RD Burman aka Pancham: Music composer with a ‘Rizz’

On the eve of his death anniversary here is a tribute to the legend - RD Burman aka Pancham

When Zeenat Aman in her Insta post paying tribute to Feroze Khan has written that the Oxford’s word for 2023 is Rizz which means charisma and Feroze Khan was the star who had the charisma or the Rizz. Expanding the analogy further, in the world of music, it was RD Burman aka Pancham who oozed of risk or the charisma through his music. On the eve of his death anniversary here is a tribute to the legend-Pancham.

Most of us in either of the night spots or for welcoming the new year at home would have ushered the occasion getting drooled and swooned to either of the multitude of compositions that Rahul Dev Burman aka Pancham has left for us, but how many from amongst us remember that just after four days, when we herald the new year, falls his death anniversary.

The remix industry that has created a slot for itself also seems to have forgotten the inspiration which gave them an opportunity to make a name for it. He was the original composer who had his nuances seeped into Indian realities but who had the eagerness and inquisitiveness to bring sounds from all the corners of the world for the Indian listeners.

For the purists his endeavour to adopt sounds from different parts of the world may be considered as a plagiarism, however for Pancham, it was his endeavour to provide an experience of international sounds to the fans of Indian music in an era when the outreach of the average Indian music lovers to international music was restricted to few fortunate who could travel offshore from the country.

Having honed his skills under the strict observant eyes of his father, Sachin Dev Burman as an assistant music director, he was the man who could shift from Indian classical to Western Rock, Jazz, Samba, Flamingo, etc., with such consummate ease, that he was at times brandied as a lifter of songs, as when he was ruling the music industry nobody could stand a comparison to him. It was his devotion to the cause of music which readily coaxed semi-classical singer Bhupinder to be his man Friday for belting out complex tunes over the guitar.

Pancham and the prowess over harmonica
When was the last time, after RD Burman’s death that we have heard a composition which has profuse settings over harmonica? After his death it seems to have just gone into oblivion. For the fans of Harmonica, the primer to learn the instrument is the song from Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman starrer, Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962), through the song Hai apna dil to awara. Would a Mere sapno ki rani from Aradhana (1962) become the ultimate wooing song of Hindi cinema were it not for the harmonica played by Pancham in the song? Or for that matter, the soulful rendition that Amitabh Bachchan plays in the melancholy of the night in Sholay (1975), or in the Kumar Gaurav launch film Love Story (1981), the mouth organ provided the element of melancholy, yearn and love, interspersed with haunt, which no other music director has been able to lay claim to after departure of RD Burman.

Music Bank, unconventional sounds and Pancham
While the composers of the present yore may boast about a music bank, can anybody have the parallels that a legend like S D Burman inspired by the music bank that Pancham had, borrowed his composition Sar jo tera chakrai for Pyaasa (1957).

Referred affectionately as Chhote Nawab, aptly he debuted as an independent music director in the film of the same name. And when he graduated to hold music for the almighty it was the Jal Tarang on the ‘tin ki chhat’ 1942: A Love Story (1994) that became his swan song. Only he could create music out of the raindrops falling on the roof top made of tin in the hills, as he had this knack of making music out of unconventional things, like the comb or from a wooden surface, or by blowing sound in an empty beer bottle.

While Gulzar may have made his debut with Mera gora ang laile, it was with Pancham that he could think about visualizing his dry verses, and he dared Gulzar to go to extremes and made music for as non-rhyming verses as could be possible, Ijaazat (1987) and Dil Padosi Hai (1987) a non-musical album released by the duo of RD Burman and Gulzar inspired by a James Bond movie of all the inspirations one can imagine which Asha Bhonsle had shared during the course of her birthday celebrations on the eve of her 83rd birthday in 2016! As a matter of fact, nobody else could have given composition to dry verses of Gulzar for Ijaazat as Pancham gave and therefore Pancham delights and commands the legendary fan following from one generation to another.

R D Burman: The king of Side Rhythm and absurd sound
He was the king of side rhythm that is the interlude that he interspersed in his compositions between two metres either in the form of a twang of a guitar in the higher or the base octave, or the beats of table in one rhythm or a fleeting play of flute. It is his side rhythm which has endured and enamoured generation of music lovers for generation after generations.

It was during the lean patch that he was having, when music had started becoming cacophonic that after series of experimentations, he mastered the side rhythm. Such was finesse for the same, that even in hard core violent films like Arjun (1985) the title song of Mamaiya kero-kero mama… that he gave, hit bulls eye, and so did other songs in the film. This was the time when music had started losing its relevance for a film, and a film had only two-three songs, a wave, that started with Sholay, and during this time Pancham came up with the scores which turned out invariably to be a super hit.

