Remembering the finger-snappers
and the soulful songs sung by R.D. Burman himself... on the occasion of
his fourth death anniversary which fell on January 4, 1998.
It was an inherited talent. Music was a
gift bequeathed to Rahul Dev Burman, who passed away so suddenly four years
ago, by his father, Sachin Dev Burman. If Burman Dada immortalised himself
with his two manjhi songs -- O re manjhi (Bandini) and Sun
mere bandhu re (Sujata) -- Burman Baba belted out O manjhi teri naiyya
se chhoota kinara in that long-forgotten river-bank(rupt) bilingual
Aar Paar directed by Shakti Samanta.
This timeless manjhi song proves that Papa and Burman Jr were sailing
in the same boat. Sadly, by the time RD's boat sailed into the 1980s, it
developed a leak. If the song hadn't gone unnoticed, RD would surely have
sung more such reflective quasi-philosophical songs.
Doubtless, the distinctive voice of R.D. Burman was capable of conveying
the emotional of a lyric as well, if not better than some male playback
singers who sang for him. This is specially true of RD's tunes for Amit
Kumar. In the popular Bade achhe lagte hain (Balika Badhu), Amit's
voice synchronises so well with RD's that listeners can scarcely tell when
Pancham stealthily slips into the number with the boatman's clarion call
O manjhi re jaiyo piya ke des... R.D. Burman often contributed key
lines to his compositions without claiming credit. Though the legendary
cabaret number Piya tu ab to aaja in Caravan is credited only
to Asha Bhosle, Pancham's banshee cries of Monica o my darling have
rooted the number in the public's mind.
In the hauntingly bare Kishore Kumar-Lata Mangeshkar love duet Hum dono
do premee duniya chhod chale (Ajnabi), the composer chips in as the
bystander at the railway station to ask where the fugitive lovers are off
In Lata's version of Phoolon ka taron ka sab ka kehna hai (Hare Rama
Hare Krishna), Pancham sings for 'Daddy' Kishore Sahu -- with Daddy
ka mummy ka sabka kehna hai ek hazaron mein teri behna hai... These
incidental vocal appearances verify Pancham's casual yet unforgettable artistry.
Recalls Gulzar, "Pancham was an excellent singer. He knew the nuances
of classical singing. For my films, he sang only a couple of songs. But
he lent his voice even so often. For instance, in Jabbar Patel's Musafir,
the boatman's voice-over, is Pancham! As a singer, he would perfect a tune
by singing it repeatedly. In the album that I did with him in 1994, listen
to how well he has sang the numbers Raah pe rahte hain and Koi
diya jale kahin (later rendered by Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle, respectively).
Then in Dil Padosi Hai, the original soundtracks by Pancham before
they were dubbed by Asha Bhosle are superb. They show his range as a singer.
ROCKING INTO A ROLL
The solos and duets that R.D. Burman sang
in the '70s asserted his growing reputation as a rock-`n'-roll renegade.
Somehow the serious songs sung by Pancham (such as the manjhi number
in Aar Paar) never got their due. The hits that Pancham sang were
almost invariably gimmicky.
With Mohammed Rafi, RD was heard in his element in the yummy Yamma yamma
number in Shaan. RD's most memorable duet of male bonding was the
zany jazz-tinged title song of Gol Maal. Sung with Sapan Chakravarty,
the song's verve is unmatched by any other song of male bonding in the '80s
except perhaps Jaan-e-Jigar, the groovy Goan gaana that RD
`dared' to duet with his favourite male singer, Kishore Kumar in Pukaar.
Whenever R.D. Burman went solo, he made sure it was a song that needed his
voice, and no one else's. Incredibly, the all-time favourite Mehbooba
oh mehbooba (Sholay), might not have been sung by Pancham at all. At
first, this vibrant sexy titillator was to be sung by Asha Bhosle. When
Jalal Agha was brought into the picture to lend a vocal drizzle to Helen's
sizzle, R.D. Burman was considered by Javed Akhtar, Anand Bakshi and Ramesh
Sippy as the best bet for this number inspired by a Demis Roussos chart-topper.
Equally accomplished was Pancham's interpretation of the locomotive rhythms
of Dhanno ki aankhon mein raat ka surma. Gulzar's words in Kitaab
were transported to a wonderland of images. It became a voyage of self-discovery
for Pancham. Equally devil-may-care was RD's interpretation of the number
Kal kya hoga kisko pataa (Kasme Vaade) and Samundar mein naha
And how elegantly Pancham wore the shirt of hurt into the two Nasir Hussain
musicals Hum Kisise Kam Nahin and Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai. In
the ever-young songs Tum kya jaano mohabbat kya hai and Dil lena
khel hai dildar ka, R.D. walked tall over a terrain of pain.
The most meditative solo melody that Pancham sang was Yeh zindagi kuchh
bhi sahi in the flop Kumar Gaurav-Poonam Dhillon starrer, Romance,
containing some of RD's best compositions ever. The emotional grip of the
lyrical delivery rivals Kabhi palkon pe aansoon which Kishore Kumar
sang for R.D. Burman in Harjaee.
With his singing soul companion Asha Bhosle, R.D. created a dense romantic
atmosphere. Though they sang no more than seven or eight full-fledged duets,
the slender repertoire created a voluminous impression because of their
The first duet that R.D. and Asha sang was O meri jaan main ne kahaa
(The Train). The Rajesh Khanna-R.D. Burman team that bloomed in the
'70s was in its infancy when R.D. composed and sang with Asha for The
Train. The film had two strikingly original-sounding solos Gulabi
aankhen by Mohammed Rafi and Kis liye maine pyar kiya by Lata.
Inadvertently, the RD-Asha duet was left out, sidetracked.
R.D. Burman and Asha Bhosle had their revenge the very next year when their
uptempo number outpaced all other chartbusters of Apna Desh. Their
heat-and-run number? The high-pitched ode to raunch -- Duniya mein logon
ko dhokha kabhi ho jaata hai. The number stressed the outlandishness
of Pancham's vocals. Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz were dressed as a couple of
freakos in this climactic song.
Just when you thought they were the '70s version of Sonny and Cher, belying
all expectations, the RD-Asha pair hit an all-time high of emotional expression
in Sapna mera toot gaya in Khel Khel Mein. While Kishore Kumar
accompanied Asha in all the frothy fun duets in the film, R.D.Burman stepped
in to create waves in this memorable song of parting and remembrance.
Peculiar, passionate and palpably Pancham is Na jaa jaan-e-jaan that
largely ignored, scene stealer RD-Asha duet in Joshilay. Here and
in the disco-very-very special of the '80s, Jaan-e-jaan o meri jaan-e-jaan
in Sanam Teri Kasam, Pancham stepped back into the shadows to let
Asha `squeal' the limelight. But his contribution to the two duets is like
a mistletoe decorating a Christmas tree.
The last duet that R.D. Burman sang with Asha was Yeh din to aata hai
(Mahaan). Sadly by then R.D. Burman's career was under a cloud.
There's an interesting end-game associated with R.D. Burman's career as
a singer. In the selective, reluctant and meagre repertoire of songs that
the chameleon composer chose to sing, one song is extra-special. Kya
bhala hai kya bura in Gulzar's unreleased Libaas. It's one of
the few film songs that dares to make light of the burden of existence.
The song is special for another reason. It's the only time, Rahul Dev Burman
dared to face at the microphone with the singer who had seen him as a child
fooling around in shorts at his papa's recordings... and whom the young
adult-Pancham hesitantly approached to sing the first song that he ever
That duet with Lata Mangeshkar was the last song R.D. Burman ever sang in