Who is Asha Bhosle, the Indian singer celebrating her 90th birthday with a Dubai concert?

Her voice is synonymous with Bollywood's golden age, but her prowess reaches into western pop culture and the restaurant business

UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 07:  Photo of Asha BHOSLE;   (Photo by Brigitte Engl/Redferns) *** Local Caption ***  al12de-asha_2005.jpg
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Indian singer Asha Bhosle will celebrate her 90th birthday doing what she does best.

The Bollywood star will roll back the years at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena on Friday, where she will perform hits from a career that spans almost eight decades, including In Aankhon Ki Masti and Dil Cheez Kya Hai.

Here is what you need to know about the artist dubbed “the playback queen”.

A career of graft and craft

An interview with Asha Bhosle

An interview with Asha Bhosle

Bhosle had to work her way to the top.

Born in the western Indian city of Sangli, Bhosle is the daughter of theatre actor Deenanath Mangeshkar.

Bhosle was nine when he died, resulting in the family relocating to Mumbai where she and her elder sister, the late Lata Mangeshkar, picked up small singing gigs in Marathi films to make ends meet.

It was Mangeshkar who first established herself as an in-demand singer, with Bhosle reportedly picking up smaller singing roles in low-budget films in the late 1940s.

Her breakthrough arrived in 1953 when she sang Nanhe Munne Bachche alongside Bollywood superstar Mohammed Rafi for the 1954 comedy Boot Polish.

The film's success caught the attention of influential director B R Chopra, who hired her to sing in a string of acclaimed films including Naya Daur (1957), Gumrah (1963) and Dhund (1973).

In the 1980s, Bhosle was at the top of her game and stretched out to sing ghazals for the Indian period drama Umrao Jaan, earning her the first of seven National Film Awards she has received.

By the time she performed in the 1995 drama Rangeela, Bhosle's involvement was as high profile as the film's star Aamir Khan.

With Rangeela being the debut Bollywood film for Oscar-winning composer A R Rahman, the soundtrack – home to hits Tanha Tanha and Rangeela Re – would go on to be viewed as a classic, cementing Bhosle’s standing as a master of her craft.

An interesting and quirky solo career

Perhaps a reaction to the commercial nature of Bollywood, Bhosle's non-film-related works are an intriguing mix of the ornate and experimental.

In addition to recording important pieces from Hindustani classical music, she released the 1996 album Rahul and I – where she presented adventurous new takes on classic songs by Bollywood composer R D Burman.

That versatility is also heard in Legacy – the 1996 album with revered Hindustani classical musician Ali Akbar Khan – and the 1997 pop album Janam Samjha Karo with Indian singer and composer Lesle Lewis.

Even Australian cricket star Brett Lee got into the mix, having appeared in the 2006 duet album Asha and Friends, where both sang You're the One for Me.

Composed by Lee, it went on to become a minor hit on the Indian charts.

From Boy George to the Prodigy, the hits and remixes

Bhosle's stature and ability were not lost abroad.

A keen collaborator, she teamed with singer Boy George for the 1990 track Bow Down Mister and R.E.M frontman Michael Stipe in The Way You Dream.

Western popular artists also viewed her as a source of inspiration with British indie band Cornershop releasing the 1997 song Brimful of Asha, which British DJ Fatboy Slim would remix to great success four years later.

Bhosle's vocals were also sampled in songs by electronic dance group the Prodigy, hip-hop crew the Black Eyed Peas and reggae star Beenie Man.

While appreciative of their efforts, Bhosle is not a fan of the approach.

“I’m not always so keen on remixes,” she told The National in a 2017 interview.

“Sometimes they make the remix and they ruin the vocal. They take a song with a beautiful vocal and place all this loud dance music or whatever over it and the vocal gets lost.

“If you’re going to remix a song you should leave the vocals.”

A restaurateur

With her musical legacy ensured, Bhosle has scored a culinary hit with Asha's, a chain of restaurants – with branches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai as well as the UK, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait – that services staples of northwest Indian cuisine such as kadai gosht.

Updated: September 08, 2023, 12:31 PM