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World Music Legends

Asha Bhosle

Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar

By Anastasia Tsioulcas
Published October 9, 2005


If you’ve ever heard Indian filmi sangeet—typically a high-pitched fluttering of a female singer backed by a psychedelically colored array of Western and South Asian instruments—chances are very, very good that you’ve heard the voice of either Asha Bhosle or Lata Mangeshkar. Bhosle, with more than 20,000 songs recorded in over a dozen languages, is the world’s most recorded artist, according to the Guinness Book Of World Records—and Mangeshkar follows close behind. But these two singers’ careers are far more intertwined than their comparable artistic and commercial successes would suggest: they are sisters.

How did these sibling phenomena occur? Part of the answer lies in the astonishing popularity of Mumbai’s film industry, lovingly dubbed “Bollywood” after the city’s old name of Bombay, and in Bollywood’s mania for song and dance. (After Partition in 1947, a parallel industry developed in Lahore, Pakistan, referred to, naturally enough, as “Lollywood.”) Long ago, Bollywood became the world’s most prolific film center, far surpassing Hollywood, Cairo and other moviemaking hot spots, releasing about 800 films every year. (This number is for Hindi-language films only—it doesn’t take into account the huge Telugu- and Tamil-language movie industries, among others, that cater to regional audiences.)

Indian popular film prizes the art of artifice, giving the audience the biggest bang for its hard-earned rupees. Bollywood movies are about total entertainment: a single film often straddles several styles (for example, a romantic comedy/family drama/action flick). Since the early 1930s, singing and dancing sequences, delivered at regular intervals, have goosed up storylines, contributing further to the escapist fantasy. Moviegoers are treated to the prettiest faces—why not the prettiest voices as well?  Hence the thriving business of playback singers, to whose recordings Indian actors and actresses lip-sync.

The secret to the sisters’ astounding success also lies partly with their family: Their father, Dinanath Mangeshkar, was a very well-known actor and singer whose specialty was sangeet nathak, a Marathi tradition of music and theater. (Lataji was born in 1929, Ashaji in1933.) With that background, perhaps it’s no surprise that all five of his children chose careers in music; while still a child, Lata appeared as an actress in Marathi films. After Dinanath’s death, his widow Shrimati moved to Bombay in 1944, the epicenter of film culture, a proximity which helped boost their burgeoning careers.

The selections on two recently released Rough Guide To Bollywood Legends CDs (on the U.K.-based World Music Network label)—one each devoted to Bhosle and Mangeshkar—give a wonderful taste of their individual talents. There’s Ashaji’s remarkable ability to absorb the essence of a film character (and of the corresponding actress) an

Recommended Recordings


The Rough Guide To Bollywood Legends: Lata Mangeshkar (World Music Network)

The Rough Guide To Bollywood Legends: Asha Bhosle (World Music Network)

In Her Own Voice (EMI India) (Lata Mangeshkar)