HMV's Golden Collection - The Genius of R D Burman
by Subhash K Jha
Three years have gone by since R D Burman left us (January 1994). In the years preceding his sudden and irreplaceable demise his longstanding friends and admirers in the film industry had more- or-less dismissed the Burmanesque mystique as out of step with the times. R D Burman didn't live to see the revival of interest in his music. If he had lived to experience the upsurge of laurels in the wake of "1942-A Love Story" he would have been more saddened than gladdened by our tendency to write off artistes of illimitable aptitudes when they hit a dark spot in their careers.
After being in his father's shadow for several years and having ghost composed some of the senior Burman's most successful compositions in the late sixties, junior Burman proved he was 'beta' than the best. RD made an immediate impact with two back-to-back antithetical scores in long-standing friend Mehmood's "Chhote Nawab" and "Bhoot Bangla". While the former contained such effulgent classical nuggets as "Ghar aaja ghir aaye badra sanwariya", the latter found RD doing a tantalising twist that branded him as the most modern composer of our times.
One wonders what the shape of RD's career would have been if early in his career Nasir Husain's "Baharon Ke Sapne" had been the decisive blockbuster instead of Husain's "Teesri Manzil". If Baharon Ke Sapne had clicked RD would have had the chance to compose more compositions closer to his heart like "Aaja piya tohe pyar doon"; "Kya janoon aajan hoti hai kya" and "zaamane ne maarey jawan kaise kaise". Wisely, the anthology released to observe the third year without RD Burman selects "zaamane ne maarey jawan kaise kaise" from "Baharon Ke Sapne". This Burman score was brilliantly collaborated in the inceptive years of his career.
The collection lives up to the promise of delivering a rare largely obfuscated side of the Burmanesque genius. The side that never overcame hurdles imposed on the composer after the success of the rock n roll score in Teesri Manzil. One number out of fifty one selected for the collection alone suffices to lend a tonal multiplicity to RD's enduring image as a versatile composer.
Listen to Lata Mangeshkar sing "O ganga maiyya paar laga de mere sapnon ki naiyya" for the long-forgotten Meena Kumari in April 1967. This precious composition from RD's vast ditty-kitty is as purely Indian as the Ganga. One of Lata's most cherishable songs, "o Ganga maiyya" has seldom been put in any anthology of RD'S or Lata's songs.
The thrill of rediscovering a large number of RD's nuggets that were sidelined by the failure of parent films, is sustained almost to the end of the anthology. There's a telltale Rafi number from a pre-Zanjeer Amitabh Bachchan starrer. "Koi aur duniya mein tumsa" from "Pyar Ki Kahani" not only sounds very similar to RD's "Maine poocha chand se" in Abdullah, the two compositions are similarly worded and sung by the same singer Mohammed Rafi.
This collection stresses the more reflective artistry of Burman than previous collections. In this era when RD's songs are being remixed and restructured to suit the chart's purposes it is a pleasure beyond words to hear the originals. Without the untold benefits of multi-track recording facilities, R D Burman created edifices of enigma like "O hansini" in "Zehreela Insaan"; "Ni sultana re" in "Pyar Ka Mausam" and "Acchi nahin sanam dil lagi dil-e-beqaraar se" in "Rakhi Aur Hathkadi". All these compositions of classic modernism co-exist happily in this sun-kissed anthology.
When the prolonged lean phase set into RD's career circa the early Eighties RD was at the acme of his composing skills. The films that Burman composed for during the decade of doom, flopped. But were his longstanding filmmaker-friends like Mehmood, Rahul Rawail, Ramesh Sippy, Nasir Husain and Raj Sippy impervious to the elevated quality of music that RD composed for these disastrous films? If they missed the point earlier on here's their chance to catch up with the irrefutable convictions that Burman poured into songs from his flop phase. "O meri jaan" in Nasir Hussain's "Manzil Manzil"; "Jeene de yeh duniya chahe maar dale" in Lava. "Kabhi palkon pe aanson hai" in "Harjaee" are among the choicest, most fluent and filigreed compositions of RD Burman's career. They were also the essence of creativity in film music of the Eighties.
Why did RD Burman's career get relegated to the back rows of the charts? It's a pity he was born in an era when the fate of a film and its music scores were inextricably linked to each other. Today his imitators Jatin-Lalit become chart-ka-badshahs by echoing RD's style in "Khamoshi-The Musical" even though the film is a disaster at the box-office.
"The Genius of RD Burman" album doesn't do full justice to the composer. No single anthology can ever do that. What it does is familiarises listeners with some of the crucial career-defining make-or-break songs from RD's repertoire. Back in 1979 when Hema Malini's literary semi-classic Ratna Deep flopped its music too went down the drain. Today when one listens to RD's "Kabhi kabhi sapna lagta hai" from the film one is filled with wonderment and admiration. Was the multi-talented RD Burman a mere dream?