This was an incident that came straight from the horse’s mouth. I read about it in an issue of Cinema Vision India, published in 1983, in a piece called Far Away From The World Of Music, which had some personal anecdotes by music director SD Burman.
It was around 1949. Having made his Hindi film debut earlier with the Filmistan film, Eight Days (1946), composer Sachin Dev Burman finally had his first big musical success with the same banner’s 1949 production, Shabnam. The film, starring Kamini Kaushal, Dilip Kumar and Paro, scored big time at the box office as well even if it was not entirely original. Parts of it were clearly inspired from the George Cukor directed Hollywood film Sylvia Scarlet (1935) starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant.
The songs of Shabnam were hummed and played all over, especially at most restaurants in Bombay. One particular song that caught the public’s fancy in a big, big way was a multi-lingual number sung by Shamshad Begum, Yeh Duniya Roop Ki Chor. The song, a light-hearted and fun-filled ditty, parodies music from various parts of India as the heroine recalls running into Bengali, Gujarati, Maharashtrian, ‘Madrasi’, and (of course) Punjabi men, all of who tried to woo her. The spoof of the ‘Madrasi’ part is particularly played up to and could be either extremely funny or yes, highly offensive depending on how you looked at it.
At the time that Shabnam released, SD Burman lived in Sion, an area of Bombay with a strong South Indian populace, especially the Tamil community or as the North called them, ‘Madrasis’. One day, Burman Dada was going to King’s Circle Station when he was stopped by some Tamils who enquired if he was SD Burman. Burman Dada nodded and took out his pen thinking they wanted his autograph now that he was getting recognized. To his utter shock, one man caught him by the neck and another pulled at his kurta.
Quoting Burman Dada himself, “They were very angry. ‘You think you can scoff at our music?’ they said. ‘We’ll show you what our music is like!’ … I very humbly apologized to them. They forced me to swear that in future I would never attempt such a thing in my music.”
Here’s the song from Shabnam. I, for one, find the entire song rather amusing. And a total triumph for Shamshad Begum who had to sing it in various languages and with different styles of music.