The Swan Song
Looking back on the melody-rich life of R.D. Burman
by Lancy P Correa and Seema Sinha
Music, His Birthright, was the title of Music Idia Limited's cassette brought out some years ago to commemorate 15 years of the company's tuning with Rahul Dev Burman, who left his musical journey unfinished as a stroke snatched him away on January 4, 1994.
For music indeed was everything for Pancham, the nickname given by the thespian Ashok Kumar, whose brother the late Kishore Kumar, gave some of his best performances when singing under the baton of RD.
A publicity-shy man, RD let his music do the talking for him. And talk it did - in more than 400 films. The unanimous opinion in the industry was that RD was the best among his peers - a giant among music maestros like Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyanji- Anandji, Ravi, Shiv-Hari, Rajesh Roshan, Usha Khanna and Ravindra Jain. Says Kersi Lord, whose father Kawas Lord like him was the arranger for many top music directors of yore, "There's no doubt in my mind that R.D. Burman was the best. I played for him in many films. Infact it was RD who first introduced the electronic organ in India for the composition O mere sona re sona in Teesri Manzil for which I had the privilege of playing the organ."
This aspect of introducing new styles was the main reason for his super success. In fact innovativeness became synonymous with RD. He has been quoted as saying: "I don't say that I am a knowledgeable man when it comes to raags. I don't say I tried to do so and so song in Raag Darbari or attempted some difficult raag in another song. Whatever comes to my head I compose."
So we have such creative gems as diverse as Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar tera (Teesri Manzil), his passport into the big league, Dum maro dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna), heralding the bell-bottom- hippie culture into filmdom, Muthukodi kawadi hada (Do Phool), which introduced comedian Mehmood as a singer, Jaane jaan dhoondata phir raha (Jawani Diwani), where the echo effect was used tellingly, Ek chatur naar (Padosan), without doubt the most comic song ever to be filmed, Duniya mein logon ko (Apna Desh), introduced the distinct Pancham rhythm and voice, Mere naina saawan bhadon (Mehbooba), gave ample evidence of RD's classical base, and Tu rootha to main (Jawaani), had Asha singing in an ephemeral voice to a new foot-stomping beat. Suggests veteran Dev Anand, a fan of RD's father, the great S.D. Burman, "Pancham combined the tradition of Dada (S.D.) Burman and the modern melody. Dada wasn't very happy about my Hare Rama Hare Krishna project, as he felt that the brother-sister story wouldn't click therefore I de- cided to take his son. Within 10 days we recorded six songs! Dum maro dum became a cult song."
The Pancham style came to symbolise a unique culture which spawned many die-hard fans. Says lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri, with whom RD had a memorable innings, "Pancham had this knack of copying a foreign tune and Indianising it." Concurs another top lyric writer Anand Bakshi, "I have worked with many music directors but RD was just extraordinary."
RD's shrill intonations, an innovativeness that was too much for the conservative '60s and '70s, notwithstanding, his gurgling voice for Duniya mein logon ko (Apna Desh), Monica O my darling (Caravan), Mehbooba mehbooba (Sholay), Yamma yamma (Shaan), Samundar mein nahakar (Pukar), Sapna mera toot gaya (Khel khel mein) and Dil lena khel hai dildar ka (Zamane ko dikhana hai), were chart busters.
His repository of music didn't end with songs, they extended beyond and embellished the background score too, a little known fact that many have found convenient to push under the carpet. Who can forget the memorable banshee wails in the greatest Hindi film ever, Sholay?
Recalls Rahul Rawail, who did seven films with RD: "He was a very enthusiastic person. I remember when we were struggling to get the background music in Betaab for Sunny Deol's introduction. RD called me at 2 o'clock in the morning and suggested something that became a memorable signature tune."
For all his talents and outputs, however, awards came in few and far between. He bagged two filmfare awards for Sanam Teri Kasam and Masoom but after many eons in filmdom. He narrowly escaped getting the national award for his music twice - first when Parveen Sultana won the best singer award for Humein tumse pyaar kitna (Kudrat) and later in Gulzar's Ijaazat when Asha and Gulzar bagged the awards for best singer and best poet. An irony it was that the jury deemed it fit to honour the film's songs but keep the publicity away from the master. This was the way RD lived his public life as private from the public as only he could keep it.
Many who were associated with him promised that they would work with him again even when he wasn't quite the rage, but few kept their word. This life for RD in his later days was quiet on many fronts, with both health and friends deserting him. He died in his sleep leaving behind his dreams for a million melodies.