’t like Lata, Suman Kalyanpur and all but I like Asha better.
    Just the thought of the songs from Masoom, Libaas, Kinara, and Aandhi gives me goose flesh. And I totally second this one – Over the years I’ve laughed, cried, fallen in love, and celebrated the seasons of my life with his music.
    This post has that direct dil se feeling to it. And thank you so much for sharing this experience…I am feeling nostalgic just reading what you have written.

  8. I agree with you when u associate songs with memories.Not much of a concert person i guess i should attend some…want the same taste of nostalgia and want to reflect on those. Nice and intensive this post enjoyed it as much u did while narrating the wonderful experience.

  9. I can so feel every word written up there in your description of the concert. Living here in Bay Area, I witnessed the same concert 6 days prior to you and it was indeed a feeling of utopia.

    Moreover, I was fought my way out to go and meet Asha tai and the 12 musicians at the hotel which happened to be at a stone’s throw distance from my home 🙂
    I shared few drinks with the musicians, had a brilliant conversation in Marathi and then later on had a short but marvelous time with Asha tai. She signed some of my rare old vinyl records.
    Check out my article at http://www.bhangad.com I also posted my picture with her over there.

    Cheers 🙂

    Harshi

    • Harshi… those were fantastic pictures. Lucky you!

      I was in LA and could not reply to your message earlier. It seems like both of us had a magical once-in-a-lifetime experience at the concerts!

      I’ve added your blog to my regular reading list. Take care and thanks for commenting. 🙂

  10. For a post with so much love and passion, I have nothing to say but a smile and a nod of appreciation, which cannot be intimated over the internet except for these words.

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