He scored for 331 films in 32 years. How does his Kishore Kumar song-tally compare with Asha Bhosle's? Where Kishore sang 558 songs for him (227 solo, 245 duets), Asha rendered 840 of his compositions (406 solo, 338 duets).
He married Asha 14 years after he wed Rita Patel. His 14th death anniversary it is today and I have him, speaking here, in June of 1991.
RD Burman was a trendsetter without peer by then, so I asked if he still rated Chhote Nawab (1961), his first, as his best.
"I do, if only because Lata Mangeshkar wasn't any longer singing for Dada Burman when Mehmood asked me to compose Chhote Nawab. Those days you were ‘made' if you got Lataji to render your maiden song. So I told Dada point blank I was ringing Lataji. Actually Lataji too – I found out later – wanted to get back to Dada! So she readily agreed to sing Ghar aa jaa for me."
"Did you, initially, set Ghar aa jaa as Raag Bhimpalasi in the Kaafi thhaat? Or was it in that thhaat from the word go - to unfold as Raag Maalgunji?"
"Who but you could pose such a query? All I know is I slipped into the Kaafij thhaat while composing Ghar aa jaa, so call it Maalgunji, if you like. In the face of having scored a thousand-and-one songs since, Ghar aa jaa remains my best. The memory of the legendary Lataji agreeing to sing so readily for a fresher like me makes Ghar aa jaa unique."
"There were those three Lata-Rafi Chhote Nawab duets - Aaj huaa meraa dil matwaala, Matwalee aankhon waale and Jeene waale muskuraa ke jee. Today you openly say you never cared for Rafi. But, at the 1966 Chhote Nawab stage, you must've felt grateful to have our No 1 male singer as your playback?"
"No doubt Rafi was No 1 then," conceded Pancham. "But I'd rehearsed Rafi so often for Dada that I could go along with him so far, no further. It was so tough to get Rafi to amend something you'd already taught him!"
"Take my breakthrough Asha-Rafi Teesri Manzil duet – Aa jaa aa jaa," recalled Pancham.
"Rafi wasn't able to grasp the nuances of Aa jaa aa jaa at all! How Rafi struggled as Asha so exemplarily stretched the crucial Aaha-ha aa jaa aaha-ha aa jaa notes. Give me Kishore any time – he would've latched on to it in a trice!"
"Easy to say that 25 years after it happened," I noted. "Didn't it all happen because you never were patient with Rafi - like OP Nayyar was with Asha - to be able to draw the most resonant results from the man who sang Tum ne mujhe dekhaa for you in the same Teesri Manzil?"
"Only I know how I got Rafi to do Tum ne mujhe dekhaa!" insisted Pancham.
"With OP, remember, Rafi was on his home Punjabi ground. I don't agree I was more patient with Kishore, not so patient with Rafi. No matter how patient I was with Rafi, he slipped into the same vocal error - time and again.
Kishore – you had to teach him but once, he was onto it like a shot. See the feel Kishore brought to Chingaree koii bhadke. But that's straight Bhairavi even for Kishore."
"Straight Bhairavi or not, see how Kishore makes it sound as if he's singing Chingaree for you, and you alone, in Amar Prem."