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RD Burman: The King of Rhythm

Pancham da was born for music given the quantum of his work in 332 films in Hindi and other languages – thrice the number of his father, SD Burman. He also worked with all the eminent producers and directors, writes Sharad Dutt.

'A chip off the old block,' goes a popular saying. But there can also be a new chip off the old block. The old block was Dada Sachin Dev Burman and a new chip was his offspring Baba Burman, ie Rahul Dev Burman, fondly addressed as Pancham by his near and dear ones.
RD Burman was born on June 27, 1939, in Calcutta, the only child of Burmans who inherited music from his parents, but brought up by his maternal grandparents since senior Burman was composing music in Bombay.
Delving into his childhood, Pancham da once narrated an episode, "Baba and my mother came to Calcutta to find out what their pet was doing. Baba took a look at my mark sheet, and I waited, but he had no reason to complain. Baba, my mother and nani went to the terrace while I went to play football in the courtyard.
When I encountered him again, he asked me, 'What have you decided about your future?'
'I am keen on sports and want to become a Tennis player,' was my answer.
'Be serious, what is it you can fairly do well?' he persisted.
'I can play my own tunes on the mouth organ.'
'What do you mean playing your own tunes? Let's hear you play.'
I played what I knew, but I used to play others' tunes.
Baba heard me and said, 'Good or bad, play your own tunes. I am going to Bombay, will be back in three months. Meanwhile, you learn to play on tabla.'
'Tabla? What's there to learn about tabla?' I asked.
'Plenty. You want to be a composer and for that, you must develop a sense of rhythm.'
This was the guru mantra of Baba and I learnt tabla from Brijen Biswas and sarod from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Tabla educated me about rhythm when I became an independent composer."
Pancham da became an assistant to his father along with his mother Meera Burman, Jaidev and N Datta. While Dada Burman was composing for Guru Dutt's Pyaasa, Pancham da was his assistant. Guru Dutt observed Pancham da while music was being composed and recorded. He was so impressed that he made Pancham da compose 'Sar jo tera chakraye' for the same film. Guru Dutt also offered him to compose music for his forthcoming production Gauri (a remake of Kedar Sharma's Gauri), wherein Geeta Dutt was to play the lead. Pancham da recorded some songs for Gauri but the project was shelved after few reels were shot.
In 1961, when comedian Mehmood produced Chhote Nawab, his first choice was Dada (SD) Burman, but he declined the offer due to the low fee and advised Mehmood to ask some newcomer. And that newcomer was none other than his own son Rahul Dev Burman who composed as an independent music director.
Chhote Nawab didn't do well but Pancham da duly showcased his talent in a classical number 'Ghar aaja ghir aaye badra sanwariya' based on Raga Malgunji, and a foot-tapping numbers, 'Aaj hua mera dil matwala', with a touch of Latin American and Arabic music, besides the heart-rending dua (prayer), 'Elaahi tu sun le hamari dua,' became immensely popular. His next film Bhoot Bangla was also with Mehmood. Pancham da did a cameo role in this film and composed offbeat numbers.
He got Teesri Manzil with great effort when Dev Anand walked out and Shammi Kapoor replaced him. The producer Nasir Hussain and director Vijay Anand wanted Pacham. But Shammi Kapoor was adamant to have OP Nayyar or Shankar Jaikishan. Eventually, Shammi Kapoor got convinced after listening to almost dozen tunes played by Pancham da at his residence. Rest is history. The numbers, 'O mere sona re sona re', 'Aaja aaja mein hoon pyaar tera', and 'Tumne mujh ko dekha' based on Nepali folk. The super hit music of Teesri Manzil continues to sell. Mehmood's Padosan became a cult classic because of its music.
In the mid-70s, music saw a sea change, and Pancham da too swam with the tide. His unforgettable numbers in silver jubilee Kati Patang became super-duper hits: 'Pyaar deewana hota hai'; 'Ye shaam mastani' with whistling by Manohri Singh; 'Jis gali mein tera ghar na ho balma' set in Raga Bhairavi; and the sensuous cabaret number, 'Mera naam hai shabnam'.
His number 'Gulabi aankhein' (Rafi) in The Train; 'Rekha O Rekha' in Adhikar; 'Bhali bhali si ek surat'; 'Aayo kahan se Ghanshyam' in Buddha Mil Gaya; 'Chanda O chanda' and 'Jogi O jogi' in Lakhon Mein Ek; 'Rut hai milan ki' in Mela based on Punjabi folk; 'Yaari ho gai yaar se lak tunoo tunoo'; and 'Kaali palak teri gori' (Lata/Kishore) in Do Chor became memorable.
Pancham da created a new style with new sounds and a rhythmic pattern in Dev Anand's Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Based on the hippie culture of the 60s, the film's number, 'Dum maro dum', attained a cult status. Shot in Nepal, Pancham da brilliantly used Nepali folk in 'Kanchi re Kanchi re', 'Ho re ghungru kya bole', and the brother-sister rendition, 'Phoolon ka taaron ka'. His music was instrumental in the tremendous success of this movie. After Kati Patang, Shakti Samantha and Pancham da were back in Amar Prem.
After Teesri Manzil Pancham da became a favourite of Nasir Hussain and did Caravan with him, giving scintillating numbers for this film. The cabaret, 'Piya tu ab to aaja' and Pancham da's 'Monika, O my darling', enhanced the film to another level. Other numbers also became a nationwide rage.
His compositions, 'Dekha na hai re socha na' in Bombay to Goa, 'O mere dil ke chain', 'Kitne sapne kitne arman', 'Diwana leke aaya hai' in Mere Jeevan Saathi, were Kishore's most popular numbers. Gulzar and Pancham da's collaboration commenced with Parichay (inspired by Sound of Music) and the latter composed one of his best numbers, 'Musafir hoon yaaro', and other classical numbers, 'Beete na bitaye raina' and 'Mitwa bole meethe bole' became super hits. In Nasir Hussain's Yaadon ki Baraat, Pancham da was again at his best. Its songs were most popular in the 80s.
In J Omprakash's films, Aap ki Kasam and Aandhi, Pancham da proved his talent all over again. Aap ki Kasam had soulful numbers like 'Karvatein badalte rahe,' 'Suno kaho suna kaha kuch hua kya,' the timeless number, 'Jai jai Shiv Shankar', and Lata's catchy numbers, 'Paas nahin aana,' 'Chori chori chupke chupke' were truly lauded. With Aandhi's evergreen numbers, 'Tum aa gaye ho,' 'Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa to nahin,' and 'Kis mod se jaate hain', Gulzar and Pancham da were at their creative best. This duo also worked together in Khushboo, Kinara, Kitab and Libaas and the music of these films is still cherished.
The all-time box-office blockbuster Sholay is also remembered for its songs: 'Koi haseena jab rooth jati hai' and 'Mehbooba O mehbooba' by Pancham da was inspired by Demis Roussos's 'Say you love me'; the Holi song, 'Holi ke din,' and the eternal friendship song, 'Ye dosti hum nahi todenge'. Director Shakti Samantha's Mehbooba also had some great songs like 'Sapna mera toot gaya' which became a trendsetter.
Nasir Hussain's multistarrer Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin was a runaway hit with its robust music, 'Aa dil kya', 'Tum kya jaano mohabbat kya hai', and a bubbly number, 'Mil gaya humko saathi mil gaya', Rafi's 'Chaand mera dil and qawwali number', 'Hai agar dushman zamana gam nahin' and Rafi's National Award-winning song, 'Kya hua tera vaada.'
The musical score of Ghar became a timeless hit with some of its rhythmic numbers: 'Aaj kal paon zameen par,' 'Tere bin jiya jaaye na,' 'Phir wahi raat hai,' and a mischievous number, 'Aapki aankhon mein'.
Pancham da was born for music given the quantum of his work in 332 films in Hindi and other languages – thrice the number of his father.
He worked with all the eminent producers and directors. Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Gol Maal, Khoobsurat, Rang-birangi and Namak Haram, RK Films' Dharam Karam and Biwi O Biwi, BR Chopra's Mazdoor, Karam and The Burning Train, Prakash Mehra's Mela and Samadhi, Shekhar Kapoor's Masoom, Raj Khosla's Sharif Badmaash, Nehle Pe Dehla, Sunny, Maati Mange Khoon, Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Parinda, Raj Kumar Santoshi's Ghatak, Priyadarshan's Gardish, Ram Gopal Verma's Drohi and Yash Chopra's Joshila and Deewar among others.




