Asha Bhosle is considered a "versatile" singer and has sung many different type of songs though she is best known for her 'cabaret' numbers in Hindi films. She has sung in many Indian languages as well as in some foreign languages such as English, Russian and Malay).
She has provided the singing voice for almost all popular Bollywood actresses from the 1950s to date, including Madhubala, Waheeda Rehman, Rekha, Tabu, Urmila Matondkar, Kajol, Karisma Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai, Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor, Amisha Patel, Bipasha Basu and others. She has sung duets with almost every notable Indian playback singer including Manna Dey, Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mahendra Kapoor, Yesudas, S P Balasubramaniam, Udit Narayan and Abhijeet.
Asha Bhosle was born in the small hamlet of Goar in Sangli, Maharashtra, into the musical family of Pandit Dinanath Mangeshkar. When she was just nine years old, her father passed away. The family moved from Pune to Kolhapur and then to Bombay. She and her elder sister Lata Mangeshkar started singing and acting in films to support their family. She sang her first film song Chala Chala Nav Bala for the Marathi movie Majha Bal (1943). The music for the film was composed by Datta Dawjekar. She made her Hindi film debut when she sang the song Saawan aaya for Hansraj Bahl's Chunariya (1948), .
At the age of 16, she eloped with her 31-year old lover, Ganpatrao Bhosle, and married him against her family's wishes. The marriage failed miserably. Her in-laws ill-treated her. Her husband beat her and forced her to keep singing and earning money even as she struggled to cope with babies and household duties. After few years of marriage, young Asha Bhosle returned to her maternal home with her two children and pregnant with her third child, Anand. She continued to sing in films to earn money.
At that time, prominent playback singers like Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum and Lata Mangeshkar (her sister) monopolized the singing for the "heroine" roles and the big films. Asha Bhosle got the assignments they didn't take: singing for the bad girls and vamps or in the second-grade movies. In 1950s, she sang more songs than any other playback singer in Bollywood, but most of these songs were in B or C-grade films.
Asha Bhosle first tasted success with the songs of B. R. Chopra's Naya Daur (1957), composed by O. P. Nayyar. She soon became O P Nayyar's favorite singer and the duo followed the success of Naya Daur with the movie Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957). That same year, one of the most popular composers in Bollywood, Sachin Dev Burman fell out with his favorite singer Lata Mangeshkar. His second favorite singer, Geeta Dutt, was going through a troubled marriage. This prompted him to adopt Asha Bhosle as his lead female singer.
In 1966, Asha's performance in the duets from music director R D Burman's first successful movie, Teesri Manzil won popular acclaim. In 1960s and 1970s, she became the voice of Bollywood's most famous dancer, Helen. It is said that Helen would attend her recording sessions so that she could understand the song better and plan dance steps accordingly. Some of the most popular Asha Bhosle-Helen numbers are Piya tu ab to aaja (Caravan), O Haseena Zulfon Wali (Teesri Manzil), and Yeh Mera Dil (Don).
O. P. Nayyar and Asha Bhosle had a professional and personal parting of the ways in the 1970s. Asha relied even more heavily on R. D. Burman for her film songs. Their collaboration (later to result in marriage!) gave rise to some of the 1970s song hits.
Till well into the late 1980s, Asha continued to sing the vamp or bad girl roles, in sultry songs with Western musical stylings. However, during this period she did get to sing in the film Umrao Jaan, in which she sang beautiful traditional ghazals.
Her film activities slowed in the 90's. Her performance in the 1994 hit Rangeela was particularly notable, as she was singing for the young and iconoclastic music director A.R. Rahman, later the most popular music director in Bollywood. As late as 2005, 72-year-old Asha Bhosle's numbers for the Tamil film Chandramukhi and Lucky Lips for Salman Khan-starrer Lucky were chartbusters.
Asha Bhosle has won seven Filmfare awards. She won the award in 1967 and 1968, when Lata Mangeshkar still used to accept the award (Lata asked not to be considered for the award after 1969 to promote new talent). After receiving the award in 1977, Asha emulated her elder sister and requested that her name not be considered for the awards hereafter. She was later given the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. Following is the list of her Filmfare Awards:
- 1967 – Garibon ki suno (Dus Lakh, 1966)1968 – Parde mein rahne do (Shikar, 1968)1971 – Piya Tu Ab To Aaja (Caravan, 1971)1972 – Dum Maro Dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna, 1971)1973 – Hone Lagi Hain Raat (Naina, 1973)1974 – Chain se Humko Kabhi (Pran Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye, 1974)1977 – Yeh Mera Dil (Don, 1978)
Asha has won two Indian National Awards:
- 1981 – Dil Cheez Kya Hai (Umrao Jaan)1986 – Mera Kuch Samaan (Ijazat)
In 1997, she became the first Indian singer to be nominated for the Grammy Award, for Legacy, an album with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. She has received fourteen Maharashtra State Awards. She received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2001 for her outstanding contribution to the Indian cinema.
Asha has won numerous other awards, some of which include:
- 1987 – Nightingale Of Asia Award (from the Indo–Pak Association, UK)1989 – Lata Mangeshkar Award (Government of Madhya Pradesh)1997 – Screen Videocon Award (for the album Jaanam Samajha Karo)1997 – MTV Award (for the album Jaanam Samajha Karo)1997 – Channel V Award (for the album Jaanam Samjha Karo)1999 – Lata Mangeshar Award (Government of Maharashtra)2000 – Singer Of the Millennium (Dubai)2000 – Zee Gold Bollywood Award (for Mujhe rang de from Thakshak)2001 – MTV Award (for Kambakht Ishq)2002 – BBC Lifetime Achievement Award (presented by the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair)2002 – Zee Cine Award (for Radha kaise na jale from Lagaan)2002 – Zee Cine – Hall Of Fame2002 – Screen Videocon Award (for Radha kaise na jale from Lagaan)2002 – Sansui Movie Award (for Radha kaise na jale from Lagaan)
Asha also holds Honorary Doctrates from the University of Amravati and University of Jalgaon in Literature. She has also received the The Freddie Mercury Award for Outstanding Achievement in Arts.
The Birmingham Film Festival paid her a special tribute in November, 2002.