Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chhote Nawab

Tublu!! Thats what RD was called when he was born. If you see his early pics, he quite did justice to this name. But the focus from chubby face to musical talent was shifted by actor Ashok Kumar (or Dadamoni as he was fondly called). He once visited the Burman household and noticed Tublu crying in the fifth note...and that is when Pancham got this unique name. Dont be surprised if you find many youngsters with this name today, a result of Pancham's huge fan following. His "school-book" name is Rahul...full name Rahul Dev Burman...quite a heavy name...Rahul also inspired a few popular names...Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma named his son Rahul because of his friendship with Rahul Dev Burman.

RD also inspired many on-screen names! For example, in Sanjay Dutt's launch vehicle, Rocky...the hero (played by Sanju of course) is named Rocky D'Silva (or RD)...and the villain (played by the dancing-villain Shakti Kapoor) is simply named RD. Infact some scripts have his name as part of the dialgues. Like in Nafrat, Mehmood Saab tells his co-star that she worked so smoothly, it reminded him of RD Burman's music! In Gulzar's Achanak, hero Vinod Khanna is taunted on by his wife in the film when she says, "What an RD Burman tune are you humming"! (straight translation from Hindi). In Teri Kasam, Kumar Gaurav names his son, Pancham Baba! Plus some references in Woh Saat Din, Honeymoon Travels pvt ltd, Khwahish and Bheja Fry.

Pancham spent his first few years with his grand-mother in Calcutta. His schooling happened in the same school as Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. However, it is said that he was more into music and sports. Infact, there is a story that Sachinda was invited to be the chief Guest at Pancham's the morning, SD awarded RD for winning a cycling championship and in the evening he heard his son play an instrument. That is also when Pancham told his father that he was interested in music and has also started composing. Pancham in an 1982 Filmfare interview remembered that once he was out with his friends to watch Dev Anand's Funtoosh and he jumped out of his seat when the song Ae meri topi palat ke aa started playing. He wrote a letter to his father "accusing" him of stealing his tune. To which Sachinda responded with a confirmation that it was indeed his son's tune.

After a lot of arguments in the Burman household, between Sachinda and Pancham's grand-mother, Sachinda took his son to Bombay. The boy who failed his metric exams, quit studies for good and left for Bombay to join another school, the school of music. I don't think either the father or the son ever thought in that train journey, that this school drop-out would tomorrow be called a school in himself, an institution from which many many future generations of musicians and singers would graduate. As percussionist Nitin Shankar said once, "my school-mates chose arts or commerce or science as their subjects post 10th std, but I chose Pancham as my subject and I am still busy studying!".

So our boy landed in Bombay. His father started his trainings under the tutelage of the likes of Pandit Samta Prasad, Ustad Akbar Ali Khan, Pandit Brijen Biswas, Annapurna Devi, etc. Pancham would complain sometimes that he never wanted to be a tabalchi or an instrument player but was interested in being a composer. But his father insisted on such trainings to grasp the sense of rhythm and Indian classical notes which he found to be of prime importance to a composer. Even today his Gurus remember Pancham as a well-mannered and courteous student who never flaunted his Sachinda connection and even at the prime of his career, never forgot to thank his teachers. In fact once, Khan Sahab was performing in Bombay and many celebrities had gathered to enjoy his music. After some time, people noticed a man sitting at the entrance of the auditorium, literally sitting on the guest's slippers due to lack of space. When they realised it was RD Burman, they tried to get-up from their seats to make place for him only to be signalled by RD to keep sitting quietly as Khan Sahab would get disturbed!

Pancham also started helping his father in his compositions, arrangements, etc. He mainly played the mouthorgan (one example is Dev Anand's famous song Hai apna dil to aawara). Many people claim that SD's orchestra sounded fresh after Pancham joined him. Many also remember Pancham to be oppostite to his father in terms of personality. If SD was the king, who was feared by everyone and maintained his distance from the assistants and the musicians, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia mentions that RD was the common-man's prince...who would mingle with everyone, eat with them, entertain them with his jokes and pranks. It is a bit obvious that such a boy would find a true friend in similar personality-type entertainer singer, Kishore Kumar.

