Mumbai: She has sung more than 12,000 songs in 18 languages, been honoured with the Padma Vibhushan and is still raring to go. Singing legend Asha Bhosle celebrates her 77th birthday today with her position in Bollywood still strong and her legion of fans intact.
After for over six decades in the industry, her voice remains seamless. And as she rustles her beautiful silk saris, with jewellery to match, Asha`s style too makes a lasting statement.
The singer, who started singing at a very young age, is known for her versatality. After crooning a series of hits for the Hindi film industry`s dancing queen Helen, she was tagged as a cabaret singer.
But she dispelled that notion when she went behind the mike to croon "Maang ke saath tumhara" for Dilip Kumar-Vyjayantimala- starrer 'Naya Daur' (1957). It established her as a singer to reckon with.
Since then, there has been no looking back.
She collaborated with renowned musicians of her time like Ravi, Khayyam and Shankar Jaikishan, but Asha`s real talent was exploited by composer R.D. Burman, who was instrumental in bringing her out of her elder sister and singing legend Lata Mangeshkar`s shadow. Asha and Burman later married.
Songs like "Dum maro dum" (Hare Rama, Hare Krishna) "Mehbooba mehbooba" (Sholay), "Mera kuch saaman" (Ijaazat), "Piya tu ab to aaja" (Caravan) and "Chura liya hai tum ne" (Yaadon Ki Baraat) bear testament to the amazing creativity of the Asha-Burman combination.
"Pancham (Burman) had this unique quality of bringing out the best in every artiste by making him or her feel comfortable. He knew how to make me sing to get the maximum effect in every situation," Asha said.
Known for her voice range, Asha has sung in over 18 languages, including Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, English, Russian, Czech, Nepali and Malay.
Adding to her list, recently she crooned her first Kannada song for composer Veera Samarth who was overwhelmed with her professionalism even at this age.
"Didi took just two-and-a-half hours to sing the song. And the rehearsal of the song was done a day earlier. Asha didi wrote the lyrics in Hindi in her own handwriting and what a song it was. I was in tears when she completed the song. I am sure it would be one of the most brilliant songs in Kannada," Samarth told reporters.
Not just that. She has cut many albums and was recently named among the top 20 music icons of the past 50 years by CNN.
She doesn`t shy away from new technology either. Buoyed by the Twitter mania, she too joined the microblogging site. Usually she posts music and film trivia, but sometimes uses it as a tool to express her views on current topics.
Recently the singer posted her comment on the controversial Commonwealth Games saying "CWG has become DMG (Disaster Management Games)."
She loves reading.
"I love to read. When I was around 13-14, I used to spend the entire night reading under the street lights filtering in through the open door. There was no electricity," she said.
"I read Marathi literature, Marathi translations of all famous Bengali and Hindi novels. The books enriched me. All of my three children are very well read. Every child in this country must study. `Padhai` is knowledge," said the singer who enjoys cooking as well.
Composer Shamir Tandon described her as "versatility personified - that`s Asha Bhosle. She is the best human being I`ve ever met. She is just like a mother to me."
Even after so many years she is still a guiding force for many budding artistes.
"When she was 18, her voice was very nice, when she was 30 she was excellent, at the age of 50 she was superb and when she is going to turn 77, I want to wish her that regardless of your age, whatever voice you have now, you are still the best," singer Abhijeet told reporters.
The singer can`t be more right. In the 1980s she wowed everyone when she sang, "Dil cheez kya hai", "In aankhon ki masti" and "Ye kya jagah hai doston" for 'Umrao Jaan'.
In the 1990s she again surprised everyone with "Tanha tanha yahan pe jeena" and "Rangeela re". In the 2008 release "1920", she sang "Aise jalta hai jiya".
Yesteryear actress Asha Parekh, for whom Asha sang hits like "O mere sona re sona re sona", "Jab chali thandi hawa" and "Parde mein rehne do parda na hatao", said: "She has sung most of my songs and I`m happy that a great person like her has sung so many of my songs.
"She is a wonderful human being and I love all her songs. I wish her a very happy birthday and I hope that she goes strong for many years to come. She is truly the best."