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.
RD Burman or ‘Pancham’ as he came to be known was born on June 27, 1939 in Calcutta in the then Bengal Presidency. As he grew up in Bombay, RD trained under sarod maestro, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and tabla player par excellence, Pandit Samta Prasad. He entered films assisting his father, well-known SD Burman. He often played the harmonica 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, which were then used by his father. The former song was said to be composed by Pancham da when he was just about ten! In Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa, he played the haunting harmonica piece that became the signature tune for each time that Guru Dutt sees or meets his ex-love, Mala Sinha. He also played the harmonica in the all-the hit song, Hai Apna Dil Toh Awara, that Burmanda composed for Solva Saal (1958).
Highly impressed by him, Guru Dutt offered him his initial break as an independent music director, Raaz (1959). The film, produced by Dutt, was being directed by Dutt’s assistant, Niranjan and was based on Wilkie Collins’ classic novel, The Women In White. However, the film was shelved in spite of some shooting having taken place in Simla and it is said, a couple of 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, it was comedian Mehmood, who gave the young RD his first film, Chhote Nawab (1961), because he claims 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. Incidentally, he also became instrumental in ending the rift between Lata Mangeshkar and his father, SD Burman, in 1960 with the recording of the song, Mora Goa Ang Laile for Bimal Roy’s Bandini that would finally release in 1963. Burmanda and Lata 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, after Chhote Nawab, RD’s own professional career was not moving. It was Mehmood, who again gave him another film, Bhoot Bangla (1965). The song Aao Twist Karen became very popular from the susoense-comedy-thriller film and RD also acted alongside Mehmood in the film displaying a fine comic timing sense.
The big break finally came the following year with Nasir Hussain’s Shammi Kapoor starrer Teesri Manzil (1966), directed by Vijay Anand. Initially, Kapoor was unhappy over RD being taken for the film and preferred the older tried and tested pair Shankar-Jaikishan, who had given music for most of his films. However, once he 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 went on to form a formidable team with the producer of the film, Nasir Hussain, scoring music in all his films thereafter, most of them musical blockbusters.
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 surprised 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). His teaming with Shakti Samanta, Rajesh Khanna and Kishore Kumar led to great musical scores in films like Ajnabee (1974), Mehbooba (1976) besides, as mentioned, Kati Patang and Amar Prem.
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 Naheen (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)). RD was influenced by Western, Latin, Oriental and Arabic music, and incorporated elements from these in his own music.
With the success of his music in Rocky (1981) and Love Story (1981), RD became the first choice of filmmakers for the launching of the star sons in teenage love stories like Betaab (1983), which owe a great deal of their popularity 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. Collaborations with Nasir Hussain and Shakti Samanta too proved to be big let downs in this period. Nothing helped RD, not even fine scores in films like Saagar (1985) and a brilliant one like Ijaazat (1987) could 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. RD, however, lost out in spite of his wonderful work in the film.
In 1988, RD suffered a heart attack and underwent bypass surgery in London.
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). His fine background score added a lot to the latter film as well.
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.
Besides Hindi films, RD also gave music in some Bengali films. His standout musical score in a Bengali film is undoubtedly the Uttam Kumar-Tanuja starrer, Rajkumari (1970). In fact, he repeated the tunes from this film in various Hindi films – in Kati Patang, Amar Prem, Jawani Deewani, Yaadon Ki Baaraat and Bandhe Haath (1973) among others.
On the personal front, RD had married Rita Patel in 1966 but the pair split in 1971. In 1980, he married singer Asha Bhosle.