Ever Alive Pancham
There are a million stories about Pancham, and how certain filmmakers thought of him as the ultimate melody-maker of his time. The youngsters in the profession even now swear by him, and draw inspiration from his work. He created tunes while driving, sitting and talking. No matter what the words or the meter, the instrument western or Indian classical, Pancham used them with a panache that was uncommon. Playback singers adjusted their vocal chords to suit the tunes without raising an eyebrow, and like his illustrious father, Sachin Dev Burman whom he had assisted at one point of time, he drew the best from his singers. Asha Bhosle flipped for him to such an extent that she even married him.
He died early, still in prime. One of his friends patrons, Gulzar said: “Men like Pancham never die. He will live through his music which will conquer all time; he will live by his music being remembered by music lovers and music experts, who would keep his music alive in every possible way.” He even wrote a short poem. Some years later Shemaroo Entertainment brought out a feature-length film in DVD format, ‘Pancham Unmixed’ which sought to re-explore his musical creations, and included the views of a cross-section of friends and admirers like Asha Bhosle, Gulzar, Shammi Kapoor, Manna Dey, Rishi Kapoor, Javed Akhtar, amongst others. It was also showcased at several international film festivals. A coffee table book, Pancham Sings of Eternity. While many of his regular producers stuck to him, believing in his genius even when his health had been failing, there was one whose loss of faith in him disturbed him till his death, Dev Anand and Navketan which he had rightly felt he had inherited from his father.
Pancham was barely a lad of nine when his father took him to Bombay Talkies, and introduced him to a young Kishore Kumar, and there began a long enduring friendship which subsequently saw, once he came into his own, the maverick music director totally ignoring the versatility of Mohammed Rafi, and promoting the actor-singer who in the late seventies and early eighties eclipsed almost every other male playback singer to the extent that even a Dilip Kumar abandoning ‘his voice’ for Sala mein to sahib ban gaya in Sagina. An unconfirmed Bollywood grapevine has it that it was at this raw age of nine itself that he composed Aai meri topi palat ke aa, which Dada Burman worked to be picturised on Dev Anand by Goldie Vijay Anand in Funtoosh. Goldie later told this columnist that he was forced to do so by eldest brother, Chetan Anand who had been reluctantly directing the movie written by him.
Pancham’s first break as an independent music director came in Mehmood’s Chhote Nawab (1962) reaching a pinnacle of sorts in Hare Rama Hare Krishna, after which there was no looking back until the downhill journey began with ill-health that finally ended on January 4, 1994. Pancham had been just 54. His favourite musical instrument was mouth organ, and his real apprenticeship with his father began in 1958 soon after his nineteenth birthday, during the making of Chalti ka Naam Gadi, the cult classic which starred all the three Ganguly brothers, Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar, Anoop Kumar, and continued to assist his father even after he had got his independent breaks. He first tasted success with the Shammi Kapoor-starrer, Teesri Manzil directed by Vijay Anand, followed by the ever popular Padosan, and although he really sweated it out to complete the music for Aradhana, the credit again went out to his ailing father. It is, however, anyone’s guess that Dada Burman couldn’t have set to music fast-paced songs like Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu.
Pancham’s real breakthrough film was Shakti Samanta’s Kati Patang starring Rajesh Khanna and Asha Parekh, and he went on to compose music for over 300 Hindi films, including Amar Prem, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, The Train, Seeta aur Geeta, Caravan, Sholay, Parichay,Yadoon ki Baraat, Deewar, Aandhi, Khushboo, Satte Pe Satta, Rocky, Love Story, and 1942 A Love Story which was released posthumously disproving those who had written him off after a heart surgery in 1988. The list is endless. He received his first Filmfare trophy for Sanam Teri Kasam in 1981. The magazine in 1995 also instituted an RD Burman Award for New Music Talent to keep his name and legacy alive. During his distinguished career span he received as many as 15 Filmfare nominations, though barely three trophies. He even won a nomination for the Mehbooba aa Mehbooba number in Sholay, which was brilliantly picturised by Ramesh Sippy on Helen and Jalal Agha.
RD Burman’s early training had been under Brajen Biswas for tabla, and Ali Akbar Khan and Ashish Khan for sarod in 1950-51. He once said: “My father explained that before you compose you must know the range of the instruments at your command to get the best out of them. I spent over four years with that family and learnt the basics of classical music from them. Even today when I work on a film which has a classical base I am subconsciously influenced by that period in my life.” Pancham also confirmed that had it not been for his adamant grandfather, SD Burman would have taken him to Bombay much before he eventually did. And he had by that time itself done 15 compositions. “A year later while watching the film Funtoosh I suddenly heard one of the tunes I had composed. I blurted out aloud ‘My God that’s mine tune’. I wrote and accused my father of flicking my tune, and he admitted he had.”
Pancham suddenly collapsed on January 4, 1994. He was barely 54. Gulzar has rightly observed that men like Pancham never die. And as long as Hindustani film music lives, Pancham and his work will remain alive.
By Suresh Kohli