Not many could imagine that this "naughty-boy" running around in shorts, roaming about in his cars, smoking and playing pranks making sure his father doesn't notice, and most of the time playing games would also join films as a composer. Though I feel, amidst all this masti, Pancham was absorbing lessons from his father, and also spent the time getting exposed to and spotting talent. But all this happened so smoothly that Pancham himself was oblivious to his training and upbringing. He would compose tunes for his dad's films (it is said that Are yaar meri tum bhi ho gazab from Teen Deviyan is a Pancham composition,plus many more like Chhod do aanchal or Aradhana/Pyaasa tracks). One thing worth mentioning here is that Pancham never took claim for contributions to his father's music. He was cornered in many interviews to mention the tracks that he composed for his father but he refused to divulge such information. Under SD, he would also make singers practice and many times conduct the songs himself. Asha and Lata were his seniors and he used to make them rehearse. Asha even adviced Pancham to continue studies, this angered him alot!...and once she quipped when Sachinda asked Pancham to make her rehearse a track for Jewel Thief, "Would he be able to teach me?". She cant forget that session when an angry Pancham taught her the song !! In a recently released "remix" album by Asha, she has added an SD song from Talash called Karle pyaar karle as RD's number.

This is also the period when Pancham made friends with or came to the notice of many actors-producers like Guru Dutt, Dev Anand, Mehmood Sab, Amjad Khan, etc. Amjad Khan knew Pancham since 1955. He went to the extent of saying in an interview given in late 80s that, "I don't have any friends in this industry. I can only call Pancham as my friend. He is quite wierd as he would not see me for 6 months and then suddenly start calling everyday for the next 6 months. He would call me and say "Ask your begum to make biryani for me, I will come tonight" but in the evening would send his driver with a note, "Sahab said he cant come, but please send the biryani" !! No wonder Amjad Khan called him Ghoncu. I have heard that Kachin's (unofficial costumes designer for films) in Bandra, Mumbai had two grandsize chairs for Amjad Khan and Pancham as they used to visit the shop together.

Today when people remember Pancham, they remember him as a great musician (about which we are yet to discuss in detail) and a greater human being (a flavour of which you would have got from this post).

Guru Dutt noticed Pancham's work in Pyaasa and offered him a film called Raaz in 1958. Pancham was to be launched by none other than Guru Dutt himself!! However the film got shelved though a few songs had already been composed. Then came his actor friend Mehmood....but debut of our man into films is for another post!

Monday, September 10, 2007

What do you want to know?

Dear Reader,

You tell me, guide me, direct me...let me know what would you want to know about RD Burman?...or you can contribute with your knowledge...pass on any information or query or concern using the comments link below.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Dynasty

In true filmy style, Meera impressed Sachin with her singing and the lover of music fell in love with her forever. Little did people know that the union of Meera and Sachin Dev Burman would not only create some of the most memorable melodies of Indian cinema but also result in the birth of another maestro; one who would ensure that innumerable books will be needed to pen down the family's contributions!

Sachinda is one of the finest composers of Indian cinema. He brought with him a melodious blend of Indian classical, popular and above all folk music forms. Coming from the royal family of Tripura, his style was no less royal. He is famous for turning down scripts because either the producer/banner was too small or he wudnt agree with the story! One such example is Dev Anand's Hare Rama Hare Krishna. He dint do the music for this film because he thought the brother-sister angle was quite wierd (or so we hear). Of course, by then our fellow was ready to take on a full-fledged project and ended up making this album a big hit. So much so that it seems as if the director had to use the club hit Dum Maro Dum sparingly, so as not to overshadow the leading man. Incidentally, both of the roles were played by Dev Saab himself. One of the most talented playback singer, actor, director, musician of our country Kishore Kumar (its quite sad that some pen unfriendly scribes have started comparing Himesh to KK!!) was a die hard fan of Sachinda and till his death was an amid follower of his work.

