For Bengalis who grew up with his music, RD's passing away marks the end of youth
by Abhijit Dasgupta
A good thing about India is that it lives in it's music. And perhaps the best thing about us is that most if us die with our music too. A part of us died at 3.30 am on January 4; the music that we had lived for all these years passed into eternity at precisely that hour, with the death of Rahul Dev Burman.
We grew up with four persons: Sunil Gavaskar, Amitabh Bachchan, Kishore Kumar and Rahul Dev Burman. The decade was the seventies. Innocence had still not taken a back seat: playing truant in schools was still great fun, queuing up outside Loretto was the highest form of pleasure and tuning into the radio early in the morning to hear Gavaskar walk off in a huff at Melbourne was still the source of final excitement. And, of course, waiting for Amitabh Bachchan. And Kishore Kumar. And Rahul Dev Burman. We simply did not have any time for Indira Gandhi.
For quite a few of us, Rahul or RD was the last word. And when he teamed up with Kishore, our joy knew no bounds. For my friends, Bachchan and Gavaskar were the leaders: the sneers were preserved for those who were still clutching on to the coat-tails of a former phenomenon called Rajesh Khanna. We waited patiently for the Pujas: not because of the gifts but for RD's special numbers with Kishore and Asha Bhonsle. Later, when all these songs found their way into hindi films, we used to compare notes. With rare exceptions, the consensus was that the puja numbers were vastly superior: the ever-present Bengali tradition of parochialism was mannest even at that early stage of youth.
Earlier, much earlier, there was the Lata number sung in Bengali to RD's music: Amar madhabilata. It was the mid-sixties and one of the first Bengali hits of the nightingale. Latabai may have sung countless Bengali hits after that: most of them under Salil Choudhury's baton, but for me, that remains her best Bengali song yet. Incidentally, perhaps because it still remains one of my most-loved RD favourites; the composer did not allow Bollywood to borrow it.
The other day, while listening to the Jaipur se Delhi chale number from Gurudev, one of RD's last films. I was struck by the way he had incorporated srains of a famous Bengali Asha number of yesteryears: Mohuaye jomeche Not that the man had burnt out with nothing to offer. Both the Gurudev songs (the other one being: Aana re aana re) had climbed up the charts in Superhit Muqabla: obviously the man knew exactly what to take from where. Never being a Bappi Lahiri or Annu Malik on the way. The only song worth comparing would be Salil Choudhury's Madhumati number by Mukesh, Dil tadap tadap ke where one instrumental interlude is a deft lift from one of the composer's own Bengali numbers.
One reason RD never lived up to his promise(which, is a superficial perception )was because he gave great music to films which were doomed from the muharat. Has anyone heard the music of Trimurti, a Sanjay Khan starrer of the early seventies? Or perhaps Deven Verma's Bada Kabutar? Both the films sank without a trace: some of RD's best numbers went with them.
Typical of the man and unlike his contemporaries Laxmikant and Pyarelal (LP), RD gave his best for every film. But by then LP-his only rival, talentwise-had forged ahead, picking and choosing on the way.
An editor in Delhi had once grandly announced that LP was the best simply because they had been at the top for so long. And a lot of us had kept quiet then waiting for the Gurudev to happen.
Freud said that a man becomes an adult when his father dies. When Gavaskar took his last guard, when Kishore died, when Bachchan announced his retirement, the younger generation of Indians slowly lost it's youth. With RD's death, we have suddenly come of age.
1994 had finally arrived. The new year had begun with a big bang. High hopes, high spirits and great expectations for happiness, peace and prosperity. There was no place left for sadness or gloom. And yet, it found its insidious way into our hearts on that unfortunate winter morning.
January 4, 1994, 3.45am R.D.Burman, one of the greatest music directors of all times passed away after suffering two heart attacks, one after the other. Indian cinema had lost another genius.
I was rudely awakened by the news of his untimely demise and soon found myself making my way to his Santa Cruz residence in a daze. I reached his house in the early hours of the morning to find a deafening silence greeting me. The music room that was always reverberating with his melodies was now quiet. The only sounds one could hear were the broken sobs if his bereaved wife, singer Asha Bhonsle with her family rallying for support. Only his closest friends had arrived yet while they stood in the balcony speechless, I went to the air-conditioned room where his body lay. I had never seen a body so much at peace. Yet, I felt a deep sense of loss to see the vivacious Pancham Kaku (uncle) I had known lying, bereft of any life in him. The king of rhythm was lying without a beat.
Friends who were seeking solace in each other were musicians Kersi Lord, Franco, Tony Vaz, Bhanu Gupta, singers Jolly Mukherjee, Bhupinder, Shailendra, Chhaya Ganguli and best pals Polly Gupta, Bubbles Behl and Bharat. Polly, one of his most loved ones cried helplessly. "I hate early calls," she said. "They are mostly bearers of bad tidings. When I was informed by Bharatbhai at 4a.m to come immediately as Panchamda was very ill, we started with a grave foreboding. But I still refused to think that it could be all over. When I entered his house, Sudam (one of his servants who was like a son to Pancham whose most loved ones were always friends and servants more than relatives) started weeping like a baby on my shoulder. The reality of the situation sank in. My Panchamda was gone. Never again can I tie a rakhi or do tikka on Bhaidooj to him."
The scene became more heart wrenching as one by one, all his close friends broke down. Ashaji refused to be taken to her husband's room. She wailed, "Main uss kamre mein nahin jaaoongi. Main usse mara hua nahin dekh sakti. Main usse zinda dekhna chahti hoon," Gulzarbhai hugged her and comforted her. Bubbles, Ashaji's daughter Varsha and son-in-law Hemant were constantly by her side. It was still quite early in the morning when Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan arrived. Jaya read the 'Gita' in front of the body so that his soul may rest in peace.
