ode to Pancham

There’s a line in a song which goes,Boss kaun hai,malum hai kya? Of course,everyone knows exactly who that is....

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: January 9, 2010 12:02:15 am

There’s a line in a song which goes,Boss kaun hai,malum hai kya? Of course,everyone knows exactly who that is. The film is Jhankaar Beats,whose three protagonists worship the Boss,a.k.a. R.D. Burman,with an unconditional,deep admiration of the kind that the ace music composer and director seemed to evoke effortlessly among the people he knew.

Brahmanand Siingh’s excellent bio pic,Pancham Unmixed,gives us a wide array of people — friends,colleagues,compatriots — talking about RD,universally known as Pancham,and his body of work,a bewildering variety of melodies and moods. Rahul Dev Burman was a gamechanger: Hindi film music never sounded the same after he was done with it.

Sons of illustrious fathers never have it easy,especially when they are trying to forge an identity of their own in the same field. Sachin Dev Burman’s place in the playback industry was already assured when young Pancham (so named by his father because he thought that the sound of his crying was akin to the fifth note in the sargam — “Pa” or pancham) entered,all set to do his own thing.

Though RD’s creations could be as melancholy and as sweetly piercing as his father’s,he is most remembered for the songs where his unique orchestral improvisations and experimentations are used to the maximum effect. The Duniya mein song with which RD became hugely popular,with its standout ha-ahhah,ha-ahhah riffs,is something most of the younger musicians remember with awe and affection. So does an entire generation of film-goers that was coming of age,when RD was hitting his high notes.

Siingh,who reveals a deep knowledge of his subject,gets everyone talking animatedly. Among those sharing their memories are Ameen Sayani; Gulzar,who describes the Bhare hue,chalke hue moments with great vividness and love; Vishal Bhardwaj; Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy; Shammi and Randhir Kapoor (the latter remembers walking in on RD and his gang industriously blowing into half-filled beer bottles,and the sound being used in Mehbooba in Sholay); Hariprasad Chaurasia,who would just sit in the recording room,waiting for inspiration to strike; Shiv Kumar Sharma and a whole bunch of others. And,of course,companion Asha Bhosle,whose comment — he was a great friend — seems to echo in all the voices.

There came a time when,inexplicably,RD was no longer in demand,a period of great bitterness and sadness. Pancham Unmixed brings out that phase too,and also that glorious if tragically brief comeback with 1942: A Love Story.

He passed away soon after (the first week of January,1994),but his music didn’t die. He has inspired the maximum numbers of remixes,and is a constant fixture on deejay and iPod playlists. The pack also has a book,with photos and comments,based on the footage of the film.

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