Sachinda had his music room full of artistes who were to become individually big names themselves. Right from Jaidev to Ravindra Jain to Shiv-Hari to our very own RD. Technique-wise, the most talented directors would always work with Sachinda. Be it Guru Dutt or Vijay Anand or the entire Navketan clan. Mehmood Saab had gone to sign Sachinda for his first production but it is said that Sachinda wasnt convinced about working with a new production house and Mehmood Saab signed RD for his aptly titled debut, Chhote Nawab!

When Chhote Nawab was released, 1961, Sachinda was one of the biggest names in the industry. Already a legend, with a huge fan following and a queue of producers waiting to sign him for their next venture. Amidst all this, Rahul Dev Burman made his quiet entry into films. Not many would have noticed this film and its music and those who did, may not have realised that this album and this man, will be discussed for ages to come.

As Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma once said that "it is quite rare to find a son making a name for himself in the same field as his famous father, and RD-SD is one of those rare jodis".

Next we shall discuss the complex relationship of the king and his prince and how it was not a smooth sailing for our man right from day one. But those legends are what separate men from boys!

Before concluding this section i must mention that as i write this, the queen of this dynasty, Meera Dev Burman is alive and lives in Mumbai. My salute to the lady who was Ma (the 4th note of classical music) amidst Sa(chin) and Pa(ncham).

RD Burman: 1994-2007

In any campus with Indian kids, most of the mid-nite sessions will have Pyaar humein kis mod pe sung almost like a youth anthem. As they say, you cant cheat the young...they instantly take to what sounds hep...every new generation connects to this tune composed way back in the Amitabh Bachchan-era. Such agility of tunes is what every composer dreams of, but only some are able to achieve.

Around 2003, in Malhar (St Xavier's Mumbai Fest) there was a dance competition wherein only RD Burman and AR Rahman numbers were allowed as entries! Think for a while, a dance comptt in college fest with kids who were probably 4-5 years old when RD Burman died!

Recently, on one of the talent hunt competitions on TV, a girl who was about 9-10 years old told the host that she wants to sing for RD Burman when she grows up to be a playback singer. Again, take a pause. Here is a child who was not even born when RD passed away but there is so much of his music around (radio, parties, films, TV, etc) that she prolly believes that he is alive!!

June 27, 2007: RD's birthday 13 years after his death was celebrated whole day over major news channels to be broadcast from India with special features (half an hour slots) over prime time!

Kronos Quartet, a grammy winning group from the US recently remixed 12 of RD's tracks and are on a world tour with the songs. The CD also has a booklet with it with a special tribute by David Harrington, the lead violinist of the group.

Thievery Corporation, a pair of young DJ-musicians from the west admitted on an MTV interview in Singapore that they were currently listening to some "whacked-out stuff" by RD and one of them went to the extent of calling him an idol!

Main Hoon Na, Dil Vil Pyar Vyar, Jhankaar Beats are some of the films from "the newly born overseas looking Bollywood" that were huge hits revolving around RD's music.

Indian Idol has reached the 3rd season and everytime religiously does an RD Burman special episode...ditto for the other talent-hunt shows.

If Dum maro dum is extremely popular with the defiant youth, songs like Raina beeti jaaye and Chingari koi bhadke find a special mention when Indian classical music stalwarts talk about film songs.

The man, who claimed to dislike being bounded by Raag and other music forms, said, "What sounds good is grammar". This rebel was also appreciated by his seniors. Legendary composer Anil Biswas who taught the greatest of India's singers once said in a radio interview that had RD not been younger to him he would have greeted him with a pranaam!

So ladies and gentlemen, who really is this Indian composer who seems to have influenced 5 generations in the independent and now very-young India? What was his life journey like? Was he oblivious to the phenomenon that he was? Are we as a nation oblivious to the fact that such a musician did exist amidst us who has outlived his death? What was his personal life like? What do other musicians think about him? In short, what is the Brand RD Burman? Through these writings then, let us unleash...The Legend of RD Burman.