by Raju Bharatan
Three years ago, on January 4, at 3:58 a.m., Rahul Dev Burman passed away, leaving behind him a whole generation of his admirers, shocked at the sudden loss. Panchamda was no more.
Soon after his death came the Filmfare award for his brilliant score of Vidhu Vinod Chopra's 1942 -- A Love Story. 1942 ... also won Kavita Krishnamurthi her maiden Best Singer award for her compelling rendition of Pyaar hua chupke se.
If there was no argument regarding that posthumous award, there was no end of argument in the prestigious Sur Singar Samsad council in 1967 when it came to awarding Pancham for the best Classical Song of the Year. As the convener of the Sur Singar committee set up to pick that year's Best Classical Song, I can state that Pancham lost that award in peculiar circumstances.
This was after he had shown his paces in Teesri Manzil (1966). Teesri Manzil won spot recognition for him as a musicmaker with his own style --- distinct from that of S.D. Burman --- but the same music typecast him. His O Ganga maiya, paar laga de meri sapno ki naiya ... set in Raag Jogiya and sung by Lata Mangeshkar for the film Chandan Ka Palna was a strong contender for Sur Singar's best Classical Song of the Year award for 1967. He himself had high hopes for the song. O Ganga maiya was shortlisted among the four songs in the final context that year, the other three being Lata Mangeshkar's Maine range li aaj chunariya composed in Raag Pilu by Madan Mohan for Dulhan Ek Raat Ki, Asha Bhosle's Saawan ke raat kaari karri in Raag Malkauns by Ravi for Meherbaan and Lata's Dar laage garje badariya set in Raag Surdasi Malhar by Vasant Desai for Ram Rajiya.
Brijnarain, who headed the Sur Singar Samsad, called me frantically on the morning after we had bought R D Burman's O Ganga maiya into the reckoning. "Are you out to destroy the classical reputation of Sur Singar?" he asked. "How could you as convener possible permit a song by R D Burman even to get a look-in at my Sur Singar?". The award eventually went to Madan Mohan.
The way Pancham came to be jettisoned for that Sur Singar citation gives me the opportunity to draw attention to `the other side' of Pancham. If he was beat-based, he was also melody-based. In fact, by the time Sankarabharanam (from the South) came to make cinematic waves, Pancham longed to break out of the tight circle of the trendy music he was acclaimed for composing. His point was that if he had indeed set a trend in the early '70s, it was for the younger composers to take over the baton in the mid-'80s. He himself, by 1985, yearned to compose melody-based music, as he had for Gulzar's Aandhi, Kushboo, Kinara and Namkeen. "I love doing soft themes," he once confessed.
In Gulzar's Ijazaat, Pancham's Mera saaman mujhe lauta do (a song-lyric that he had at first refused to touch as a "metreless" piece of rhyming by Gulzar) went on to win, deservedly for Asha Bhosle, the National award for Best Song. Yet Pancham always regretted the fact that a few other beautiful songs that he evoked from Gulzar's poetry never reached the people in his lifetime. Like his stunning Lata Mangeshkar solo from Libas --- a film that was never released --- Sili hawa chhu gai, sila badan chhil gaya or her Kuhu kuhu koyaliya in Devdas. Then there was Bahut raat hui by Kishore Kumar in Musafir.
The point here is that Pancham, though tuned in with such melody-based themes, was stuck with his modern image. His Saare ke saare gama go lekar gaate chale by Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle and chorus in Gulzar's Parichay is one such a take-off. Yet Saare ke saare ... carries a whiff of Raag Bilawal, which is the Hindustani parallel of Raag Sankarabharanam.
Indeed Pancham was my recommendation to director K. Vishwanath for sur Sangam, a classical remake of the film Shankarabharanam. But R D Burman's name was rejected the moment it was mentioned to distributors. Sur Sangam was finally scored by Laxmikant-Pyarelal.
It was this tinsel-tag that he was stuck with after having already composed so much meaningful music, that distressed and disheartened Pancham. Initially, he has deliberately cultivated that image in an effort to sound different from his father. Even as he finally broke away from being S D Burman's assistant, his parents remained justifiably proud of him. "Tell me," said his mother Meera who assisted S D, "Is there a composer in our films today who could have done the classy music of Amar Prem along with the jazzy music of Hare Rama Hare Krishna?"
S D Burman shared his wife's pride --- he had refused to go along with Dev Anand's idea of him doing the traditional tunes of Hare Rama ... and Pancham the Dum Maro dum song in the film. "Never mix our musical identities," S D Burman had told Dev Anand. "Leave Hare Rama ... to be wholly scored by Pancham. I have trained my son to do both traditional and modern music."
Pancham had, in fact, given the very first hit of his career --- Ghar aaja ghir aaye sung by Lata Mangeshkar for Mahmood's Chhote Nawab --- which was set in Raag Maalgunji. It has he who gave us classical gems like Vinati karun Ghanashyam in Raag Jogiya (Lata Mangeshkar in Pati Patni), Bada natkhat hai re in Raag Khamaj (Lata Mageshkar in Amar Prem), Aayo kahan se Ghanashyam also in Raag Khamaj (Manna Dey in Budha Mil Gaya), Karvate badalte rahen in Raag Pahadi (Lata Mageskhar-Kishore Kumar in Aap Ki Kasam), Mere naina sawan bhado in Raag Shivranjani (Lata Mageshkar-Kishore Kumar in Mehbooba), Jamuna kinare aa jaa in Raag Maru Bihag (Lata Mangeshkar in mehbooba), Meri bheegi bheegi si (Kishore Kumar in Anamika) in Raag Kirvani, Beeti no betayi raina (Lata Mageshkar-Bhupendra in Parichay) in Raag Bihag, Huzoor is tarah se no itrate chaliye (Bhupendra-Suresh Wadkar in Masoom) in Yaman Kalyan. Even Asha Bhosle-Mohammed Rafi qawali Hai agar dushman dushman in Hum Kisse Kum Naheen has R D imparting a typical light touch in Raag Kalavati.
And wasn't Pancham merely returning to his Rabindra Sangeet roots with 1942 -- A Love Story when he came to be halted in mid-stride at a time when he was in the truly creative phase of his career? The end came too soon; time stood still --- much like his lyrical Samay ka yeh pal tham sa gaya hai...