Brimful of Asha II

Both the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News are carrying articles on the Asha Bhosle and Kronos Quartet concert at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts tomorrow. Both pieces are intended to be introductions to the music of Bollywood (and legendary music director R. D. Burman in particular) that will be performed tomorrow. What I find interesting, though, is the differences in the tone of the two articles, perhaps due to the gap in desi population between San Francisco (not very many) and South Bay (lots). The San Francisco Chronicle piece is more explanatory, although not necessarily accurate:

While Bollywood cinema is more visible in American pop culture today than ever before, the music of Bollywood, which millions of Indians just have hardwired into their brains, has a harder time crossing over. The West might have MTV, but "Indian films, each with 6-10 songs, are the original MTV," says Bhosle's son and manager, Anand. American audiences have difficulty relating to the songs, missing the cultural references and the poetry of the lyrics, fixating instead on the crescendo of 101 shrieking violins.

Of course the truth of the matter is shrieking violins have been out of vogue in Bollywood for at least the past ten years. In addition, of late, big budget films such as Black and Sarkar have eschewed embedding music sequences all together. They've been hits, thus showing films don't have to contain music for audience acceptance. And there is such a beast as MTV-India.

The San Jose Mercury News article is more concise, perhaps trusting many of its readers to already know about the basics of Bollywood and Asha Bhosle. But this way, you can miss some nuggets. Consider this graf on Asha in the Mercury News:

She also became the wife of R.D. Burman, who by Harrington's formulation stands alongside other giants of 20th-century music. The ingenious songwriter and film composer has some 330 film scores to his credit. In many cases, it was Bhosle who ended up introducing his songs, such as ``Dum Maro Dum'' (Take Another Toke), a giddy international hit from Dev Anand's 1971 study of the hippies drawn to Nepal and India, ``Hare Rama, Hare Krishna.''

This is expanded greatly in the Chronicle to:

Tongues wagged when she married R. D. Burman in 1980. In fact, the two had met years before: He was first a fan while she was singing for his father, himself a leading composer. "I remember he was thin and short, and I of course looked older and was also quite fat," she laughs. "He just took my autograph and left." Years later, when he quit his studies to become a composer, she scolded him for not graduating. "He didn't like it -- he got up and left," she recalls.

Later, she became one of his best-known collaborators. When rumors bubbled about their professional relationship turning romantic, conservative Indian society frowned on this middle-aged mother of three embarking on a love affair. "People don't like it if you live honestly," says Bhosle with a shrug. "They like hypocrisy and lies." She married Burman to end the swirling gossip around their relationship.

But their collaboration set the music industry ablaze. Her son Anand remembers going to a concert in 1972 or 1973 where all the biggest stars of Indian music, including his aunt, Lata Mangeshkar, were performing. "Right at the end it was Mom's turn, and when she and R. D. Burman entered together the audience went berserk," says Anand.

At that time their biggest hit, "Dum Maro Dum" (literally, "Take Another Toke") from a film about hippies, was banned on All India Radio. People listened to it on neighboring Sri Lanka's Radio Ceylon. When R. D. and Bhosle came on, says Anand, "it was as if Tom Jones had been performing and suddenly a superstar like Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley came on stage."

Should be a great concert tomorrow. Looking forward to it.

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- September 21, 2005 8:27 PM // Bay Area , Bollywood , Music