Asking Asha Bhonsle to review new Hindi film music is a bit like Sunil Gavaskar or Sourav Ganguly in the cricket commentary box. They are legends in their fields, which gives them a certain authority to comment on current happenings. Their insights are different from that of a critic: they are informed by many years of experience, rare anecdotes and a personal equation with the people they are critiquing. That could make things exciting if they ignore conflicts of interest and speak their mind. But if they decide to be diplomatic, it can become painfully boring to listen to. They can sound like celebrities on Twitter before the release of a senior fraternity member’s film.

Thankfully, right at the start of her brand new podcast, The Asha Verdict, for Gaana.com, Asha Bhonsle announces that she will not mince words. “The world knows that I am pretty straightforward. Yet, one can’t always speak the truth," she says. “But when it comes to music, when someone is out of tune, if I don’t like certain things in a song, I really do say what I feel."

In the first episode of the podcast, which is in Hindi, Bhonsle reviews the music of Ashutosh Gowariker’s upcoming film Mohenjo Daro, which has been composed by A.R. Rahman, with lyrics by Javed Akhtar. Bhonsle had sung Radha Kaise Na Jale when Gowariker, Rahman and Akhtar first collaborated, for Lagaan (2001). As she begins talking about the songs from Mohenjo Daro, one by one in chronological order, Bhonsle makes criticisms that are not only valid for the album but emblematic of the problems in today’s film music. She points at the weakness of the bol (pronunciation) of singers in songs such as Sindhu Maa and Sarsariya. But even when she is critical of young singers such as Sanah Moidutty and Shashwat Singh, it feels more like a guru sharing her wisdom rather than harsh judgment.

“A singer should pronounce words with love, and it should be clear. You need to spend a lot of time trying to master it. You have to polish your Hindustani and Urdu pronunciations if you want to sing for Hindi films. When I came to the film industry, I didn’t know Urdu because I am a Maharashtrian. But I had to learn. Nowadays, sadly, not much attention is paid to pronunciation," she says.

Bhonsle’s analysis stresses on the singing more than anything else, and she is not afraid to comment on the experienced musicians as well. Even as she acknowledges that Rahman, with whom she continues to share a good working relationship, has a singing style that is radically different from most others, she doesn’t spare him. “When you sing a word such as “pyaar (love)", it should not come with force; it is a naazook (fragile) thing. Here, it feels like a slap instead of love," she says about the song Tu Hai.

She tucks an insight into the discourse that could have only come from someone who has spent countless hours in the studio with the creators of the song. “Akhtar saheb usually steps in in these situations. It’s his habit. I wonder why he didn’t intervene."

Things get interesting when Bhonsle begins speaking about the two wordless and two instrumental tracks on the album. She has nothing but praise for Arjun Chandy, who uses his voice like an instrument on Whisper of the Mind and Whisper of the Heart. She likens listening to these tracks to “being inside a Greek church, eyes closed, and passing through a jungle at night". It is great to hear an artiste of her stature get emotional, like one of us, while trying to articulate the profundity of music.

She is spot on when she describes Mohenjo Daro as an album true to the approach of Rahman and one likely to work better as a post-movie experience. But it is difficult to sing along to and lacks a certain synergy between composer, singer and lyricist, she laments. She seems particularly disappointed in her old friend Akhtar’s lyrics, but is encouraging even when critical, saying, “It is a waste of such a great artiste. A good album needs tunes that go with the lyrics."

TV chat shows and radio programmes with artistes from an older generation have always had a space in India. Actor and music aficionado Annu Kapoor hosts a popular radio show that plays Hindi film oldies. Bhonsle has been a judge on singing reality shows herself, one of her attempts to stay relevant in changing times. So this podcast seems a natural progression.

The Asha Verdict sounds fair and fearless. There is a lack of constructive criticism of Hindi film music and getting someone as informed and respected as Bhonsle to talk about it may be a good way to start. It will be interesting to see, though, how selective the show is in picking albums; it’s hard to imagine Bhonsle talking about the music of, say, Dishoom. In the 26-minute 46-second podcast (a shorter version is also available), she sometimes meanders into banal topics, such as her closeness to the Roshan family and Ashutosh Gowariker’s film-making, and these comes across as film industry pleasantries. But she also shares priceless anecdotes, such as one about lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri giving her a lesson in pronunciation. While listening to The Asha Verdict, it’s perhaps better to view Bhonsle’s role not as a music critic in the true sense, but more as a celebrity guest RJ who talks about a new film album as critically as she can allow herself to.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

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