To a nation fed on classical music the advent of Rahul Dev Burman with his repertoire of western beasts was a godsend. RD revolutionized Hindi film music in the 1970s and with his emphasis on rhythm and beats this pied Piper of Hindi film music had young India swinging to his tunes. At the same time this genius proved his many detractors who criticized him for corrupting popular taste wrong by composing some of the most influential raga based songs in Hindi cinema and showing an immense comfort with all kinds of music including Indian folk.
R.D. Burman the man the music looks at the phenomenon called R.D. Burman and how he changed the way Indians perceived Hindi film music. Through anecdotes and trivia that went into the making of Pancham’s music the many innovations he introduced like mixed rhythm patterns piquant chords and sound mixing and through interactions with the musicians who were part of RD’s team the authors create a fascinating portrait of a man who through his music continues to thrive nearly two decades after his death.
At the outset I would like to thank Balaji Vittal and Anirudha Bhattacharjee for this endeavor. I’m afraid more often than not an artiste’s persona and the nuances of his work get lost in the fog of time because as a nation we are poor at keeping records. I think this kind of history is precious important for coming generations. Today when someone decides to make a documentary on a great film maker like Bimal Roy there are hardly any people around who have had first hand experience of working with him. In the course of their work these masters often say and do things off the cuff, almost casually at times which often an insight into their minds and their crafts. These pearls of wisdom need to be documented preserved and handed over to the next generation. But more often than not these get lost. It is desirable and imperative that we talk to people who have worked with these masters who know how they functioned who understood the basic texture of their personality, what it was that made them what they were. That is how we can relate their art to them and them to their art. It makes me happy that in this book the authors have given space to the people who were fortunate enough to work with this maestro called R.D. Burman. They have the effort to go beyond the songs talked to people who were present when the songs were being composed and recorded. And in the process they have given us a wonderful account of the work of a genius.
What can I say about R.D. Burman? Some people become successful at a given point in time. And as time passes, vogues and fashion and styles change, these people either die or wither away and new people come. The only ones we remember are those who were not just successful, but who did something unprecedented; who took their art to a whole new level and whose contribution changed their field of craft for coming generations. RD introduced a new sound, with a new sensibility, new beats, new ways of using existing instruments, and brought new musical instruments too. The technical facilities we take for granted today were not available in the 1960s or ‘70s. Yet Pancham’s music remains as fresh, it sounds as contemporary as it did three decades ago. And he had the genius to create sounds out of everyday things, for example, placing something in front of a big fan and recording. It was a strange, yet unforgettable experience seeing him at work.
His compositions in films like Chhote Nawab and Teesri Manzil were unprecedented. Those songs did not remind you of the songs of yesteryears. I think it took a little time for Indian listeners to get attuned to the new music. But once it took hold of the listeners’ attention or aesthetics, it remained there. That is why contemporaries of RD, who were no less successful if not more, are not remembered today with the kind of reverence that you see for RD. New musicians like Shankar—Ehsaan—Loy or Vishal—Shekhar have great respect for RD, and you can see that in their work they take his tradition forward. Obviously, they are no less talented; they are adding things to his legacy, they are updating, but somewhere you can see that it is the same chain of aesthetics, of musical sensibility that is being carried forward by the next generation.
I have been very fortunate and I am very proud of the fact that I had a long association with him. My first film with Pancham was Saagar and the very first song that we recorded together was Jaane do na. I remember I was writing the dialogues for Saagar at a hotel in Khandala and I had to come back to Bombay to attend a music sitting for a particular situation in the film. He had given me the tune. I tried to write the song to that tune and there was a particular line that I was very keen to bring into the song but the metre was not allowing me. So I put the tune aside and wrote the song on my onw. From Khandala I went directly to his music room, where Ramesh Sippy and others were waiting for me and I said I have written the song but please don’t get upset I have not written the song to the tune you gave me because whatever I wanted to say was not fitting the metre. So RD Said okay let me write down the song. He took a pen and paper and I started dictarting the song. By the time he finished in some part of his brain he had already made the tune while jotting down the song! As soon as he finished writing the last word he opened the harmonium and started singing. That is how Chehra hai ya chand khila hai was born.