It was Laxmikant Pyarelal who had mastered the business of interlude and prelude in music, but it was ultimately a Pancham who perfected it by mixing the same with combination of a hard core western and an Indian instrument in tango, which nobody else could do with the same finesse and its ultimate acme is the song Katra katra milti hai, katra katra jeene do from Ijaazat.

His unconventional sounds continue to rule the roost in this era of techno music. No other music director can be recognized by the fans all over the world in such a jiffy, as a Pancham, just by clink of the glass bottle with a spoon which he made one of his signature tunes after Yaadon Ki Barat (1973). The signature tune of the original Golmaal (1979) continues to be an innovative composition whose nodes as soon as they start flowing announce to the world that is Pancham.

RD Burman as a playback singer
Pancham used his vocal prowess to expose fans of Hindi music to retro sounds, and the process was initiated through Monica O my Darling in the interludes where he was just testing his vocal cords for the song, Piya tu ab to aaja from Teesri Manzil (1966). He however established his retro sound prowess through two films in the same year – Sholay and Khel Khel Mein (1975) with the songs – Mehbooba and as the main interlude singer in Sapna mera toot gaya.

While critics would carp that he lifted the songs, and quote Mehbooba as the song from Sholay which was inspired by the famous Greek singer, Dennis Roussos song – say you love me (1974), Pancham gave the song his own twist through his deeper base sound and the nasal distortion. It became his signature tune and was taken to a new height with Yamma Yamma song from Shaan (1980). But for Gulzar the ultimate of vocal prowess of Pancham was in the song Dhanno ki aankhon mein pyar ka surma from the movie Kitaab (1977). Indeed, the bandwidth of octaves that this song traverses, only a Pancham could do.

Advent of new category of music through Teesri Manzil (1966) changed the entire paradigm of choreography in the film industry and injected an element of vibrancy and chutzpah to the world of Hindi cinema.

Pancham’s music for launch of film stars
Pancham is also credited with launching many a stars of the present era notable among them include Kumar Gaurav whose Love Story (1981) was Pancham’s product, so was Rocky (1981) for Sanjay Dutt, as also Betaab (1983) for Sunny Deol and Saagar (1985) for Dimple Kapadia. In fact, the other stars that were launched in this era did not have the luxury of a Pancham to be launched on to the cinema buffs, and RD Burman’s music created a smooth path for the new actors to make inroads into the hearts of the fans. A Dimple Kapadia could not have got a better re-launch than through Saagar and her second innings in Hindi cinema has a monumental contribution of R D Burman’s music.

Only music director around whom a film was made, and an award is given
The industry gave him a real tribute when a film was made around him – ‘Jhankar beats’, and it is a matter of great satisfaction that the new music whiz kids vie to get the coveted R D Burman music award, which incidentally is a unique gesture for Pancham, as till date there is no other award which is given to a music talent who has made a mark for himself, thereby providing recognition about the fact that his was an original talent.

Only music director whose songs became new film title and new serial title
The makers of films and cinema in the process of their growing up have had their sensibilities and the world view built around some songs, or a particular song, and to pay a tribute to the sensibility and the process of growing up the name and titles of the films as also those of the serials is being christened by the opening line of that song.

Interestingly enough this process of naming of films and serials from songs from the past has an interesting link, Pancham, aka R D Burman. Most of the so-called titles have been named after one hit song or the other composed by Pancham. It indeed is a monumental tribute to the genius of a man and also underlines the fact how important role songs of Pancham have played in letting a generation grow up. For that generation in particular, apart from songs there was no other medium of entertainment, so songs became channel vehicles for expression of emotions for the ‘romantic’ generation.

Indeed, the generation that grew in India in the 70s, 80s and the early 90s could be termed as the generation of romantics for the country, as this was also the time when Pancham was at his peak and was weaving the miasma of his musical oeuvre to create paraphernalia of romance. Ranbir Kapoor’s two films Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) and Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008) are inspired from Pancham’s super hit songs. Among the serials reference can be alluded to include Bade Achhe Lagte Hain and Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha, Kuch To Log Kahenge, etc.

There could be two school of thought about this development, one carping that it is the lack of the ability to christen original titles which is pushing people to christen titles from old songs from the past, the other view which is rather more acceptable is that this new approach indeed is a tribute to a musical era gone by in the world of cinema and to the genius called R D Burman.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, who has written the Book Outlier, which has given a new dimension to the manner in which persons can be analyzed, an Outlier is a person who for one reason or another, is so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are an enigma to themselves as to the outside world. Pancham would continue to reverberate and resonate in the hearts of music aficionados in the pancham ‘lai & taal’ till the music is there, and the melody is the king. His mortal remains may have been interspersed in the five elements of the atmosphere in 1994, but the five nodes that dominated his music still are a connoisseur’s delight and would continue to be so.

Nalin Rai
Nalin Rai
Nalin Rai is a Tagore Commemorative Honouree Author for 2023 for his literary Contributions and Beyond & Emily Dickinson Award Winner for his poetry writing.

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