RD Burman: The Man, The Music
Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal
Rs 399 pp 366
The year is 1965. A man and his two friends are sitting in a Fiat outside south Mumbai’s Regal theatre, looking for a woman. She’d called to propose an almost-blind date, claiming to have met the man and sought his autograph in Darjeeling not long before. The man spots the woman and enters the theatre just in time for James Bond’s Goldfinger. The girl excuses herself soon after and comes out. The intrigued man runs out but finds her rushing away in a black Ambassador.
The narration of this filmy episode — Rahul Dev Burman’s budding romance with his would-be first wife, Rita Patel — illustrates how the latest book on the musician stands apart from the versions that came before.
Ex-scribe Raju Bharatan’s A Journey Down Melody Lane, put the introduction matter-of-factly and called Rita “a classy Gujarati”. Bharatan took at face value Rita’s mother-in-law Meera Dev Burman’s assertion that all was well in the family. In his well-researched documentary, Mujhe Chalte Jana Hai, RD fan Brahmanand Siingh didn’t have the space to elaborate on how RD used the only clue she’d left — that she frequented Nirmala Niketan, the social work institution — to trace her. And there was nothing on how the marriage progressed.
Here, authors Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal project a more three-dimensional view of RD. Their reconstruction sees ma-in-law Meera keeping a starchy distance from the beginning, Rita’s vegetarianism driving a growing wedge between husband and wife, and her increasing alcohol intake raising the bile she spewed at her ma-in-law. So though Bhattacharjee and Vittal promise that theirs is a fans’ account rather than a bio, they haven’t lost sight of RD’s failures and have packed in some brilliant vignettes in a life less ordinary. RD or Pancham, born to a disciplinarian father but raised by an indulgent granny, was poor at studies. At a time father Sachin Dev was away in Bombay making his musical career, RD was in Calcutta cycling around to buy pot and practising water ballets, a bizarre mix of opera and water sports splashed about at south Calcutta’s Anderson Club. He played the harmonica while floating in water. At age 16, he was taken to Bombay on the ruse of learning classical from Ali Akbar Khan — again an account that’s more nuanced in the Bhattacharjee-Vittal book.
Then began a career that changed a thing or two — in composition, use of singers and instruments, and recording techniques — in Bollywood music. Bhattacharjee brings to the book the same nose for trivia that led him to compile a book of lists on his other hero, Amitabh Bachchan. Amid the celebration and cerebration on the music, scores are settled as to why RD preferred Kishore over Rafi (he was, simply, quicker to pick up newer things). Effusive commentary — say, on how RD incorporated management mantras for his team far before they became fashionable in corporate India — is kept to a minimum. A list of his A-team — that included at times Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Shiv Kumar Sharma and Trilok Gurtu as well as regulars Manohari Singh, Maruti Rao Keer and Bhanu Gupta — comes right at the front. At the end are indices of songs and names.
Between his first composition — ‘Ghar aaja ghir aaye badra’, originally scored for Guru Dutt’s shelved project, Raaz, then used in Chhote Nawab — and his last, ‘Kuchh na kaho’, based on his father’s folksy tune, ‘Rangila rangila’, Pancham had closed many a circle. By starting the book with his last few hours and ending with reminiscences, this book does the same. In between lies a trove of songs that refuse to age. And now, this book.