During his initial days in Mumbai, composer S D Burman’s experiments with music were hit-and-miss affairs so he decided to give up his ambition of composing for Hindi films and return to Kolkata when he was persuaded by Ashok Kumar to stay back.
Kumar was shooting for ‘Mashaal’ at the time when Burman was packing his bags to go back to Kolkata, says a new book on the iconic music director and singer ‘Sun Mere Bandhu Re: The Musical World of S D Burman’ by Sathya Saran. “Hoping to entice him to stay longer, Ashok Kumar asked the composer to create the music for ‘Mashaal’. Work had started but Burman was still unhappy. He decided to hand over the baton to his assistant Manna Dey.
But Ashok Kumar was persuasive and Burman stayed. And changed the course of his destiny as well as that of Manna Dey,” the author writes. The book, published by HarperCollins India, is replete with anecdotes. The rather jazzy hit song ‘Roop tera mastana’ sung by Kishore Kumar in “Aradhana” is a beautiful folk song that Burman happened to hear a long time ago. He remembered the tune because of its peculiar effect. It merely uses two notes and has a very special influence on the scenes.
Then while setting a song for Bimal Roy’s ‘Sujata’, Burman asked the director who demurred at the idea of a song sung by Sunil Dutt over the telephone to express his love for Nutan, “Have you never been in love?” And pushing aside Roy’s doubts, Burman went on to compose the song that would make cinematic history as one of his most romantic compositions – ‘Jalte hain jiske liye’. Another little-known fact is that among Burman’s assistants for “Do Bhai” was a musical-minded ex-army man, who would later blaze his own trail as a composer of evergreen melodies – Madan Mohan.
There is an interesting story behind the song ‘Mora gora ang lai le’ from Bimal Roy’s last film ‘Bandini’. Shailendra had penned the six other songs in the film and had a tiff with Burman, who was looking for a replacement.
Roy’s assistant coaxed Gulzar, who was then working as a garage mechanic and wrote poetry too, into visiting Mohan Studio. Gulzar was asked if he knew their language and understood Vaishnav poetry and when the young man said yes, he was informed that he was to compose a song for the lead character Kalyani, a naive village girl who is experiencing the first flush of love and sexual passion for a man who is a nationalist and on the run from British forces. “It took no time for me to write the song, but a week to polish it,” says Gulzar.
According to Saran, Burman also had a small tiff with Roy over the picturisation of the song. Roy had planned it as an indoor shot, while Burman had created a tune that gathered the outdoors within its melody. Finally, it was agreed that it was simpler for a woman to go out singing into the night in a milieu known to her, than to sing of her love indoors where her father might possibly overhear, the book says.
The author tells Burman’s story through a kaleidoscope of montages from the inner and outer worlds he inhabited. Fragmented memoirs of his days in the sylvan surroundings of Comilla, interviews, press clippings and archival material piece together the story of the man who created some of Hindi cinema’s most enduring songs. Burman always gave simplicity in rendition great value, be it in the interpretation and unfolding of the music or the singer’s rendition.
Saran quotes Majrooh Sultanpuri, “Dada did not like too many instruments, he would try and use as few as possible. At some point, Pancham took on the responsibility of arranging for the orchestration, but often Dada would remove some of the musicians, saying, ‘If you load a song with so much jewellery, you won’t see the song at all. Take it away.’ He would say, lessen a violin here, cut the percussion, things like that.” If the song ‘Yeh dil na hota bechara’ in ‘Jewel Thief’ came out of a viewing of David Lean’s ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ which Burman watched with his son, ‘Raat akeli hai’ emerged from a childhood memory.
The story goes about ‘Yeh dil na hota bechara’ that on their way back after watching ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’, Pancham kept drumming on the car’s dashboard and whistling his own versions of the signature marching tune from the film which in turn set off his father’s imagination, resulting in the song that Dev Anand sings as he walks on the road, blocking the way for an irate Tanuja’s car.
“With ‘Raat akeli hai’, S D Burman proved that Western or tribal, rural or classical, when it came to music, he was lord of them all,” says Saran.