Soon thereafter, the apartment was filled by old associates, friends and admirers. The crowd began swelling outside the apartment building to get a glimpse of their favourite stars as they came to offer their condolences. From the music fraternity, there were music directors Laxmikant, Usha Khanna, Jatin-Lalit, Nadeem-Shravan, Annu Malik, lyricists Anand Bakshi, Gulshan Bawra, Majrooh Sultanpuri and singers Amit Kumar, Kavita Krishnamurty, Alka Yagnik, Anuradha Paudwal, Suresh Wadkar, Jolly Mukherjee, Sudesh Bhonsle, Sushma Shreshta, A.Hariharan and Nitin Mukesh. Panchamda's long time associate lyricist Gulshan Bawra spoke of Pancham as a "music director who was 20 years ahead of the rest. Aaj ke jo composers hain, woh to Pancham ka hi kha rahe hain. What Raj saab was to cinema, Pancham is to music. Today, I am a shattered man. My last friend has also gone. I hope that it is my turn next." According to lyricist Majrooh saab,"This is the end of an era in the music industry." Singer Amit Kumar was inconsolable, "He spoke to me last night on the phone,"he said, "He talked excitedly about a recording he made on January 12 for the film Gang. He optimistically said, 'Amit, 1994 will be our year.' And all of a sudden, he is no more. After my father's death, this is the worst blow I've ever felt. "Jolly, who in his formative years spent a lot of time at Panchamda's music sittings recalled, "Even as a child I idolised him. He was very encouraging. I had dubbed for the title song of the film Shahenshah. Music directors Amar-Uttpal approached R.D. to sing it. But when he heard that I had dubbed for it, he turned it down. That was how great he was." Classical ghazal singer Dilraj Kaur still has Panchamda's voice recorded on her answering machine two days before his death. She remembers him as "a very simple and non-egoistic person. I was still a newcomer when he rang me up and said, 'Mera naam Pancham hai. Mere liya gaaogi?' I jumped at the offer."
Another close friend, Bubbles, wife of late Ramesh Behl (Pancham kaku's producer from the Jawani Diwani days) said, "I knew Panchamda as a child. He was my uncle's friend and he visited my granny's place quite often. At that time, I used to call him 'uncle'. It was only after marriage that I started calling him Panchamda. He was as good a man as a music director. He was the best friend that one could ever wish for. He was always like an anchor for me and my family." Tina, his favourite niece cried, "He was very fond of me. I was his pet. I know him for as long as I can remember. He was a man of simple joys and pleasures. He had a passion for four things-good food, hats, watches and if course, music. He knew how to make another person feel nice and important. Whenever he recorded a new song or album, he could always send me a master copy inscribed with a message to me. I will never part with him for my life. I had never thought that I would need mementos from him." Her voice trailed off as she stared at his photograph sadly.
Among the actors and actresses who came for a last glimpse of the maestro were Rakhee, Rishi Kapoor, Randhir Kapoor, Rajeev Kapoor, Mazhar Khan, Jackie Shroff, Anupam Kher, Aamir Khan, Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Amrish Puri, Kalpana Iyer, Padmini Kolhapure, Poonam Dhillon, Neelam, Anil Kapoor, Nana Patekar, Deepti Naval, Sanjay Dutt and Leena Chandravarkar. Neelam described Panchamda as "the most loving, jovial and good hearted person I have ever met. I was very attached to him. I remember the fun we used to have during the music sittings for my first film Jawaani. I was just a kid then. He would jokingly chide Ashaji asking her to sound more like a little girl. I will always miss him." Kalpana Iyer wept bitterly. "There cannot be another Pancham," she said. "The last of the great has gone. I loved him like a daughter would love her father." Poonam said that she had always been an ardent admirer of R.D. "Never has there been such effective music. On New Year's eve this time, I was at the Oberoi's Towers and I saw that even today youngsters were swinging to 'Piya tu ab to aaja.' He was a composer for all times."
The last rites were being conducted. Raakhee made a brave attempt to fight back her tears while she bustled around the house helping out with the arrangements. She had lost one of her dearest friends, who was her neighbour as well as ex-husband Gulzar's closest friend. Raakhee perfumed his body with his favourite colognes Grey Flannel and Dunhill and brought the beautiful silk dhoti and kurta that she had bought for Pancham as a gift but which he never lived to see. It was decided that he would be taken on his last journey in those clothes.
Panchamda's mother, Mrs. Meera Burman was brought to his side. Mrs. Burman who is 82 years old, is suffering from severe brain damage and can move from one room to another with the aid of a nurse. She refused to believe that her son was no more. She persistently repeated in Bengali, "This is not my son. This is someone else's body."
Directors Shakti Samanta, Debesh Ghosh, Yash Chopra, Bimal Dutt, Mukul Dutt and Vidhu Chopra were also present. Both Shakti Samanta and Mukul Dutt, husband of late Chand Usmani, wept at their friend's side. It was Gulzar who offered his shoulder to almost every other person to lean on and cry his sorrows out. With each person, he would also shed a few tears. Bhanu Gupta, one of the most sought-after musicians in the industry and the most loyal of Pancham's friends stood aside, shocked and speechless. After two days when I spoke to him, he said, "Pancham and I started our careers together. I've assisted him in all his films since 1965. Never has our friendship faced a threat, even in our worst times. To me, my career was Pancham. Yesterday, at another recording for the first time in all my years of experience, I made mistakes. Everyone knew how close I was to Pancham and they comforted me. I just guess I'll have to learn without him now."
Lahirida, an old man who was Pancham's local guardian in Calcutta, performed his last rites. A little afternoon, as the body was being taken away to be cremated, a deafening chorus if cries and wails rent the skies. The beloved Panchamda was on his way to another world.
