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Film music buffs who grew up in the early 1980s in India would remember this as a time when melody in Hindi films had started dying a slow death. Ever since the original superstar Rajesh Khanna had been overshadowed by the Bachchan, filmmakers had no need for good music in their films. The “angry young man” phenomenon left talented music makers such as RD Burman in the woods. Amitabh Bachchan was churning out blockbusters with highly successful rivals, Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra. Moreover, the advent of the Video Cassette Recorder meant easy access to films, mostly pirated ones. Quality gave way to quantity, standards fell across all departments of filmmaking, killing music further.
In the chapter titled ‘Earthen Pots, Disco Dunce’ from their excellent book on RD Burman, authors Aniruddha Bhattacharya and Balaji Vittal point out two more factors that killed film music in the 1980s. The first was remakes of South Indian films that typically starred Jeetendra, Sridevi and Jaya Prada, with Kader Khan and Shakti Kapoor providing comic relief. The music turned pedestrian; the choreography became, well, energetic, with actors moving their limbs to music vigorously; reminiscent of primary school students doing PT. The other trend pointed out by the authors, was disco music fever, with Bhappi Lahiri and others providing tunes for the likes of Mithun Chakravorty to dance on.
During these trying times, aesthetics took a hit. Greats like SD Burman and Roshan had moved on. The legendary Naushad and Salil Choudhary were semi-retired. Khayyam worked with select filmmakers. Kishore Kumar, staunch family friend of the Burmans, was singing mediocre songs for upcoming music directors. Kishore’s passing away in 1987 was the last straw that broke RD Burman’s back. In that depressing era, RD Burman managed to turn out a plethora of tunes that were a cut above the rest.
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One is not discounting the wonderful work that Burman continued to produce for close friends like Gulzar, in films (think of the outstanding albums of Libaas, Ijaazat, Namkeen, Masoom or Angoor), or non-film albums such as Dil Padosi Hai – indeed their partnership merits an entire book – but the odd song from run-of-the-mill films that passed the quality test.
RDB even helped launch the careers of three star sons during this time – Sunny Deol (Betaab), Sanjay Dutt (Rocky) and Kumar Gaurav (Love Story). Yet, RD Burman was dissatisfied with his work during this tumultuous decade. By all accounts he was struggling to reconcile himself to changing tastes of the audiences.
Here are some RDB songs that deserve a listen, from that terrible decade when film music had reached its lowest ebb in film history. These are not classical or folk music-based tunes such as RDB’s seminal album Amar Prem (1972), or soulful melodies from films of the 1980s such as Ramesh Sippy’s Saagar, Sunny Deol-starrers Sunny, Manzil Manzil or from Harjaee, or Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parinda, but more the foot-tapping variety; songs that can be remixed for playing at discotheques, which was apparently the kind of music audiences preferred in the 1980s (or so filmmakers would have us believe). These tunes, to my mind, represent RD Burman’s struggle to stay relevant, to rise above the mediocrity that had gripped the Hindi film industry in the 1980s:
1. Roz roz aankhon tale (Jeeva, 1986) – Asha Bhonsle and Amit Kumar – picturised on Sanjay Dutt and Mandakini, in an action thriller.
2. Jab chaha yaara tumne (Zabardast, 1985) – Kishore Kumar – Zabardast was the last film directed by Nasir Hussain. The song was picturised on Rajiv Kapoor, Rati Agnihotri, Jaya Prada and Sunny Deol.
4. Aisa sama na hota (Zameen Aasmaan, 1984 ) – Lata Mangeshkar – Zameen Aasmaan was directed by Bharat Rangachary; the song was picturised on Sanjay Dutt and Anita Raj.
5. Chaand koyi hoga tumsa kahaan (Inaam Dus Hazaar, 1987) – Kishore Kumar – Inaam Dus Hazaar was an action-comedy film, and starred Sanjay Dutt and Meenakshi Seshadri.
6. Kahin na ja, aaj kahin mat ja (Bade Dil Wala, 1983) – Lata Mangeshkar – Bade Dil Wala was directed by Bhappi Sonie and starred Rishi Kapoor and Tina Munim in lead roles.
7. Tu rootha to mai ro doongi sanam (Jawaani, 1984) – Asha Bhosle – Neelam Kothari and Karan Shah’s debut film had this sweet number sung by Ashatai as only she can; her voice matching the fresh-faced Neelam perfectly!
8. Dheere dheere, zara zara (Agar Tum Na Hotey, 1983) – Asha Bhosle – Agar Tum Na Hote was directed by Lekh Tandon. The film starred Rajesh Khanna, Rekha and Raj Babbar.
9. Hum ko toh yaari se matlab hai (Andar Baahar, 1984) – Shailendra Singh – Andar Bahaar, directed by Raj N Sippy, was a fun caper starring rivals Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff.
10. Ho jaye phir uss din ka jo wada hai (Dhan Daulat, 1980) – Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle – Dhan Daulat was directed by Harish Shah. It starred Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh.
While the above list represented RDB’s struggle to rise above mediocre films he was forced to compose for, here are some pleasurable, less popular songs from hit soundtracks. These are from films directed by stalwarts like Ramesh Sippy, Ramesh Talwar, Chetan Anand and Rahul Rawail.
12. Jaane jigar duniya main tu (Pukar, 1983) – Kishore and RD Burman – every song of this Amitabh Bachchan, Randhir Kapoor, Zeenat Aman and Tina Munim film, based on the liberation of Goa, was a super hit.
13. Mammaya kero kero kero mmma (Arjun, 1985) – composed by Javed Akhtar and sung by Shailendra and others. Arjun, directed by Rahul Rawail, gave a boost to Sunny Deol’s career.
14. Chhodo sanam (Kudrat, 1981) – Kishore Kumar – directed by Chetan Anand, the film starred Rajesh Khanna, Hema Malini, Raaj Kumar, Priya Rajvansh and Vinod Khanna. This song was picturised in a discotheque, on Vinod and Hema.
15. Jaane kaise kab kahaan (Shakti, 1982) – Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar – Ramesh Sippy directed Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan in a much-touted face-off. The song was picturised on Amitabh and Smita Patil.
16. Jahaan teri yeh nazar hai (Kaalia, 1981) – Kishore Kumar – a favourite with DJs at every retro night and made popular by Amitabh Bachchan’s signature moves, this song is from Kaalia, written and directed by Tinnu Anand.
17. Dilbar mere kab tak mujhe (Satte Pe Satta, 1982) – Kishore Kumar – It featured Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini in lead roles and was adapted from the 1954 movie “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”.
18. Hum tumse mile (Rocky, 1981) – Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar – picturised on Sanjay Dutt (his debut film) and Tina Munim, directed by Sunil Dutt.
19. Meri nazar hai tujhpe (The Burning Train, 1980) – Kishore Kumar, Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Usha Mangeshkar – The Burning Train was directed by Ravi Chopra. The film featured a huge star cast headed by Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Vinod Khanna and Parveen Babi.