Monday, November 21, 2005

Pancham's Magic Lives On

Music director Sachin Dev Burman, when he went for his early morning walks, often overheard people say, ‘‘Look, there goes S D Burman.’’ But one day, sometime in the late sixties, he overheard people say, ‘‘Look, there goes R D Burman's father.’’ That’s when Rahul Dev Burman arrived: he was no longer another celebrity son trying his hand at his father’s profession.

1994 marked the second arrival of R D — or Pancham, as his illustrious father had nicknamed him — with the tremendous success of the music of 1942 — A Love Story. But by then, Pancham was dead, having succumbed to a heart attack a few months before the music of the film was released. He was only 54.

Between the two arrivals stands a nearly 30-year-long career which had its ups and downs but which was uniformly rich and productive. The lean phase, which came after 1985, was not because Pancham was losing his touch, but because music had become loud and vulgar. The music directors of the day — even the big names — made composing look as easy as frying pakodas. There was no place for creative people like Pancham. Even his friends, like Dev Anand, deserted him. Only a few, like Ramesh Behl, Nasir Hussain and, of course, Gulzar, did not move to greener pastures. Because they knew what looked green was only a wild, seasonal growth.

Good times returned with 1942 — A Love Story, but it was too late. Posthumously, however, R D Burman got an adulation he would have envied in his lifetime. In his heydays, he was the most happening composer who brought energy into Hindi film music by experimenting with sounds and by fusing Indian tunes with Western instruments (and vice versa). But after his death, he became a genius, an idol, a role model. He enjoyed a fresh spell of success — the market was splashed with his music, people began analysing his style, papers paid periodic tributes, and the remix chaps began working overtime.

Even nine years later, the spell continues. What makes Pancham tick? The freshness in his tunes. Can you imagine a song like Chura liya hai tumne (Yaadon Ki Baaraat) going stale? On the contrary, its popularity seems to have only increased over the years. You are unlikely to call it an ‘old song’, even though it was recorded more than 25 years ago. This is the case with most R D numbers. Mehbooba, mehbooba (Sholay), Dil dena khel hai and Hoga tumse pyaara kaun (Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai) and Jahaan teri yeh nazar hai (Kaalia) still get people to the dance floor in discos. And how can one forget Dum maro dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna)!

R D brought out the best in his singers. Mukesh sang many memorable songs in his lifetime, but there’s something refreshingly different about Ek din bik jayega (Dharam Karam). Mohammed Rafi won the National Award for Kya hua tera waada (Hum Kisise Kum Nahin). And Hemant Kumar, who owed his Bollywood career to Sachinda, sang only one song for R D, which was perhaps his last for a Hindi movie, Aaja mere pyaar aaja (Heeralal Pannalal). You got to listen to the song to believe how beautifully R D used Hemant Kumar’s voice. Kishore Kumar and R D, of course, were made for each other. Together, they boosted the popularity of so many heroes — Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Randhir Kapoor... Many second generation singers, like Shailendra Singh, Suresh Wadkar, Amit Kumar and S P Balasubrahmanyam owe some of their best songs to Pancham.

A couple of years back, SPB held a full-fledged show in Hyderabad to pay tribute to R D Burman. It was called Yeh Shaam Mastaani. About the female singers, you can’t say much because R D mostly used Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle. And, like his father, he knew who was good at what, and he used them accordingly. Asha, who became his wife, sung the songs that were fun and racy, while Lata sang the serious and the not-so-serious ones (remember her songs in Ghar, like Tere bina jiya jaye na?).

R D’s critics have often accused him of lifting Western tunes. True, a few songs have been straight lifts, like Meri jaan meri jaan (Do Chor), which was a copy of Cliff Richard’s Fall in love. But then, which music director doesn’t lift tunes? And in R D’s case, the Western number usually was only an inspiration — the final product was 100 percent Indian. After all, it’s one thing to import a Japanese machine, but quite another to go to Japan, watch the working of the machine and manufacture the same in India.

And R D always silenced his critics by giving soulful classical numbers from time to time, such as Beeti na beetaye raina from Parichay. In fact, his debut composition was a classical one, Ghar aaja ghir aye (Chhote Nawaab, 1961). It would be wrong to say that Chhote Nawaab was his debut movie. While assisting his father, he scored the tunes of many hummable songs, including Sar jo tera chakraye (Pyaasa) and Yeh dil na hota bechaaraa (Jewel Thief). Not many know that R D also doubled up as the mouth organ player in his father’s orchestra. Not many also know that he played the mouth organ in Dosti, a 1960’s movie that established Laxmikant-Pyarelal as big time Bollywood music directors. R D, after all, was their friend because Laxmikant and Pyarelal were also once assistants to S D Burman.

Years later, R D’s ego suffered a major jolt when Subhash Ghai announced to sign him up for Ram Lakhan but dropped him unceremoniously to return to his old favourites, Laxmikant Pyarelal. Soon after, R D had a heart attack. As it is, he was going through the lean patch. He recuperated and returned to work. But there wasn’t much work. That’s when Gulshan Kumar decided to bring out an album with him. One of its songs was Aaja meri jaan. The original was sung was R D himself in Bengali, and he wanted S P Balasubrahmanyam to sing the Hindi version. “I told him, it’s a very difficult song, I can’t sing it. He told me, ‘You bloody fellow, why do you think I called you all the way from Madras’,” SPB recalled during his Hyderabad show. So Balu — as R D called SPB — sang the song.

Unfortunately, the album never came out but Gulshan Kumar incorporated this song in the movie he made to launch his brother Kishen Kumar as a hero, Aaja Meri Jaan. R D’s self-respect took further beating. The only saving grace during that period was Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parinda, whose music, composed by R D, became quite a hit (Tumse milke by Suresh Wadkar and Asha Bhonsle). Then he recorded 1942 — A Love Story. “When we couldn’t get a song right, he used to abuse us, but once we got it right, he became so affectionate,” recalled Kumar Sanu, who sang all the songs for the movie, in an interview. His last movie was Priyadarshan’s Gardish. But 1942 — A Love Story was released later, and it became Pancham’s swansong. Its melodious songs showed that he had a lot of music left in him. That’s why we still mourn his death.


Anonymous bhootnath said...

a real tribute ...

9:25 AM  
Blogger Atanu said...

Excellent write-up! Loved every word you wrote about Pancham.

Hemant Kumar actually sang two songs, not one, for Pancham. The second was "masti mein baithke lagao oonchi udaan" from the film Chor Ho To Aisa (1978). Hemant sang it with Kishore and Asha.

2:28 AM  

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