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Celebrating the Timeless Hits of Pancham da

(A tribute to late RD Burman on his 79th birth anniversary)

Indrani Medhi

A trendsetter by many means, RD Bur-man was a magician with musical notes. Rahul Dev Burman, better known as ‘Pancham da’ was one of the most prolific music directors of Bollywood. He was a music mastro who revolutionized the Indian music scenario. His magical compositions blended World Music with Indian elements. The perpetual popularity of his songs is evident from the umpteen mashups of his most famous numbers on YouTube by rising musicians as well as the trend of remixing evergreen retro hits. The old is definitely gold when it comes to RD Burman – the man who gave us timeless hits. As we celebrate his 79th birth anniversary on 27th June, let us fondly remember the music maestro and his unforgettable works and persona.
Not many know the genius within Pancham da that he breathed music, spoke music and even composed music in his dreams. A novel feature of his compositions was the improvisation using non-musical instruments; sometimes things as weird as a bunch of keys or empty beer bottles. Pancham da has been credited with remoulding Bollywood music. He incorporated a wide range of music influenced from several world genres in his scores. Pancham da made electronic rock music popular in many of his films of 1970s. He mixed disco and rock elements with Bengali folk music. He also used jazz elements in his compositions, which had been introduced to him by the acclaimed pianist Kersi Lord. He changed the sound of music by bringing in Latin music, cabaret, psychedelic vibes, retro disco and funk sounds too.
The film Satte Pe Satta (1982) starring Amitabh Bachchan featured a background score for the entry of Amitabh’s doppelganger. Well, Burman da made his singer Annette Pinto ‘gargle’ and used that sound within the background score! Wasn’t that amazing? In 1975, the music of the song ‘Mehbooba O Mehbooba’ (Sholay) picturized on the sensual belly dance by the evergreen dancing diva Helen, was highly inspired by Afro beats. For getting the perfect sound in the song’s opening scene, Pancham da used empty beer bottles! Who would believe that Pancham da even used a comb to produce a rustling sound in the very beginning of his timeless composition ‘Mere Saamne Wali Khidki Mein’ in the film Padosan (1968) starring Sunil Dutt and Kishore Kumar. Well, producing such SFX (special effects) and customized sounds today is pretty easy with just a click of a button, but 50 years ago, artists had to use their creativity to the maximum. No doubt, RD Burman is one of the most revered music directors of Bollywood. Who would have thought that the simple music created with the help of a spoon and a glass at the very outset of ‘Chura Liya Hai Tumne’ (Yaadon Ki Baarat, 1973) would become such an enigmatic classic song! Truly, music is divine and exists in everything around us and Pancham da proves it. We can never understand this highly creative mechanism of Pancham da which he used to create music out of nothing.
RD Burman composed his first song at the age of nine years for the film Fantoosh (1956). His first hit film as a music director was Teesri Manzil (1966). He gave credits to lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri for recommending him to Nasir Hussain, the producer and writer of the film. RD Burman took his music training from Sarod player, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Tabla player, Samta Prasad. While his musical prowess is known to the world, not many know that RD Burman was an actor too. The two films he acted in was the horror comedy, Bhoot Bangla (1965) and Pyar Ka Mausam (1969).
Some of the tunes credited to his father and music director SD Burman were actually composed by RD Burman. It is believed that when SD Burman fell ill during the recording of the film Aradhana’s music, his son took over and completed the music. He is even said to have played the mouth organ for his father’s composition, ‘Hai Apna Dil Toh Aawara’ (Solva Saal,1958) sung by Hemant Kumar for Dev Anand.
Some of such other superhit songs include ‘Sar Jo Tera Chakraaye’ (Pyaasa,1957), ‘Mere Sapno Ki Rani Kab Aayegi Tu’ (Aradhana,1969) and ‘Kora Kagaz Tha Yeh Mann Mera’ (Aradhana). The trio Rajesh Khanna-Kishore-RD Burman were very close friends and have worked together in 32 films together, the songs of which still continue to be popular. Pancham da composed songs for than 40 films starring superstar Rajesh Khanna.
Pancham da’s instrumentalists included Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Loius Bank, Bhupinder Singh and Kersy Lord. Popular music director duo Laxmikant Pyarelal also played in the orchestra of RD Burman. Pancham da gave break to several singers like Kumar Sanu, Abhijeet and Mohammad Aziz. Playback singer Kumar Sanu got his first break in the film Yeh Desh (1984) for the voice of Kamal Hassan, while singer Abhijeet was given his major break in Anand Aur Anand (1984). Although he made his debut a long time ago, Hariharan was first noticed in a duet with Kavita Krishnamurthy in ‘Hai Mubarak Aaj Ka Din’ from Boxer (1984), which was composed by Pancham da. In 1985, Mohammed Aziz made his debut with Shiva Ka Insaaf (1985) under Pancham da.
RD Burman’s first wife was Rita Patel, whom he had met in Darjeeling. Rita, a fan, had bet her friends that she would be able to get a film-date with Pancham da. The two married in 1966 but divorced in 1971. The song ‘Musafir Hoon Yaaron’ from the film Parichay (1972) was composed by him, when he was at a hotel after the separation. Years later, in 1980, Pancham da married Asha Bhonsle. Together, they recorded many hit songs and also staged many live performances, although, towards the end of his life, they did not live together.
During the late 1980s, Pancham da was unfortunately overshadowed by Bappi Lahiri and other music composers of the time. Many filmmakers stopped patronizing him, as films featuring his compositions flopped at the box office one after the other. Nasir Hussain who had signed him up for every single of his productions since Teesri Manzil (1966), did not sign him up for Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak in 1988. But several Hindi films made after Burman da’s death in 1994, contain his original songs or their remixed versions. Dil Vil Pyar Vyar (2002), which contains several re-arranged hit songs of Burman da, was made as a tribute to him. Jhankaar Beats (2003), which catapulted the music director duo Vishal Shekhar into the limelight, is also a tribute to him. Pancham da recieved his third and the last Filmfare Award for the Best Music Director posthumously in 1995 for the film 1942, A Love Story.
RD Burman was a legend who captured the imagination of atleast three generations of Indians through his music and compositions which continues to live on even today. India’s love and fascination for RD Burman is something that will never die. He was an era himself.

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