Besides being a brilliant composer Pancham da was a singer too, singing for Hindi and Bangla films. Known for his innovative experiments, he created music from glass and spoon, broom and comb, and even from empty beer bottles. He was a happy-go-lucky man, fond of cooking and wearing flashy clothes. A sports fanatic, a gourmet and gourmand, he enjoyed cooking, besides his passion for cars. Extremely amiable and accessible, it made him very popular in the film fraternity, and he was affectionately called 'The Boss'.
But Pancham da's last days were very agonising as he saw a downturn with two dozen flop films in a row. Producers started ignoring him and the last blow came when Subhash Ghai replaced him with Lakshmikant Pyarelal in Ram Lakhan. Asha, his second wife (the first marriage with Rita Patel had derailed), was the only pillar of strength for him.
During this crisis, his old friends like Vidhoo Vinod Chopra came forward and offered him to score music for 1942 – A Love Story and Pancham da gave his best but alas, he was not around to savour the success of his work. At 55, he succumbed to a massive heart attack on January 4, 1994.
Winner of three Filmfare Awards for Sanam Teri Kasam, Masoom and 1942 – A Love Story, besides the Sur Singar Academy Award, Lata Mangeshkar Award, IMPPA (Indian Motion Picture Producers Association) Award, BFJA (Bengal Film Journalist Association) Award, Pancham da had four gold discs and three silver discs to his credit. He would always be remembered for a new musical wave that he created for the youth and shall remain the heartthrob of succeeding younger generations.
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