By Mahima Rana
The deftness to translate musically an entire gamut of emotions was the hallmark of RD Burman or Pancham Da, as he was fondly called. The only child of the illustrious S D Burman, Pancham was trained by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (sarod) and Samta Prasad (tabla). He was a child prodigy and composed his first tune at the age of nine, which was used by Burman senior for Aye meri topi in Funtoosh (1956). He also composed the tune of Sar jo tera chakraaye that was included in Pyaasa (1957). It is rumoured that the mellifluous, Mere Sapnon ki Raani (Aradhana), was also Pancham’s composition.
RD composed music for 331 movies and 5 TV Serials between1960s and 1990s. His first hit was Teesri Manzil (1966).
He set standards that were impossible to equal. The peppy Dum Maro Dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna) proved to be a seminal rock number. Similarly, Lalla lalla lori (Mukti) became the nation’s lullaby. The highly successful 1942: A Love Story (1994) was his last film, released after his death and won him posthumously his third Filmfare Award.
RD’s music was a soulful blend of disco, rock and Bengali folk. He also adapted European classical and popular music techniques. This made his music more viable and current with the younger generation. Another distinctive quality was his ability to experiment with different musical sounds.
He used cups and saucers to create the tinkling sound for the song Churaliya (Yaadon Ki Baaraat), blew into beer bottles to produce the opening beats of Mehbooba (Sholay). For Satte Pe Satta, he made the singer, Annette Pinto, gargle, to produce a background sound. For Master Ji Ki Aa Gayee Chitthhi, (Kitaab) he brought some classroom-desks to the studio and used them as percussion. In the song O Manjhi Re (Khushboo), he used water-bottles filled at different levels and created a hollow sound by blowing into them. For the train scene at the beginning of Sholay, he used the orchestra to mimic the train-whistle. He was such a devout composer that he is claimed to have composed 2,000 new tunes in his head while recuperating from a heart attack in 1988.
RD is a timeless artist. He is recalled more passionately than any of his contemporaries. Dil Vil Pyar Vyar (2002), re-arranged his hit songs as a tribute. Jhankaar Beats (2003) that catapulted Vishal-Shekhar into limelight, was also a tribute to him. In 2010, Brahmanand Singh released a documentary titled Pancham Unmixed: Mujhe Chalte Jaana Hai. The music of Lootera (2013) and Himesh Reshammiya’s composition Balma from Khiladi 786 are also a tribute to the legend. In 1995, Filmfare Awards initiated in his memory, the Filmfare RD Burman Award for New Musical Talent.
The musical legacy of Pancham transcends the barriers of time and age. His courageous ability to experiment and explore music is laudable. He is still alive in the hearts of billions of music lovers all over the world for the intensity and passion of his compositions.