It was RD Burman who really brought the groove into Hindi Film Music, ushering in the era of electronic rock and providing Hindi film Music with a whole new ‘happening’ sound. His hip and energetic youthful compositions proved extremely popular from the late 1960s till the early to mid-1980s while providing much of the music that defines the reputation of actor Rajesh Khanna and singers Asha Bhosle (whom he married) and Kishore Kumar.
Born on June 27, 1939, RD trained under Ali Akbar Khan and entered films assisting his father, well-known SD Burman. He often played the mouth organ in his father’s orchestras and occasionally even composed a tune or two – Ae Meri Topi Palat ke Aa from Funtoosh (1956) and Sar Jo tera Chakraye from Pyaasa (1957) just to name two.
His initial break as an independent music director was to have been Guru Dutt’s Raaz (1959). However, the film was shelved in spite of some shooting having taken place and some songs being recorded including a song to be picturised on three nautch girls that was rendered by Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum and Asha Bhosle.
Finally comedian Mehmood gave the young RD his first film, Chhote Nawab (1961), because he got tired of RD denting his car with the persistent drumming of his fingers! Jokes aside, RD gave hints of his phenomenal musical talent right in his debut film with the beautifully composed semi-classical Ghar Aaja Ghir Aaye sung brilliantly by Lata Mangeshkar on one side and the swinging night club song, Matwali Ankhonwale on the other. During this period, He also became instrumental in ending the rift between Lata and father Burmanda with the two of them coming together for Dr Vidya (1962). They had not worked together since 1957 during which period SD, along with OP Nayyar, had helped Asha Bhosle evolve into a fine singer in her own right. Meanwhile on RD’s own professional career, it took him a long time before Mehmood again gave him another film, Bhoot Bangla (1965). The song Aao Twist Karen became very popular and RD also acted alongside Mehmood in the film displaying a fine comic timing sense.
The big break came the following year with Nasir Hussain’s Shammi Kapoor starrer Teesri Manzil (1966), directed by Vijay Anand. Initially, Shammi was unhappy over RD being taken for the film and preferred the older tried and tested pair Shankar-Jaikishen who had given music for most of his films. However, once Shammi heard RD’s jazzy and highly innovative compositions he had no further misgivings. He knew they had a winner on their hands. The songs like O Haseena Zulfon Wali, Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyar Tera, O Mere Sona Re Sona Re, Deewana Mujhsa Nahin were unlike anything audiences had heard till then and the music of Teesri Manzil was hummed across the nation. RD formed a formidable team with the producer of the film, Nasir Hussain, scoring music in all his films thereafter.
With popular hits like Padosan (1968) and Hussain’s Pyar ka Mausam (1969) behind him and informally assisting his father in Aradhana (1969), RD hit his peak in the early 1970s with the Rajesh Khanna starrers Kati Patang (1970) and Amar Prem (1971). Even as he stunned audiences with a classical gem like Raina Beeti Jaye in the latter, that same year also saw his phenomenal seminal rock score in Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) and the sexy Piya Tu Ab to Aaja from Caravan (1971).
Even as success followed success and RD became a huge pop icon with films like Apna Desh (1972), Jawani Deewani (1972), Yaadon ki Baaraat (1973), Khel Khel Mein (1975) and Hum Kissi Se Kum Nahin (1977), he teamed up with writer-director Gulzar to give such evocative masterpieces like Beeti Na Beetayi Raina (Parichay (1972)), Is Mod se Jaate Hain (Aandhi (1975)), O Manjhi Re (Khusboo (1975)) and Naam Gum Jayega (Kinara (1977)).
With the success of his music in Love Story (1981), RD became the first choice of filmmakers for teenage love stories like Betaab (1983), which owe a great deal of their success to his music.
Towards the mid-1980s, however, RD began going through a rough patch as his films started collapsing at the box-office. Bappi Lahiri and the Disco age had overtaken him and RD producers just disappeared. But it has to be said here that a lot of his scores in the films in 1984-6 period were extremely disappointing by his high standards. Even a fine score like Saagar (1985) and a brilliant one like Ijaazat (1987) could not stem the flow of RD’s decline.
In fact, the music of Ijaazat reiterated that at his best, RD was simply matchless. Each of the four songs was a masterpiece – Chhoti si Kahani Hai, Khaali Haath Shyam Aayi Hai, Katra Katra and the icing on the cake Mera Kuch Samaan which won Asha Bhosle the National Award.
Parinda (1989) had its moments with ‘inspired’ songs like Tumse Milke but perhaps his last score to stand out was 1942 – A Love Story (1994). Compositions like Ek Ladki ko Dekha, Kuch Na Kaho, Pyaar Hua Chupke Se, Rhimjhim Rhimjhim and Rooth Na Jaana proved that RD still had enough brilliant music left in him given the chance.
RD also occasionally sang his own songs in a unique grunting bass like Duniya Mein from Apna Desh (1972) and Mehbooba, Mehbooba from Sholay (1975).
Sadly just as he looked like making a comeback of sorts, RD passed away at the relatively young age of 54 on January 4, 1994. It is a tribute to his genius and the timelessness of his compositions that most of the soundtracks today being re-mixed in the Indi-Pop scene are compositions of RD’s. He was truly a one-of-a-kind genius.