As I watched the cremation proceedings on my TV set late in the evening, I recalled our last meeting. I had gone to visit him with my cousin. He had a touch of malaria and was sitting alone in the balcony. He looked so lonely. How was he to know that a few weeks later, thousands would come to see him? (Asha would live in her own house and would him on and off.) He thanked us profusely for dropping by and proceeded to be his own funny, talkative self. He told us about his current assignments which included Gang and 1942 and his other apartment which he was decorating. "Bas, abhi iss ghar ko chhodna chahiye." Little did he know that this would happen so soon.
Now, his apartment echoes with silence. Her ailing mother is confined to her room with her nurse. She will now spend the rest of her life in the loving care of his servants-once Asha makes all the arrangements. Even now his servants, who he loved like his own children, keep of thinking of the unfortunate day when their attempts to save their father's life were in vain. The street mongrel Badshah, whom Panchamda fed regularly with his own hands, still lurks in the compound waiting for his master to come back. My heart goes out to them all. The lady housekeeper sits in the balcony, staring at the endless skies. "Kitne acche aadmi the woh, Bhagwan se bhi bhadkar. Kya maloom ab hamara kya hoga. Bas ek unhi ka toh sahara tha."
Remembering the finger-snappers and the soulful songs sung by R.D. Burman himself... on the occasion of his fourth death anniversary which fell on January 4, 1998.
It was an inherited talent. Music was a gift bequeathed to Rahul Dev Burman, who passed away so suddenly four years ago, by his father, Sachin Dev Burman. If Burman Dada immortalised himself with his two manjhi songs -- O re manjhi (Bandini) and Sun mere bandhu re (Sujata) -- Burman Baba belted out O manjhi teri naiyya se chhoota kinara in that long-forgotten river-bank(rupt) bilingual Aar Paar directed by Shakti Samanta.
This timeless manjhi song proves that Papa and Burman Jr were sailing in the same boat. Sadly, by the time RD's boat sailed into the 1980s, it developed a leak. If the song hadn't gone unnoticed, RD would surely have sung more such reflective quasi-philosophical songs.
Doubtless, the distinctive voice of R.D. Burman was capable of conveying the emotional of a lyric as well, if not better than some male playback singers who sang for him. This is specially true of RD's tunes for Amit Kumar. In the popular Bade achhe lagte hain (Balika Badhu), Amit's voice synchronises so well with RD's that listeners can scarcely tell when Pancham stealthily slips into the number with the boatman's clarion call O manjhi re jaiyo piya ke des... R.D. Burman often contributed key lines to his compositions without claiming credit. Though the legendary cabaret number Piya tu ab to aaja in Caravan is credited only to Asha Bhosle, Pancham's banshee cries of Monica o my darling have rooted the number in the public's mind.
In the hauntingly bare Kishore Kumar-Lata Mangeshkar love duet Hum dono do premee duniya chhod chale (Ajnabi), the composer chips in as the bystander at the railway station to ask where the fugitive lovers are off to.
In Lata's version of Phoolon ka taron ka sab ka kehna hai (Hare Rama Hare Krishna), Pancham sings for 'Daddy' Kishore Sahu -- with Daddy ka mummy ka sabka kehna hai ek hazaron mein teri behna hai... These incidental vocal appearances verify Pancham's casual yet unforgettable artistry.
Recalls Gulzar, "Pancham was an excellent singer. He knew the nuances of classical singing. For my films, he sang only a couple of songs. But he lent his voice even so often. For instance, in Jabbar Patel's Musafir, the boatman's voice-over, is Pancham! As a singer, he would perfect a tune by singing it repeatedly. In the album that I did with him in 1994, listen to how well he has sang the numbers Raah pe rahte hain and Koi diya jale kahin (later rendered by Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle, respectively).
Then in Dil Padosi Hai, the original soundtracks by Pancham before they were dubbed by Asha Bhosle are superb. They show his range as a singer.
ROCKING INTO A ROLL
The solos and duets that R.D. Burman sang in the '70s asserted his growing reputation as a rock-'n'-roll renegade. Somehow the serious songs sung by Pancham (such as the manjhi number in Aar Paar) never got their due. The hits that Pancham sang were almost invariably gimmicky.
With Mohammed Rafi, RD was heard in his element in the yummy Yamma yamma number in Shaan. RD's most memorable duet of male bonding was the zany jazz-tinged title song of Gol Maal. Sung with Sapan Chakravarty, the song's verve is unmatched by any other song of male bonding in the '80s except perhaps Jaan-e-Jigar, the groovy Goan gaana that RD `dared' to duet with his favourite male singer, Kishore Kumar in Pukaar.
Whenever R.D. Burman went solo, he made sure it was a song that needed his voice, and no one else's. Incredibly, the all-time favourite Mehbooba oh mehbooba (Sholay), might not have been sung by Pancham at all. At first, this vibrant sexy titillator was to be sung by Asha Bhosle. When Jalal Agha was brought into the picture to lend a vocal drizzle to Helen's sizzle, R.D. Burman was considered by Javed Akhtar, Anand Bakshi and Ramesh Sippy as the best bet for this number inspired by a Demis Roussos chart-topper.
Equally accomplished was Pancham's interpretation of the locomotive rhythms of Dhanno ki aankhon mein raat ka surma. Gulzar's words in Kitaab were transported to a wonderland of images. It became a voyage of self-discovery for Pancham. Equally devil-may-care was RD's interpretation of the number Kal kya hoga kisko pataa (Kasme Vaade) and Samundar mein naha ke (Pukar).
