In a nation besotted with dance numbers and peppy tracks, his music came with a harmony, uniqueness and an intrigue that made everybody sit and notice. Be it the classic ‘Iss Mod Se Jaatey Hain’ or ‘Oh Haseena Zulfon Waali’, R D Burman’s musical revelry, just like him, had many facets; each in complete contrast with each other.
Among the several veteran music directors who have graced the Indian film industry over the years, Burman, fondly called Pancham Da, would have turned 76 today, had he been alive.
A trendsetter by many means, R D Burman was a magician with musical notes. He changed the sound of music by bringing in Latin sounds, cabaret, psychedelic vibes, retro disco and funk sounds. His music was often reffered to as “ahead of its times”, and true to the epithet, his songs are still remembered and sung by the youth; musicians take to remake and remix his songs.
Born in Calcutta on June 27, 1939, in the then Calcutta, Pancham da’s father was the legendary music director S D Burman. And in a rarity, he carried on the musical legacy, though some would deny, a tad better than his father.
Like there were many facets to Pancham’s music, there were different backgrounder stories too about him and more especially about his nickname. One story has it that as an infant, his crying reminded his parents of the fifth note of the Indian music scale; this is known as Pancham. Another story has it that once when legendary actor Ashok Kumar visited him, he kept saying “Pa Pa, Pa, Pa” and thereby, he was named him “Pancham”.
RD Burman’s musical journey started early. He was trained by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (sarod) and Samta Prasad (tabla). He also considered Salil Chowdhury as his guru. He served as an assistant to his father, and often played harmonica in his orchestras.
Some of the notable films in which RD Burman is credited as the music assistant include Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963), Bandini (1963), Ziddi(1964), Guide (1965) and Teen Devian (1965). RD Burman also played mouth organ for his father’s hit composition Hai Apna Dil to Aawara which was featured in the movie Solva Saal (1958).
Pancham Da’s first hit movie as a music director was Shammi Kapoor starrer ‘Teesri Manzil’ (1966), whose songs like ‘Tumne Mujhe Dekha’ became instant hits with the listeners.
Pancham da continued to assist his father, however. It’s said that while composing music for Shakti Samant’s ‘Aradhana’ (1969) starring Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore, S D Burman fell ill. Pancham da took over from him and completed the movie. He was accredited as the associate composer for the movie, and since then there was no looking back for the maestro.
R D Burman became highly popular with the Kishore Kumar songs in Rajesh Khanna-starrer movies. Kati Patang (1970), a musical hit, was the beginning of a series of the 1970s films directed. Its songs ‘Yeh Shaam Mastani’ and ‘Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai’, sung by Kishore Kumar, became instant hits. Apart from Kishore Kumar, RD Burman also composed several of the popular songs sung by Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar.
Then with songs like ‘Piya Tu Abb Toh Aaja’, ‘Dum Maaro Dum’, ‘Kya Huya Tera Waada’, ‘Raina Beeti Jaaye’, ‘Oh Maajhi Re’ and others in movies like ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Ram’, ‘Sholay’, ‘Yaadon Ki Baaraat’, ‘Aapki Kasam’, ‘Aandhi’ and ‘Golmaal’, Pancham da cemented his place as a music legend in the Indian cinema.
RD Burman was greatly appreciated by the critics for setting the non-rhyming lyrics of the song ‘Mera Kuchh Saamaan’ from the movie ‘Ijaazat’ to music.
It’s also said that the song ‘Musafir Hoon Yaaron’ from the 1972 movie ‘Parichay’ was composed by Pancham da when he was at a hotel after separation from his first wife. He later married legendary singer Asha Bhosle.
Often been credited for revolutionising Bollywood music, Pancham da is the inspiration behind many movies. ‘Jhankaar Beats’ and ‘Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar’ among others have references from Pancham’s life and musical journey.
Pancham da’s death in 1994, after a massive heart attack, left a void in the Indian film music industry, but even over two decades later, his lilting melodies and soulful tunes continue to inspire and influence musicians and music aficionados alike.
Filmmaker Brahmanand S. Siingh, who has released his latest work “Knowing Pancham” – an extensive collection of anecdotes, insights and observations on Burman – says the interest around the seminal music director’s life and legacy continues to grow.
“Everybody is wanting to know more about R.D. Burman, the hunger never dies,” Siingh said.
Talking about his new body of work on the legendary composer’s legacy, Siingh said: “People who are interested in knowing about R.D. Burman’s early life, or his first marriage, would like this collection.”
Burman’s youthful exuberance, his diverse interests and his personality, too, have been spoken of in great detail in “Knowing Pancham”, he said.
Siingh, who shares a “personal connect” with Burman’s timeless music, also said that he used his “own understanding of Pancham Da’s music” to create “Knowing Pancham”.
Having earlier directed a documentary film titled “Pancham Unmixed” on the famed music director’s life and music, Siingh said youngsters need to understand why Pancham Da is regarded as a musical genius.
“We often talk about Pancham Da’s genius, but we don’t exactly know why he was a genius. Youngsters need to understand music little better; have more time and patience and certain emotional intelligence to connect with his music,” he added.
Siingh’s insights about R.D.Burman’s vast body of work, which includes timeless classics like “Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko”, “Ek main aur ek tu”, “Tere bina jiya jaaye na”, are shared by musicians Tochi Raina and Benny Dayal, who will be singing unplugged versions of the legend’s famous tracks on 92.7 BIG FM’s tribute show “Yadon Mein Pancham” today (June 27).
Benny Dayal, a recipient of R D Burman Award for New Music Talent, says he “grew up listening to Pancham Da’s music”.
He will be performing hit songs like “Sagar kinare dil ye pukare” and “O mere dil ke chain” at the radio station’s “Yadon Mein Pancham” tribute and says he has given his own “twist” to these numbers.
“I have given my twist to it, but the structure remains the same. Pancham Da’s music is very rooted to a lot of people’s lives and if you change it, people may not appreciate it. Nobody will deny, you can take a guitar or a piano and re-arrange Pancham Da’s music and people will like it,” he said.
An attempt was made in the Bollywood film “Dil Vil Pyar Vyar”, which had an album full of re-arranged versions of Burman’s hit tracks. While it was musically appreciated, the movie didn’t fare too well at the box office.
Singer Tochi Raina, who has lent his voice for popular songs like “Iktara” and “Saibo”, says that there was a sense of “poetry” in all of Burman’s compositions.
“Pancham Da’s compositions, his poetry was amazing. We can’t have the same thinking as him, but we can take inspiration from him,” he added.
During his heydays, Burman pioneered in bringing western music to an unprecedented level in the Indian film industry and Tochi believes that he was able to do that with his analytical style of composing.
“Pancham Da was a tabla player and then he learned western classical. He analysed the music and got inspired by poetry. And the lyrics had power. When I listen to his music, I analyse the kind of sounds he utilised,” he added.
As the saying goes, the body may depart, the soul lives on. Pancham da’s soul still lingers on with his soulful music, a legacy which very few have been able to carry forward. It’s not everyday that legends are born.