Their journey dates back to when Lalit Pandit was a cute moppet and would join his siblings and the children’s chorus group at the recording room in Mumbai’s Film Centre. He remembers singing Rona kabhi nahin rona with Kishore Kumar for Apna Desh and Sa re ke sa re for Parichay with Asha Bhosle under RD Burman’s baton.
“Ashaji in her beautiful saris would sit and chat with the other singers. I didn’t speak Hindi too well then, but compensated with my singing. I was the youngest kid and the shortest. She told me later how she would pick me up and place me on a stool or the table so I could reach the mic,” he laughs.
When his brother, Jatin, and he turned music directors, they would create songs for Ashaji and though they were always respectful, she never behaved like a know-it-all senior with them. “She would come to the studio, sit with us to understand what we wanted. She never skipped rehearsals,” he shares, grousing that the younger, less talented and experienced, would sometimes turn up directly for the recording only to discover that the song was not as simple as they had imagined.
“We had got into the habit of stopping and repeating lines with some, but Ashaji was a one-take artiste. She would sail through the recording, mindful of our cues. Once she was assured that we were happy and satisfied, she would insist on another take, this time singing the song her way without any interruptions. That’s where all her experience, sincerity and reach would come into play,” Lalit points out, adding that even when she sang with Kishore Kumar and Mohd. Rafi for composers like OP Nayyar, Madan Mohan, Shankar-Jaikishan and of course, RD Burman, she would reserve her best for the final take when she would wow everyone with her harkats and adakari.
He goes on to inform that Ashaji would also insist on recording live with her co-singer if it was a duet instead of dubbing her portions separately. This would intimidate even a National Award-winner like Udit Narayan. But once they came face-to-face, she would put the other singer at ease and together, they would create magic.
Quiz him on his Asha Bhosle favourites and he protests, saying there are too many. But then goes on to rattle off half-a-dozen, including Deewana hua badal (Kashmir Ki Kali), Aao huzoor tumko (Kismat), O mere sona re (Teesri Manzil), Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko (Yaadon Ki Baaraat), Sajna hai mujhe sajna ke liye (Saudagar) and Jhumka gira re (Mera Saaya).
The brothers themselves have created magic with Ashaji in Khiladi — Dekha teri mast nigahon mein — Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha, including Ajnabi mujhe itna bata, and of course, Zara sa jhoom loon main from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. There’s a story behind the DDLJ song.
“On the day that Panchamda passed away, Jatin and I had gone to his house to pay our condolences. A very upset Ashaji was there, with Gulzar sahab,” Lalit reminisces.
After Gulzar sahab left, Ashaji casually asked what we were doing. As they listed out their films, she wondered if they had worked with Yash Chopra. When they shook their heads, admitting it was a dream, she called him herself and suggested their names. “Yashji admitted that he had heard of the “talented young boys”, and asked us to meet him. It’s thanks to Ashaji that we landed our biggest break in DDLJ,” he recounts gratefully.
For Lalit, Ashaji is not just another singer, she is like an elder sister, she is family. So, it’s not surprising when he tells you that one day, when he was driving down to Empire Studio with her, she gave him an invaluable health tip. “She never eats rotis, nor does Lataji. She told me no matter what kind of a roti it is, there’s maida (flour) in it and insisted it’s better to eat rice and dal instead. I have been following her advice since,” he signs off.