And how elegantly Pancham wore the shirt of hurt into the two Nasir Hussain musicals Hum Kisise Kam Nahin and Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai. In the ever-young songs Tum kya jaano mohabbat kya hai and Dil lena khel hai dildar ka, R.D. walked tall over a terrain of pain.
The most meditative solo melody that Pancham sang was Yeh zindagi kuchh bhi sahi in the flop Kumar Gaurav-Poonam Dhillon starrer, Romance, containing some of RD's best compositions ever. The emotional grip of the lyrical delivery rivals Kabhi palkon pe aansoon which Kishore Kumar sang for R.D. Burman in Harjaee.
With his singing soul companion Asha Bhonsle, R.D. created a dense romantic atmosphere. Though they sang no more than seven or eight full-fledged duets, the slender repertoire created a voluminous impression because of their impact.
The first duet that R.D. and Asha sang was O meri jaan main ne kahaa (The Train). The Rajesh Khanna-R.D. Burman team that bloomed in the '70s was in its infancy when R.D. composed and sang with Asha for The Train. The film had two strikingly original-sounding solos Gulabi aankhen by Mohammed Rafi and Kis liye maine pyar kiya by Lata. Inadvertently, the RD-Asha duet was left out, sidetracked.
R.D. Burman and Asha Bhosle had their revenge the very next year when their uptempo number outpaced all other chartbusters of Apna Desh. Their heat-and-run number? The high-pitched ode to raunch -- Duniya mein logon ko dhokha kabhi ho jaata hai. The number stressed the outlandishness of Pancham's vocals. Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz were dressed as a couple of freakos in this climactic song.
Just when you thought they were the '70s version of Sonny and Cher, belying all expectations, the RD-Asha pair hit an all-time high of emotional expression in Sapna mera toot gaya in Khel Khel Mein. While Kishore Kumar accompanied Asha in all the frothy fun duets in the film, R.D.Burman stepped in to create waves in this memorable song of parting and remembrance.
Peculiar, passionate and palpably Pancham is Na jaa jaan-e-jaan that largely ignored, scene stealer RD-Asha duet in Joshilay. Here and in the disco-very-very special of the '80s, Jaan-e-jaan o meri jaan-e-jaan in Sanam Teri Kasam, Pancham stepped back into the shadows to let Asha `squeal' the limelight. But his contribution to the two duets is like a mistletoe decorating a Christmas tree.
The last duet that R.D. Burman sang with Asha was Yeh din to aata hai (Mahaan). Sadly by then R.D. Burman's career was under a cloud.
There's an interesting end-game associated with R.D. Burman's career as a singer. In the selective, reluctant and meagre repertoire of songs that the chameleon composer chose to sing, one song is extra-special. Kya bhala hai kya bura in Gulzar's unreleased Libaas. It's one of the few film songs that dares to make light of the burden of existence.
The song is special for another reason. It's the only time, Rahul Dev Burman dared to face at the microphone with the singer who had seen him as a child fooling around in shorts at his papa's recordings... and whom the young adult-Pancham hesitantly approached to sing the first song that he ever composed.
That duet with Lata Mangeshkar was the last song R.D. Burman ever sang in a film.
Naushad Ali, in his prime, was referred to as 'The Maestro with the Midas Touch'. I would likewise refer to Rahul Dev Burman as 'The Maestro with the Mod Touch'.
"RD Was by far the stand-out talent among the younger line of composers, at all times innovative like me, at all times experimenting like me," says Salil Chowdhury. "In fact, I would go step further and rank him alongside all the top composers of my generation, such was his range and variety."
Salil is never one given to sentiment, not even when he is speaking of a composing prodigy who is no more. Salil, in fact, has no great opinion of Naushad. But he does rate RD highly. Salil's point is that Naushad was, at all times, predictable, RD was not.
To each his own view. But RD's early passing should teach us vintagers a permanent lesson: Never to be dismissive of young talent. The Naushad-S.D. Burman generation consistently ran down R.D. Burman. Today, when so many of RD's tunes live on in the mind and heart after his death, the generation is constrained to revise its view.
That is why I would not hesitate to pass instant value judgment on either Nadeem-Shravan or Anand-Milind. Copy they may, but was there any composer in his time who was accused of being more imitative than R.D. Burman? The point is, within the ambit of being imitative, you can be creative. You can bring your own stamp even to a tune whose base is borrowed. This RD consistently did. Much of his early work was considered inspired by foreign composers. Yet he stayed on to become an inspirational influence to the younger array of composers. So fresh-sounding was RD that you just could not believe he was on the scene for 33 years. RD, in his lifetime, could not even dream of the possibility of his death meriting an editorial in The Times of India. Even his illustrious father was not accorded this editorial distinction when SD discovered, on October 31, 1975, that somebody up there liked him even more than we mere mortals on earth did.
Dada Burman composed some of his best tunes for Bimal Roy's Devdas: Talat's Mitwa mitwa yeh kaise anbhuj aag re and Kis ko khabar thi kis ko yakeen tha, Lata's Ab aage teri marzi, O jaane wale ruk jaa koti dam, Jise tu kabul kar le, Geeta-Manna's Aan milo aan milo Shyam saanwre, Saajan ki ho gayi gori and, not the least, Mubarak Begam's Who no aayege palat ke and Rafi's Manzil ke chah main. When word spread that R.D. Burman was scoring the music for Gulzar's 'Devdas', the idea of his compositionally measuring up to his father was treated with withering contempt. But, today, can we be sure that RD would not have done as good a job as SD on 'Devdas'? After all, RD had his roots in Ali Akbar.
