What Bollywood actresses have hoarse voices
Asha Bhosle is the most popular singer in the world: with her sister, she has been the musical voice of Bollywood cinema for fifty years
INTERVIEW MAX DAX
taz: Ms. Bhosle, you are considered the voice of Bollywood because you and your sister Lata Mangeshkar have sung the tracks for almost every major Bollywood production that has been shot in the past five decades. How did this career come about?
Asha Bhosle: I've worked in the film industry for almost sixty years and I live in Bombay specifically to be close to the film industry. I don't know any other life than that of the singer. You know, I come from a family of artists. My father, Dinath Mangeshkar, was the founder of his own theater company, the Balwant Natak Company. We were always at home wherever the ensemble played. Incidentally, like me, my father was a classically trained singer. We always listened to Indian classical music at home. My sisters and I received singing lessons from our father. My father wanted me to be a singer - but not for the cinema.
Was this move something of a revolt?
No, more like pragmatism. I never believed in a career as a film singer. Everyone thought I was going to follow in my father's footsteps. But then I asked my music teacher at the time for advice: “How can I make money with music?” He said to me: “Classical music: no money!” So I asked him how I could solve this dilemma. And he answered straight away: in the entertainment industry. That's how I got to the cinema. I still sing light music to this day. And I have never regretted it.
Today you are considered the most popular singer in the world, followed by US pop stars like Madonna or the Arab singer Diva Oum Karthoum. The only thing that's unclear is whether you sold a billion records or just a few hundred million.
At some point in India you stop counting the records you sell. The Beatles had to experience that when their albums were released in India. This is because music in India is traditionally sold on cassettes and cassettes are easy to copy.
How many songs have you recorded in total in your life?
For my 60th birthday, that was ten years ago, a book about me and my art was published in India. At that point, I had recorded 12,000 songs. Since then you have to add about one song per day, that makes 3,650 songs, so a total of almost 16,000 songs. Nobody else recorded as many songs as I did during that time.
Why could you do that?
It's because of my discipline. God gave me that energy. For years I recorded two, three, four songs every day, on a few days even seven. I would like to note: these songs were always recorded with live musicians in the studio, I didn't just sing in the vocal tracks. Incidentally, I recorded most of the songs in one take - I've acquired this routine over time.
How do you explain your success?
You can dance well to my music, which usually forms the playback music for the dance scenes in Bollywood films. Bollywood offers everything an Indian heart desires: comedy, slapstick, heartbreak, drama, dreams, exaggeration - but above all Indian music, Indian dances and colorful Indian garments. Bollywood has proven that in India one can overcome all cultural boundaries with the cinema. Remember: India is big - and my music was even able to bridge the country's 251 languages.
You can hear your voice in thousands of Bollywood films - but it's always other actresses who move their lips to your singing. Isn't that strange?
This is no longer noticeable in India. It is an old tradition that singers sing instead of actors, as old as the cinema itself. I have to correct myself: there are only two singers - my sister Lata Mangeshkar and me. So the directors don't have a lot of choice!
Why did such a big industry ultimately only produce two female singers?
Because my voice is so well known. People always want to hear my voice or my sister's voice. In 1956, I was the first Indian singer to sing a rock 'n' roll song, and so it has since gone on with every new style that became popular - I've sung in that style too. In this way I was able to take over every style of music for myself. No young singer, no matter how talented, can compete with this. The audience can't even imagine seeing a movie in which my voice can't be heard.
This leads to the fact that you sing very different roles in the same film: the heroine, the seductress, the opponent, the lover, the duped.
I have always worked closely with the actresses to achieve this. They would often visit me in the studio when I was singing the songs for each film, and sometimes they would sit in the same room while I was singing. During the breaks we sat down and talked about the film. That's how I experienced the body language of the respective actresses, and they experienced me. That is a quality aspect of Bollywood films.
A critic once wrote of you: "Asha Bhosle's vocal nuances have enabled generations of actresses to bud and blossom on screen."
