OP Nayyar and I became friends when I was posted in Mumbai during the '90s. I used to visit his PG digs in Thane very often and many a drunken evening has been spent reminiscing about his film industry days.
During one such evening, he mentioned that he had great respect for RD Burman’s talent and viewed him as a kindred spirit. Both were trend-setters; both defied the existing musical mores; both used musical instruments innovatively; both were rhythm masters.
And both had Asha as their muse!
Then came the shocker from him – he claimed that irrespective of Asha being firmly ensconced in RD’s studio and heart, RD gave his best songs to Lata!
|Who can forget Lata in Aandhi? 'Is mod se jaate hain', 'Tere bina zindagi se', and 'Tum aa gaye ho' – all with Kishore.|
It has been a general rule, with exceptions of course, that melodious and semi-classical songs went to Lata. The frothy, fun-filled, rhythm-oriented ones to Asha.
Take RD’s first film itself – Chhote Nawab. The Raag Malgunji based "Ghar aaja ghir aayi badarwa sanwariya" created a sensation and is still fresh and timeless.
The songs listed below are only representative. But it will give you the drift. Amar Prem had two gems – "Raina beeti jaye" based on Raag Lalit, and "Bada natkhat hai" based on Raag Khamaj.
Yet for all his talent, "Bada natkhat" would have been a run-of-the-mill bhajan had the ever watchful SD not admonished his son for not exploiting his creative juices adequately in failing to express the nautch-girl’s agony in not being able to be a mother.
A chastened RD paid heed, composed a new tune packing it with the right shades of emotion, got Lata to use her dulcet voice to convey the playfulness of Krishna and his association with Yashoda, bed rocked on Sharmila’s pathos, albeit in a refreshingly upbeat format.
Consider the songs from Baharon ke Sapne – "Aaja piya tohe pyaar dun, Kya janu sajan", and "Chunri sambhal gori (with Manna Dey)". These songs are evergreen.
And who can forget Aandhi – "Is mod se jaate hain", "Tere bina zindagi se", and "Tum aa gaye ho" – all with Kishore.
Consider these songs - Vinati karun Ghanashyam in Raag Jogiya (Pati Patni), "Karvate badalte rahen" in Raag Pahadi (with Kishore in Aap Ki Kasam), "Mere naina sawan bhadon" in Raag Shivranjani (with Kishore in Mehbooba), "Beeti na betayi raina" in Raag Bihag (with Bhupinder in Parichay).
I can go on and on. Caravan - "Dilbar dil se pyaare" would normally have been sung by Asha. Lata gets into the mood of the song with total abandon and shows that she could encroach Asha’s genre with equal felicity.
Her duet from the same film with Rafi – "Kitna pyaara wada hai" was melody all the way. In another song that was in Asha’s mould – breezy and raunchy, Lata showed that she had it in her -the "Kaanta" number of Samadhi.
Then there are songs from Ghar – "Aap Ki Aankhon Mein (with Kishore)" and "Aaj kal paaon zameen par"; Train – "Kis liye maine pyar kiya"; Padosan – "Sharm aati hai magar, Main chali main chali".
RD’s Lata number in Anamika, "Bahon mein chale aao" was such a delectable song. The impishness is conveyed very dexterously by Lata’s velvety, whispery voice.
Consider the stunning song from Gulzar’s Libas -a film that was never released- "Sili hawa chhu gai, sila badan chhil gaya" or her song "Kuhu kuhu koyaliya" from Gulzar’s still-born Devdas which saw shooting for only 10 days with two songs recorded.
And so on.
If Lata got the pick of the litter, where did that leave Asha? The fact is that RD had two generally recognisable divisions in his musical repertoire. The melody-based songs were normally assigned to Lata and the rhythm-oriented ones to Asha.
Of course, Asha did melody-based songs too – songs of Ijaazat are usually trotted out by the Asha apologists, but these were glorious exceptions. You and I could like one or both the genres. There is no right or wrong. But when posterity tabulates the "best" of any music director, the melody-based tunes ordinarily trump the other category.
Asha’s songs may have been very popular during their time and are still popular now especially with the younger generation, but history will not record these songs as RD’s best.
RD himself admitted that Lata was a better singer. In The Times of India, Bombay, September 29, 1985, he said, "…there is no doubt that Lata-ji is supreme. When she sings, she forgets about herself, her home, and there’s a complete changeover of personality. Though she may not admit this, she becomes a mother, or a sweetheart before the microphone."
So while the nation enjoys and dances to "Monica, my darling", most would probably rate "Naam gum jaayega" as the better song!