Just think, would the Gulzar-RD teaming not rank as being as creative as any musical collaboration we have known in our films? Who but the Gulzar-R.D. Burman duo could have got Lata-Kishore to articulate, as tellingly in 'Aandhi' as these two singers did, Tere bina zindagi se koyi shikwa to nahin, Is mod se jaate hain and Tum aa gaye ho noor aa gaya hai? Who but this team could have got Bhupinder to blend so sensitively with Lata in Beeti no beetayi raina ("Parichay"), Meethe bol bole bole paayaliya ("Kinara") and Naam gum jaayega chera yeh badal jayaega ("Kinara").
Lata's articulation of Meri awaaz hi pehchan hai gar yaad rahe has become the Gulzar-RD puchline by which her velvety vocals are treated by us now and forever. Much like Asha Bhonsle, in her profound grief, being left all to herself today in a Bharat Vyas-. Bulsara vein of jag ke liye, aaj rone do mujhe pal ek apne bhi liye.
The Gulzar-RD combine, on Hema Malini in 'Khushboo', offered us a spot comparison of the best that could be drawn out of Asha and Lata alike on the same heroine: Bechare dil kya kare sawwan jale bhadon jale, on the one hand, do naina mein ansoo bhare hain nindiya kaise samaye, on the other.
I have studiedly touched on the softer side of RD, which was best represented in his case by Gulzar, to bring home Pancham's true intrinsic worth as a composer. As the pace-setter, RD was the trend-setter in the 70s. If the 90s found him confused and uncertain about what to give, it was because RD made the cardinal mistake of going public, in the film glossies, about the fact that 23 of his films had flopped in a row.
You do not do this in films, where a 24th film could prove a superhit and wipe out the memory of all earlier failure. As it turned out, that 24th film was 'Sunny', the film in which RD showed his class afresh the way he got Asha and Suresh Wadkar to vocalise the tandem: Aur kya ahd-e-wafa hote hain. But the resurrection came too late. RD had irretrievably damaged his cause with that '23 flops' acknowledgment. Look at Naushad, to this day he carries on as though nothing has happened.
But RD, he was incredibly naive for one who had hit the high spots. For one who had been a wave-maker, RD just did not know how to blow his own trumpet, he needed Bhupinder to do that for him! RD strangely had no comprehension of his own talent, no sense of achievement. Even his father did not settle for the 'Chalti ka Naam Gaadi' attitude that RD did. This, when RD was no less adept at scoring in every idiom, ranging from Kishore-Manna-Mehmood's ek chatur naar kar ke singar ('Padosan') to Asha's Mere kuchh saaman tumhare paas pada hai ('Ijaazat').
Asha aptly pinpointed RD's contrasting class when she named Mera kuch saaman tumhare paas pada hai ('Ijaazat') and O mere sona re sona re sona re ('Teesri Manzil') among her ten best of all time. Likewise, Kishore Kumar had accorded RD a rare honour when he picked not one but two of his tunes among his all-time ten best: Chingari koti bhade (from 'Amar prem') and Mere naina saawan bhadon (from 'Mehbooba'). No doubt, Kishore Kumar was to RD what Mohammed Rafi was to OP. Yet there was no cause for RD to have sat paralysed for as long as he did when Kishore passed away. It was a body-blow, of course. But never in this industry must you give the impression that it is a death-blow. RD did exactly that on the passing away of Kishore.
With reason, you might say. After all, who but Kishore could have rendered for RD with such meaning and feeling, O mere di ke chain ('Mere Jeevan Sathi'), Kehna hai kehna hai khena hai aaj tume yeh pehli baat ('Padosan'), O maanjhi re ('Khushboo'), Musafir hoon yaaron ('Parichay'), Yeh jo mohabbat hai ('Kati Patang'), Raat kali ek khwab main aayee ('Buddha Mil Gaya'), Diye jalte hain ('Namak Haram'), Zingadi ke safar mein ('Aap Ki Kasam'), Meri bhigi bhigi si ('Anamika') and Kuchh to log kahenge ('Amar Prem') to mention just a fistful of tunes that lend teeth to the argument that RD it was who, even more than SD, switched the aural-oral allegiance of a whole new generation from Rafi to Kishore.
RD had proved with 'Bhalika Badhu', in 1976 itself, that he had only to wok on son Amit Kumar to draw out of him the Kishore Kumar effect: Bade ache lagte hai, yeh dharti yeh nadiya hey raina aur tum. It would have needed very hard work on RD's part, no doubt, to get Amit going in Kishore's footsteps in the quicksands of filmdom. But he should have readied himself for this slog after having already scored with the same Amit Kumar in 'Love Story'. Yet Pancham just sat back, arguing Kishore was Kishore. This was true. But only upto a point in films, where a music director has to be something of a quick-change artist. I am not arguing against Kishore Kumar, only for Amit Kumar. RD's music had got so cast in the Kishore mould that, immediately, Pancham needed a prototype. And what better prototype than the son?
Of course, RD was unlucky that Kishore's passing was followed by the first signs of a sway, in the industry, away from Asha Bhonsle. None of the new singers were a patch on Asha. But a younger set of music directors wanted younger singers. The Bhappi Lahiri challenge had built up to a point where RD should more urgently have explored variety in the voices he employed, without really moving away from Asha Bhonsle. But here, too, RD was slow to react.
Once again I am not arguing against Asha Bhonsle, only for R.D. Burman and the spirit of youth he had represented when he made his big breakthrough with the same Asha through 'Jawani Diwani', 'Yadon Ki Baarat' and 'Khel Khel Main'. Asha, as the Mera naam hai shabnam - Piya tu ab too aa ja - Chura liya haim tume ne jo dil do - Sapna mera toot gaya girl had sex-symbolised the ethos of RD's music in the 70s. But the 80s was a new decade that called for new adjustments.