Yes, that made me very happy back then. You need to know: an Indian has two lives: real life and a second life in the cinema. Indians cannot live without films and also not without music. Cinema is like a deity: it's the only entertainment people know. That's why it's so important to give your all when working for the cinema in India.
In Europe, it is sometimes difficult to understand how a system can work that is built on three-and-a-half-hour shreds of woe.
Yes, but you overlook the fact that it's three and a half hours of entertainment. People love music. In the meantime, people have tried to produce Bollywood films without dancing: They flopped mercilessly. So they returned to the formula: film + music = success. In India, you need to know you can listen to music on every special occasion. When a child is born, when they get married, when someone dies: there is always singing, singing together. Music is our life. So it actually amazes me that it took almost 60 years until people finally began to perceive my music in the West in recent years.
The British band Cornershop and their singer Tjinder Singh dedicated the song "Brimful Of Asha" to you a few years ago. How did you like this homage?
That was nice of them. It was then that young Indians in London, in England, began to notice my music. Which country are you from again?
Your country is a beautiful country. I once spent a few days in Munich. I performed on a TV show and sang a song. Munich is beautiful, I could see the mountains from there.
Hardly any Bollywood film today seems to be without a dance scene in the Swiss Alps.
In India, too, Switzerland is, of course, the epitome of prosperity, exoticism and an ideal world. In addition: You can hardly make films in India because the leading actors are all so famous. They are downright tattered when they venture out onto the street. That doesn't happen to them in Switzerland.
Now with the Kronos Quartet you have re-released old songs that you recorded before - in new versions.
The Kronos Quartet comes from America. They asked my son Anand if they could use my vocals to record. When I heard that, I said to them: Then I'd rather sing it all over again, it'll be faster. But of course I also realize that I am not known in the USA. My consideration is: maybe I can get known in America with the help of the Kronos Quartet? By the way, the musicians from the Kronos Quartet are real gentlemen, very friendly gentlemen. They can handle their instruments and they know how to treat a lady. And just like me, they like to work quickly.
Do you sometimes give concerts?
Almost none used to be. I gave one in America in 1976, after which nothing happened for a long time. My obligations in India were more important to me. Today I see it a little more calmly. I like to give concerts today because I can experience the reaction of the audience first hand. When I sing for the cinema, nobody claps in the cinema. But I think it's important that a successful singer is recognized in the restaurant too. After all, we sing for people - and not for the cinema.
The old cinemas in India often resemble palaces from another time.
These are huge cinema palaces. The English had these cinemas built during colonial times to bring their culture to India. There are still five of those great old cinemas left in Bombay today. The others have all closed. To this end, dozens of new, air-conditioned multiplexes have opened, each of which houses at least five cinema halls under one roof.
The old cinema palaces were known for the fact that even the poorest people could afford entry. That, too, was of course one of the reasons why cinema was able to achieve this status in India in the first place.
It used to cost three or four rupees to go to a cinema show, which is the equivalent of one or two cents. Visiting a performance in the multiplex cinema, on the other hand, is expensive, it costs maybe two euros.
Are the new cinemas at least as beautiful as the old ones?
No, the old cinemas had the bigger screens. I still remember how the “Cleopatra” film with Elisabeth Taylor came into the cinemas back then. The big screens were made for big films with big emotions. Today there is only shooting in foreign films. Recently I saw “Matrix” - a bad movie. Nobody sang, I almost fell asleep. Of course, nobody cares if there are only small canvases left.
Is that where a culture dies?
People in India have also started to get used to television. There is even a small screen across from the television. I don't understand how people got so addicted to television. For me, going to the cinema was always associated with making up for the evening, meeting friends, crying together in the cinema and then talking about the film you just watched over dinner in the restaurant.
Are you sad that times are changing?
Just a bit. Everything changes and everything has always changed. You don't get upset about that. Not my age anymore.
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