One day Bhanu Gupta, who played various instruments on Rahul Dev Burman’s team of accompanists, was strumming his guitar while waiting for a practice session to begin. R.D., who was taking a bath, poked out his bespectacled head and asked what the tune was. Gupta said, “It’s just a warm-up.” R.D. stepped out in a towel, sat down at the harmonium, embellished the tune, and said before slipping back into the bathroom, “We’ve got the tail of a song... Now to get the rest.” By the time he was out, R.D. had crafted all of Musafir hoon yaaron, the superhit song used in Gulzar’s 1972 film, Parichay.
In top form, Pancham — as he was named by Manna Dey because his infantile wailing apparently matched the fifth note — could catch a song by its tail and wag it the way he wanted.
Such and others glorious anecdotes have been fetched up by Brahmanand S. Siingh, who interviewed more than 40 friends and peers to etch a feature-length portrait of the composer, Mujhe Chalte Jaana Hai, some 16 years after his death. No wonder it took Siingh more than three years to put together.
What about the fact that despite ruling Bollywood in the late 1960s and most of the 70s with superhit soundtracks such as Teesri Manzil, Padosan, Amar Prem and Sholay, R.D. died in 1994 a lonely man whom producers wouldn’t touch with a vuvuzela? “There were many difficult and unpleasant things that happened to him.... There could be another one-hour film about it,” says the filmmaker who has also made a documentary on dhrupad singer Ashgari Bai.
Instead, we have a loving tale in which R.D. emerges as a genius with melody and rhythm, a leader who took care of team members even when they were out of work, and a music director who could get the best out of his singers. It’s a fitting image to celebrate this Sunday, when R.D. would have been 71 years young.
Pancham Unmixed, a documentary and a 30-song music DVD; Rs 999