RD, at one point, had overtaken the formidable team of Laxmikant-Pyarelal. But he let himself be beaten back by vastly inferior talents in the 80s, while Laxmikant-Pyarelal fought back like tigers. In retrospect, it can therefore be said that RD faltered at the crucial moment, LD didn't. And this is an industry in which you are only as successful as your last film. A record of 23 flops took some living down. RD buckled under the pressure.
All this cannot alter the fact that RD set a trend with Asha as he did with Kishore. No other composer would have dared to jettison Rafi the way RD did -- even Dada Burman was hesitant in making a switch here. But RD showed the way and others followed suit, courtesy Rajesh Khanna. Amitabh Bachchan, to beat Rajesh Khanna at his own game, had to take on his voice. Kishore thus became established as the Voice of Youth and it was RD who had set the course for this. RD's hold on electronics, his insights into Western notation, gave him a rare edge. But, minus Kishore, RD found his keen edge blunted. There was a generation change due in our film music. RD failed to see this change coming in 1987 as he had one in 1971. The cross commercialism of the neo-film industry also undid him. When Bhappi Lahiri started quoting less at one point, RD should have stuck to his price. He caved in. And paid the price.
But the price never did matter much to RD. This way, he was like Dada Burman, who was happy working only in his set-ups. RD always was a bit of a loner, comfortable only in his own selection company. He was unsuited to the totally groupy style in which the industry began to function in the 80s. As Gulzar too began to lose commercial clout, there was less and less opportunity for RD to make a different kind of music, which he loved to do. He needed Gulzar badly to balance his hula-hula stuff. The 'Ghar' style of Gulzar option, by which RD could come up with something like Aaj kal paaon zamin par nahin padte mere (Lata) and Aap ke aankhon mein kuch mehke huye se raas hai (Lata-Kishore), was no longer available to RD in the late 80s.
RD's mod image as a youth composer also became a bar to his inevitable growth as a composer. When 'Shankarabharanam' was to be remade in Hindi, the point about who should compose for the film was referred to me. I suggested the name of R.D. Burman and then rang to ask Pancham whether he was game. "I would love to do the theme, be sure I'll surprise them with the purity of my classical score,'' RD said.
Yet his image was all wrong for the theme. There was no chance, I was told, of the distributors accepting the label, 'Music R.D. Burman', in a weighty remake of the scale of 'Shankarabharanam'. The remake finally went to Laxmikant-Pyarelal as 'Sur Sangam'. The K. Vishwanath film flopped in the face of a thematic enough score by LP. What kind of a score would RD have created? The same kind as he would have evoked for Gulzar's 'Devdas' vis-a-v9s S.D. Burman. But the RD image just did not classically jell.
It was this image that RD unsuccessfully fought in the later part of his career. As convener of the Sur-Singar Samsad Film Awards committee, i remember RD's Lata classic from 'Chandan Ka Palna', O Ganga maiya paar laga de, coming up for live consideration. But it was finally rejected, not on its own merit, but on the grounds that Sur-Singar's name would be in the mud if it presented a classical award to R.D. Burman.
In the end, therefore, RD discovered that he was acceptable neither as a light composer nor as a serious one. Result: he got confused about what to give. And once this confusion enters a composer's mind, it is the end.
Yet the end, when it came, saw those who had come to scoff, remain to praise. RD had become part of our vintage mind-set without our being aware of it. We knew, in our heart of hearts, that he was as much a trend-setter as his father, if in a different style. But we had religiously refused to acknowledge his fibre and calibre. Those who the gods love, die young. And when they die after having influenced a whole generation in its musical thinking, we finally grudgingly accept that the jet-setter was like one other in films.
For a composer of the depth and dimension of Salil Chowdhury to rate R.D. Burman alongside the top composers of his era is, indeed, acclaim indeed. It needed uncommon talent for the son to emerge from 'The Jet' shadow of his father. Pancham came into Dada Burman's music room as early as 'Nujawan' (1951). And even at that early age had a keen enough musical ear to question SD's use of Rabindra-sangeet in the purely Goan setting of Kaise yeh jaagi agan ('Jaal').
Handpicked by Guru Dutt to score the music for his 'Raaz' at the age of 19, RD discovered that this cineaste was never firm on any tune he okayed. ''I don't know about other composers,'' Pancham told me, ''but I personally found Guru Dutt could never make up his mind about the final tune he wanted. You could never say he had finally okayed a piece of music and that, to my way of thinking, is not the sign of a direction who knows his mind. Raj Kapoor, by contrast, was totally different. He okayed the very first tune I played for 'Dharam Karam', the tune that acquired on him the grab of Ek din bik jaayega maati ke mol''.
Hear this 'Dharam Karam' tune carefully again, is it in any way inferior to any of the many straight-line tune Shanker composed for Raj Kapoor? Give credit to RD for the fact that he instinctively recognised what, precisely, Raj Kapoor wanted. And got it right the first time out. RD thus tuned as easily with Raj Kapoor as he had with Dev Anand. He vibed easily enough with Rafi when that singer was at the top. And then helped turn Kishore into a singing legend. If O.P. Nayyar peerlessly exploited the bass in Asha's voice, it was RD who discovered her true range to strum.
RD's spaciously ambient music room at Santa Cruz in Bombay, to who does it go? to Asha Bhonsle as his legally wedded wife? If so, what does Asha do with it? I know Asha Bhonsle has always secretly nursed this ambition of being a composer herself. Will Asha take up where RD left off? The spirit of RD, will it come back to us through the still resonant vocals of Asha Bhonsle? And what of younger singers under the baton of Asha Bhonsle? A baton what would have been handed on to Asha by her very own Pancham?
Come on Asha, there still is the Santa Cruz room at the top.
On RD Burman's 14th death anniversary, Raju Bharatan talks about an interview with the legendary composer which he took in 1991.
