VIENNA, Virginia – It was an eagerly awaited event when legendary Indian playback singer Asha Bhosle headlined a concert June 29 in the Washington area after seven decades.
Over 3,600 listeners flocked to the amphitheater and the sprawling lawns of the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts here to listen to the iconic singer, who is on the U.S. leg of her international ‘Farewell Tour’.
Bhosle arrived in Washington June 26 and delved into rehearsals the very next day. “Looking forward to my first-ever concert at Wolf Trap with their orchestra – one of USA’s finest performance venues,” she tweeted.
Hailed as “the last empress of Indian music” by Dr. Punita Bhatt, who remained in the background providing introductory remarks before each song, Bhosle received a standing ovation both at the beginning and at the end of the concert.
On stage at the Filene Center, the songstress, 82, took the audience on a musical journey, which began with Bollywood romance and ended with Indian pop at its best.
Donning a pale blue shimmering saree, she said, “Bahut saal baad aayee hoon” (I have come here after many years) and proceeded to welcome everyone with her opening number, “Aaiye Meherbaan, Baithiye Jaane Jaan” (“Howrah Bridge,” 1958).
It was followed by another timeless classic song, “Chura Liya Hai Tumne Jo Dil Ko” (“Yaadon Ki Baraat,” 1973). Bhosle joked that the song has been re-mixed so many times that her husband Pancham da (the late R.D. Burman), who composed the musical score, couldn’t even recognize the various versions.
More tributes followed, including to her colleague the late Mohammed Rafi, a powerhouse playback singer in his own right. Bhosle has recorded the maximum number of duets with Rafi. “I have sung 900 songs with him,” she said, drawing gasps from the audience. She selected the vibrant song, “Gulabi Aankhen Jo Teri Dekhi” (“The Train,” 1970), which was picturized on the sixties and seventies mega stars Rajesh Khanna and Nanda, as a tribute to the late artists.
In fond remembrance of her father, the late Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar (1900-1942), a Hindustani classical vocalist and theater actor, she rendered one of his classical numbers. “We belong to a classical khandaan (family),” she told the audience. “I am singing with my father’s blessings.”
Bhosle also evinced her proficiency in ghazals with “Dil Cheez Kya Hai Aap Meri Jaan Lijiye” and “In Aankhon Ki Masti Ke Mastane Hazaaron Hai” transporting audiences to a bygone era. She won the prestigious National Film Award for Best Singer for “Dil Cheez Kya Hai.”
Regarded as the most versatile Indian singer, she effortlessly switched to a north Indian folk song, “Jhumka Gira Re” (“Mera Saaya,” 1966). Revving up the pace of the concert, she rendered “Yeh Mera Dil Pyaar Ka Deewana” (“Don,” 1978), “Aao Na Gale Lagalo Na” (“Mere Jeevan Saathi,” 1972) and “Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyaar Tera” (“Teesri Manzil,” 1966).
But age is fast catching up with Bhosle who turns 83 on Sept. 8. She sang for about an hour during the two and a half hours concert. For the opening act, Falu’s Bollywood Orchestra, spearheaded by New York-based singer and songwriter Falguni Shah, took center stage for some 45 minutes, followed by a short break. Bhosle entered an hour after the show was underway, accompanied by the Wolf Trap orchestra and a couple of musicians from India. For the most part, she held on to a chair for support and occasionally her voice seemed to trail off as she got to the end of a verse.
The pride was unmistakable in Bhosle’s voice as she welcomed her 14-year-old granddaughter Zanai on stage informing the audience that the young girl has lent her voice to a song picturized on actress Vidya Balan with music composed by Anu Malik.
Zanai, daughter of Anand Bhosle, Asha Bhosle’s son, charmed the audiences with a Kathak performance set to an Indian classical song rendered in her own voice. She also belted out two of her grandmother’s superhit songs, “Tu Tu Hai Wohi Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha” and “O Mere Sona Re.”
“I am lucky to be born into a musical family,’ Zanai told the audience, acknowledging that her grandmother has been her greatest guide and inspiration.
In the finale, she joined the senior Bhosle and the duo drew many in the audience to their feet with songs like “Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja.”
Bhosle is the most recorded artist in music history with over 13,000 songs ranging from Bollywood to classical ragas. She rendered her first song in 1943 and has never looked back. BBC called her the “world’s most celebrated playback singer” while CNN lauded her as one of the 20 most iconic artists of all time.