After that we did quite a few films and there came a time when I suppose in this film market and in the commercial market of music people don’t appreciate your talent people appreciate your last film’s success that’s about all. And unfortunately some of his films did not do well in spite of his good work. Then perhaps failure may have disenchanted him it may have affected his work. Maybe because his films were not doing well things were not going right. Perhaps he did not concentrate the way he should have on the quality of his work after all he was a human being. But instead of inspiring him instead of cajoling him to the standards he was capable of his associates preferred to move away. But my faith in him never wavered. I was convinced he was a genius one didn’t have to be a Sherlock holmes to see that.
We did some films at that time like Gardish, Gang one film by Ram Gopal Varma Drohi if I am not mistaken and 1942. a love story. These were his last films. I have been an admirer and I had unshakeable faith in his talent. Everyone goes through a lean patch and I knew that it was only a matter of time. With 1942 he knew it was now or never and he had to prove to the world that he was R.D. Burman.
Despite having Dev Burman as a last name Pancham had to wait for seven years before he tasted success. He was in no apparent hurry. Rather he seemed to savor the wait. But that he how it is with the truly and perennially talented. They expect the best to happen and they know that the best takes its time to come by. They are patient with their destinies.
In my interactions with Pancham during the making of Teesri Manzil, I figured out the span of genres of music that the boy had exposed himself to Jazz, Latino, folk I suspect that he had been appreciating and absorbing all of these from his childhood solely as a keen student of music forms he would subsequently use to pain his music with. Apart from lovely melody and a fascinating sense of rhythm his other contribution to Hindi film music was his ability to generate supporting music from anything that produced sound that was his differentiator. To me Pancham was an enthusiastic chef who enjoyed the unexplored exotica and not just an efficient cook. Pancham’s Primary identity was that of an exceptionally gifted musician music direction could not have been possible otherwise.
Pancham was the music director for both my directorial ventures Manoranjan and Bundalbaaz. We also worked closely in numerous other films in which I acted and for which he composed the music. During our association over the years. I got to know him progressively better as a person too. He was a nice day.
Film based light music is exposed to a constant layering down by newer albums that appeal to newer sensitivities. Today I observe Pancham’s inspiration among young composers a sign of his legacy. His achievements need to be documented his story needs to be told.
At the outset, we need to mention that we did not quite want to write a biography. There are people better qualified to do that, people who knew him closely. What made R.D. Burman (aka Pancham) fascinating for us was his music — and the era in which he composed it. This then is the story of R.D. Burman and his music — what it was about, the era in which it was composed, the factors that influenced it and the difference it wrought in a medium that today connects Indians across the globe. This book is about Pancham’s mystique, his differentiator. About why his compositions, once considered counterculture, continue to thrive, either in the original or in remixed versions, even four decades after he composed them. RD. Burman — The Man, The Music is about why his innovations, recording techniques, mixed rhythm patterns, use of brass and sound mixing are discussed on web forums as frequently and as passionately as they are; why his creations, uploaded on various online video sharing sites, have logged eyeball hits in millions; why his fan count outstrips that of all his contemporaries put together.
Pancham’s music was contemporary, largely Western in form, and featured instruments not widely used in India before he entered the scene. He blended chord-based arrangements with familiar forms of melody to produce music that was light on the ears and easy to pick up, but which sounded contraband, and gelled more with leather jackets and sports cars than with the traditional bullock cart. It was music that was the well-thought- out handiwork of a maverick.
Like his music, he looked different from the traditional dhoti kurta or the pajama-kurta clad musicians one was accustomed to seeing. Dressed in plain, light-colored shirts and trousers, his shirtsleeves rolled up, Pancham, with his oddly round face and Mongoloid features, was the living representation of his own music — easy, invigorating, young and refreshingly unique. In an age of black-and-white images, Pancham was a medley of color.
And though we are unabashed fans of his Endeavour to ensure that we don’t do a hagiography. As such, we also focus on the mistakes he made. No man is above making errors, and Pancham made quite a few. God blessed him with less than the normal share of shrewdness and strategic forethought required for long voyages. He took too long to correct his course, provided he figured out the right one at all.
This book is also a homage to the team members from whom Pancham was able to extract the best by giving them due credit for their contribution. And they, and their families in turn, loved and admired both the teddy bear of a gentleman and the musician in Pancham.
This is about a composer whose legacy outlives the person many times over.
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