He scored for 331 films in 32 years. How does his Kishore Kumar song-tally compare with Asha Bhosle's? Where Kishore sang 558 songs for him (227 solo, 245 duets), Asha rendered 840 of his compositions (406 solo, 338 duets).
He married Asha 14 years after he wed Rita Patel. His 14th death anniversary it is today and I have him, speaking here, in June of 1991.
RD Burman was a trendsetter without peer by then, so I asked if he still rated Chhote Nawab (1961), his first, as his best.
I do, if only because Lata Mangeshkar wasn't any longer singing for Dada Burman when Mehmood asked me to compose Chhote Nawab . Those days you were made' if you got Lataji to render your maiden song. So I told Dada point blank I was ringing Lataji. Actually Lataji too I found out later wanted to get back to Dada! So she readily agreed to sing Ghar aa jaa for me."
"Did you, initially, set Ghar aa jaa as Raag Bhimpalasi in the Kaafi thhaat? Or was it in that thhaat from the word go - to unfold as Raag Maalgunji?"
"Who but you could pose such a query? All I know is I slipped into the Kaafij thhaat while composing Ghar aa jaa , so call it Maalgunji , if you like. In the face of having scored a thousand-and-one songs since, Ghar aa jaa remains my best. The memory of the legendary Lataji agreeing to sing so readily for a fresher like me makes Ghar aa jaa unique."
"There were those three Lata-Rafi Chhote Nawab duets - Aaj huaa meraa dil matwaala , Matwalee aankhon waale and Jeene waale muskuraa ke jee. Today you openly say you never cared for Rafi. But, at the 1966 Chhote Nawab stage, you must've felt grateful to have our No 1 male singer as your playback?"
"No doubt Rafi was No 1 then," conceded Pancham. "But I'd rehearsed Rafi so often for Dada that I could go along with him so far, no further. It was so tough to get Rafi to amend something you'd already taught him!"
"Take my breakthrough Asha-Rafi Teesri Manzil duet Aa jaa aa jaa," recalled Pancham.
"Rafi wasn't able to grasp the nuances of Aa jaa aa jaa at all! How Rafi struggled as Asha so exemplarily stretched the crucial Aaha-ha aa jaa aaha-ha aa jaa notes. Give me Kishore any time he would've latched on to it in a trice!"
"Easy to say that 25 years after it happened," I noted. "Didn't it all happen because you never were patient with Rafi - like OP Nayyar was with Asha - to be able to draw the most resonant results from the man who sang Tum ne mujhe dekhaa for you in the same Teesri Manzil?"
"Only I know how I got Rafi to do Tum ne mujhe dekhaa!" insisted Pancham.
"With OP, remember, Rafi was on his home Punjabi ground. I don't agree I was more patient with Kishore, not so patient with Rafi. No matter how patient I was with Rafi, he slipped into the same vocal error - time and again.
Kishore you had to teach him but once, he was onto it like a shot. See the feel Kishore brought to Chingaree koii bhadke. But that's straight Bhairavi even for Kishore."
"Straight Bhairavi or not, see how Kishore makes it sound as if he's singing Chingaree for you, and you alone, in Amar Prem."
Which is the first interlude piece Pancham did for an SD Burman tune? Read about that and more.
Which is the first interlude piece Pancham did for an S D Burman tune? It's the super Pyaasa interlude music you hear on Waheeda via Geeta in Jaane kyaa tuune kahee.
Did Dada Burman himself ever sing playback for Dev Anand? SD did, said RD, in the Thhaa thhaa part of the Asha Bhosle beauty Dil lagaa ke qadar gayee pyaare, on Nalini Jaywant in Kala Pani.
Thus far Pancham is forthcoming. But the moment a vintager devalues the music of the '90s, Pancham's up in arms: "What do you mean, nothing worthwhile's being composed today? Even better music than in Dada Burman's time is being composed today!"
Whereupon I place a firm hand on Pancham's lap, urging him to keep his cool. It's never a good idea to ask the son to experience, live, his father's music. At some stage, the composer in the lad must act up.
"Take Dada's Pighla hai sonaa from Jaal you're playing now," noted Pancham, becalmed. "The tune's orientation is totally Goan, yet in one interlude, suddenly, you hear Rabindra Sangeet . I pointed this out to Dada and assistant N Dutta - from Goa but who'd listen to a kid like me in 1952?"
"How," I asked RD, "did Dada Burman take to Guru Dutt's inviting you to score for his Raaz when you were barely 18?"
"Dada didn't like it one bit!" revealed Pancham. "Dada felt Guru Dutt was spoiling me by giving me a break so ear ly in life. But Guru Dutt had been impressed by the extent of my contribution to the musical shaping of his Pyaasa, as scored by Dada with Sar jo teraa chakraaye - my brainwave."
"Raaz came to be abandoned after five reels were shot," went on Pancham. "During its making, Guru Dutt drove me up the wall. A highly whimsical person was Guruji. He'd only roughly sketch the kind of tune he needed for the sequence."
"Guruji himself might have known what precisely he wanted - as his imagination soared. But the idea remained in his mind's eye. It never was clear to me, as the Raaz composer, what exactly Guru Dutt audio-visually wanted. He'd okay my tune one morning, arbitly reject it the next."
"But you were able to readily satisfy the no-less-demanding Raj Kapoor on the theme-song of Dharam Karam," I remarked.
"Raj Kapoor came as a pleasant surprise after Guru Dutt," agreed Pancham. "Dharam Karam came to me through son Randhir Kapoor with whom I generationally vibed. Picture my mental state when told it would be Raj Kapoor okaying the film's theme-song!"
