The Pancham diaries

  • Aasheesh Sharma, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Dec 25, 2015 12:03 IST do you remember Pancham? The pioneer of fusion in Hindi film music: the maverick composer who recognised Kishore Kumar’s versatility and helped create the Rajesh Khanna phenomenon in the swinging ’70s? Or the doubtful, forlorn figure who vanished to the periphery to public memory only to create one final golden score that would him back into the limelight, ironically, after his death? RD Burman aka Pancham, was all these and then some.

A new biographical tome on the popular music director borders on a hagiography. The author Khagesh Dev Burman, related to Rahul Dev Burman, glosses over his foibles and charges of plagiarism.

But he does manage to provide a few brilliant glimpses into what motivated the musical genius who gave us Chura liya hai, Dum maro dum, Duniya mein logon ko, Yamma Yamma, Ek chatur naar, Mere saamne wali khidki mein, Kuch na kaho, Tere bina zindagi se koi and Naam gum jayega, to name just some unforgettable numbers that continue to rule music charts and the people’s hearts 21 years after his death.

Select excerpts:

Prodigal beginnings

• "RD was privileged to learn the Sarod from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, whose father and guru Ustad Allaudin Khan Saheb, was very fond of [RD’s mother] Meera."

• "SD owned a gramophone, which inspired Rahul to buy seventy-eight RPM records from New Gramophone stores in New Market, the first record he bought was Mambo Italiano."

• "While watching Funtoosh (1956), he suddenly heard one of the tunes he had composed. He blurted out aloud -- "My God, that’s my tune! I promptly wrote to my father and accused him of pinching my tune and he admitted he had." The song was Ae meri topi palat ke aa, a big hit in its time."

On meeting Kishore the prankster

"…one day I saw a man wearing a muffler and a cap, holding a black stick, sitting on the wall of the studio. He was imitating everyone who passed, just like a monkey. When we went into the studio, the man jumped off the wall and came into the recording room….As each artist sang, he would begin to sing, putting their performance to shame. When I asked him why he was doing this, he replied: ‘I am an orphan. Nobody looks after me. Please give me a chance’ "

Eat, drink, dream music

"When I told him [his father master composer Sachin Dev Burman] that I sometimes dreamt tunes, he asked me to immediately get up and hum it into a tape recorder or jot down the notations. The next morning, he said, you can improvise on it. The tunes of Kanchi re kanchi re (Hare Rama Hare Krishna), Tum bin jaoon kahan (Pyar Ka Mausam) and Duniya mein logon ko (Apna Desh), have all come to me in my dreams," said Rahul.

Friendly neighbourhood sound

"Generally comic songs do not enjoy longevity. This song is an exception. Rahul used resso-resso as a prominent solo, which was seen as broom and comb revelry on screen!"

-- About the apparent ‘broom and comb’ sound created in Padosan for the song Mere saamne wali khidki mein

Chip off the old block

"Negative criticism spurred him to accept Hare Rama Hare Krishna, which had been turned down by his father SD Burman. This was the first time in Hindi filmdom that a son had picked up an assignment dropped by his father. The rest is history."

"When Kishore Kumar was singing Badi suni suni hain, SD went into a coma…After that SD lived for another five months but he remained in a coma. It is said that only once did he open his eyes and that was on September 30, 1975, when RD gave him the news of East Bengal football club’s 5-0 triumph in the IFA Shield final over Mohun Bagan Club."

"Several songs which proved great hits were originally rejected by producers. Dev Anand had said Dum maro dum sounded funny and wouldn’t run. I persuaded him to keep it in the album as it was a situational song and useless for any other film. Kora kagaz thaa had been disapproved by Shaktida, Kaka [Rajesh Khanna] and everybody else, so had Kaaton se kheench ke ye aanchal by Dev Anand. Goldie [Vijay Anand] filmed it only because they were already on location."

Marital woes

After his first big hit, Teesri Manzil, RD’s demand as a music director shot up. "Producers, directors, actors, singers and musicians came to him for deliberations over their projects. RD didn’t feel he could serve simple dishes like dhokla to guests like Nasir Hussain, Shakti Samanta, Mehmood and Rajesh Khanna etc. Hard drinks too had to be served. And so, both alcohol and non-vegetarian food were introduced in the house. RD himself was the cook…Mohammed Rafi used to come and cook Mughlai food for the Dev Burmans; RD took cooking lessons from him. Rita [Patel, Pancham’s first wife] slowly took to drinking and eventually the tussle in the family became so bitter that R.D. had to shift to a room in a hotel ‘Caesar Palace’ in Bandra.

Chhoti Si Asha

"RD touched his mother’s feet and prayed for permission to marry Asha. Mother Meera said, "Listen, upon my word, this marriage will not take place as long as I am alive. You may do so only your mother’s dead body.’ RD waited for a long time to obtain his mother’s permission. In the meanwhile, SD passed away…When his mother had started suffering from psychological ailment (sic) and was out of her senses, RD married Asha.

Fursat ke raat din! RD Burman (right) with poet-lyricist Gulzar (centre) and singer Asha Bhosle.

"Kishore Kumar offered a solution. ‘In my life I have been married four times’, he said. ‘I never hesitated to accept Bengali, Muslim, Punjabi and Marathi girls as my wives. What is there in a marriage? Marry and forget that you’re married.’ After that, he added, ‘Get married silently without creating a fuss. Don’t go in for registration of the marriage. Don’t leave any documents, like signatures of witnesses and photographs of marriage etc."

The Boss of Bossa Nova

"In a murder scene in the film [Arjun] RD uses his own voice along with African bossa-nova, which was played in a different style. Even if you keep your eyes closed when the murder is taking place, the background music piercing your ears will let you know that something terrifying is going to happen on the screen."

Santa Cruz Sunsets

"Meanwhile, RD’s misery was multiplying. The music director who not so long ago would be busy with twenty-five films a year, was sitting idle…But even on his loneliest days his enthusiasm never quite quit, and when depressed, he preferred to hide it and is reported to have said: ‘Baba used to say, when you don’t have work, create music. That creation will work for you.’"

"In the subsequent part of his life, R.D. took to sitting alone in the balcony of his Santa Cruz flat, head covered by a shawl so that people couldn’t recognise him, and create tunes of the cuff. His wife Asha would be at her Peddar Road flat with her children (from her previous marriage), and his [ailing] mother lay bedridden and listless inside. And in those moments he truly felt the absence of his father, who was compassionate, considerate, cooperative, and above all, a source of inspiration."

"At the premiere of Gardish every member of the film crew was invited by the producer except one. They did not want RD to be part of the premiere as he was considered an unlucky music director in those days."

"…He died a hero. He died a man redeemed and now they have an RD Burman award. Now everybody praises RD Burman. Where were these people when the man was alive? Did they give him an award when he was alive? No they treated him like dirt." Vidhu Vinod Chopra about Pancham’s score for 1942, a Love Story

"Sadly RD Burman did not live to see the revival of popular interestin 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 artists of immense promise when they hit a lean phase in their careers.

-- RD Burman: The Prince of Music, Rupa, 543 pages, Rs 795

From HT Brunch, September 6
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