"Nervous as hell I felt as I readied six tunes for Rajji to pick from - for that piano-song situation in Dharam Karam. After the Guru Dutt experience, I mightn't have accepted Dharam Karam at all, had I known it meant facing Raj Kapoor!"
No second takes
"But Rajji had outlined the situation so clearly to me that I was hopeful. Yet fearful. I now played the first of my six tunes, as Rajji sat hoveringly in front. I'd barely started playing my first dhun when Rajji burst out: "Situation ke liye perfect tune hai! Chalo, okay bottle kholo!"
Not only that, Raj Kapoor proposed a toast to me for the way I'd composed what later became, via Majrooh Sultanpuri, Iik din bik jaayega maatee ke mol , jag mein reh jaayenge pyaare tere bol.
"Raj Kapoor added, by way of a highly fulfilling bonus: "Hit gaana hai! Shabash, bete!"
It's his 14th death anniversary today and a two-hour documentary on the genius of RD Burman has just been completed.
It's the work of a true fan. Over the last two years, Brahmanand Singh has been working on a documentary on RD Burman, and it is finally complete Pancham Unmixed: Mujhe Chalte Jaana Hai.
In the course of his painstaking research, writer and filmmaker Singh located the genius composer's friends and associates, obtained rare photographs and interviewed dozens of people - not just the names he worked with but also today's music directors like Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Shantanu Moitra, Vishal Bharadwaj, Ismail Darbar, all of whom dissect Pancham's style and admit to being influenced by him.
Singh also found a jolly bunch of Pancham admirers in Dubai, who have formed a fan club to listen to and sing RD songs together. "Whenever I mentioned RD to anyone, their eyes lit up," says Singh. "Almost everyone I wanted to talk to was more than helpful."
His list of 50 interviewees sharing memories and anecdotes about Pancham includes Asha Bhosle, Gulzar, Shammi Kapoor, Manna Dey, Pyarelal, Shiv Kumar Sharma and Hari Prasad Chaurasia.
Result: nearly 70 hours of footage which was edited to a length of two hours.
The only ones who turned down the filmmaker's request to be interviewed were Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna, Ramesh Sippy and Lata Mangeshkar. Some gave him a run-around.
Pancham Unmixed... is not a commissioned project. Singh has put in his own money with no pre-determined plans about how to market the film.
The tribute is a thorough look at R D Burman's life and work - and what exactly made his music so trendsetting and timeless.
It doesn't pull back from Burman's low phase after 27 of his films flopped and filmmakers avoided him.
He died at the age of 54, after delivering a fabulous score for 1942: A Love Story and rekindling his reputation as a genius.
Paying his tribute to the man, who is often credited with introducing modern music in Hindi movies, music director Anu Malik says RD Burman was "made of music".
"The variety that he introduced in film music has remained unmatched till date. He could do so because he was classically trained and at the same time, he kept abreast with modern musical trends all over the world," recalls the young composer.
According to him, RD Burman was so much in tune with his time that he could compose Piya tu ab tu aaja from Caravan to Chingari jo bhadke from Amar Prem with equal ease.
His range varied from the catchy Aaja aaja main hun pya tera from Teesri Manzil, to the soulful thumri Hame tumse pyar kitna, ye hum nahin jaante by Parveen Sultana in Kudrat.
The mischievous Ek chaturnaar, badi hoshiyar from Padosan to the melodious Tere bina zindagise koi, shikwa to nahin from Aandhi.
"But my all-time favourite RD Burman song is Tumne mujhe dekha, ho kar meherbaan from Teesri Manzil. I am romantically, musically and creatively attached to the tune even today. This is also my favourite Mohd. Rafi song. I must mention that Panchamda was a superb orchestra conductor, too," Malik - the music director of films like Border and Refugee told IANS.
On the 68th birth anniversary of RD Burman, Rishi Kapoor fondly remembered his association with the composer.
RD Burman and you had a great association, isn't it?
He was an old friend and no doubt one of the greatest music directors of our country. He will always be very close to my heart and I have had such a great musical journey with him. I am told that I have done some 16 films with him.
When did you first meet?
I don't remember that, but the first film I signed after Bobby was Zehreela Insaan that had RD as music director. Let me tell you an anecdote, it is something I feel bad about it was during the early '90s when I was having this great spell of hits and most of the music of these films was by Nadeem-Shravan.
One day Pancham called me and asked why we could not work together. I told him, What to do yaar? Whatever films come to me, the music director is already fixed by the director'. Then, I was working with Rajkumar Santoshi in Damini and Pancham was giving music for his Ghatak. I heard one song and loved it.
After shooting he fell ill and passed away. Just two months before that he had called and asked why we weren't working together. The last film that we did together was Gurudev. It's always weighed on my heart that we could not work again.
The secret behind the success of the Rishi Kapoor-RD Burman combination?
I was the only young hero that he had in his time. Sunjay Dutt and Kumar Gaurav were only beginners at that time. I was a musical star in all those truly musical and romantic films. Pancham's youthful music was with Rishi Kapoor. Yes, he had done some great music with Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor and Randhir Kapoor but I was the new kid on the block.
Some of your favourite films with him
It's difficult to single out. He gave great music even in some of my flop films like Bade Dil Wala, Yeh Wada Raha, Aan Aur Shaan and Dhan Daulat. In fact, Pancham has made a great contribution to my career and of course there were lyricists Gulshan Bawra and Anand Bakshi.
Kishore Kumar, too, played a big part in the RD-Rishi Kapoor combination, isn't it?
Yes, of course. The best part was that both sang on beat, so it was easier to lip sync.
Have you had your differences with him?
Yes, once I had a great fight with him over one song. He got angry with me and told me, Tum bhi to kabhi bure shot dete ho. Then I told him to cool down and the differences were sorted out.