SD Burman proved that age is no impediment for creativity. He was the only great composer who remained in high demand right till the end of his life, unlike his contemporaries who gradually faded away. His greatest gift lay in the fact he could be equally jazzy and trendy in a dhoti. His grip on Indian folklore, his sound classical base, his capacity to absorb from the scene around him made him the greatest all-rounder in Indian Film Music. And to think he never sat down on a harmonium to compose! His tunes would come to him in a flash on a long walk or a drive or even out fishing at sea!
Born in the Royal family of Tripura in North-East India on October 1st in 1906, Sachin Dev Burman began his training in classical music under his father, sitarist and Dhrupad singer Nabadwipchandra Dev Burman. He later continued his training under Ustad Badal Khan and Bhismadev Chattopadhaya. His early work for radio was based on East Bengali and North-Eastern folk-music. In the early 1930s he made a reputation for himself as a singer of folk and light classical music. Consequently his film compositions were often influenced by his huge repertory of folk-tunes from the Bengali, Bhatiali, Sari and Dhamail traditions of the North-East. He made his film debut singing in Yahudi ki Ladki (1933) but the songs were scrapped and re-sung by Pahari Sanyal! His first film as a singer was finally Sanjher Pidim (1935).
He became a music director initially in Calcutta in the late 1930s before moving to Bombay in 1944. In Bombay, he began with Filmistan’s Eight Days (1946) but his first major breakthrough came the following year with the company’s Do Bhai (1947). The song Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya sung by Geeta Dutt is remembered till today and was her breakthrough song into the film industry! Shabnam (1949) was his biggest hit with Filmistan with the multi-lingual song Yeh Duniya Roop Ki Chor sung by Shamshad Begum becoming the rage of the day. But disillusioned with the materialism of Bombay, he was all set to leave the Ashok Kumar starrer Mashal (1950) incomplete and decided to board the first train back to Calcutta. Fortunately, he was dissuaded from doing so and he completed his work on the film!
Burmanda composed the music for Dev Anand’s production company, Navketan’s first film Afsar (1950). With the success of their second film, Baazi (1951), he made it to the top and a long association with Navketan and Dev Anand. Baazi’s jazzy musical score revealed a new facet to singer Geeta Dutt’s singing. Till then she was mainly known for weepy sad songs and bhajans. The sex appeal in her voice and the ease with which she went western was marvellous to behold. While every song in the film was a raging hit, one stood out for special appeal – Tadbir Se Bigdi Hui Taqdeer a ghazal that was occidentalized into a seductive song! In fact, SD Burman was among the earliest to discover the magic in Geeta Dutt’s voice with Do Bhai and the evergreen sad song Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya. He effectively used the Bengali lilt in her voice memorably in films like Devdas (1955) and Pyaasa (1957). The song Aaj Sajan Mohe Ang Lagalo from the latter is one of the finest examples of the Bengali kirtan ever put over on the Hindi screen. In fact, no female singer has better articulated the spirit of Burmanda’s music in its early years than Geeta.
Burmanda could at once be a light and a serious in-depth composer. When Guru Dutt made comparatively light-weight films like Baazi and Jaal (1952), Burmanda reflected their mood with compositions like Suno Gajar Kya Gaye or De Bhi Chuke Hum and when Guru Dutt made his somber classics – Pyaasa and Kaagaz ke Phool (1959), he was right on target with masterpieces like Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind and Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam. Initially, Burmanda made a wonderful team with lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi, with whom he worked predominantly, through films like Baazi, Jaal, Naujavan (1951), Jaal, Taxi Driver (1954), House No 44 (1955), Munimjee (1955), Society (1955) and Devdas (1955). Sadly, a rift during the making of Pyaasa split this combo and the two were never to work together again. More than them individually, undoubtedly, the loss was Hindi cinema’s.
Burmanda’s zest for life showed through his music. He was right there on the front bench to cheer his favourite football or hockey team. Such was his enthusiasm that he once offered music to go with a hockey match! The very name of his house ‘The Jet’ signified a composer who was up to date with the times. Ill health caused a slump in his career in the early 1960s but his compositions for Bandini (1963), Guide (1965), Jewel Thief (1967) and Aradhana (1969) showed that he had lost none of his magic. Aradhana was responsible for Kishore Kumar’s second coming and went on to make him the top male playback singer of Hindi Films, overtaking Mohammed Rafi in the process.
A special mention must be made of Guide here. The film represents perhaps Burman Dada’s greatest work Each and every song be it Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai, Tere Mere Sapne Ab Ek Rang Hai, Din Dhal Jaye, Gaata Rahe Mera Dil, Piya Tose Naina Lage Re, Mujhse Chhal Kiye Ja and Kya Se Kya Ho Gaya (a rare case of two songs back to back), Allah Megh De and Wahan Kaun Hai Tera is perfectly written, composed and sung. It is indeed shocking that Burman Dada lost out on the Filmfare Award to Shankar-Jaikishan for their populist score in Suraj (1966), which, good as it was, came nowhere near to Guide’s scintillating musical score.
Burmanda was also responsible along with OP Nayyar into shaping Asha Bhosle as a singer of repute. A scrap with Lata Mangeshkar in 1957 led him to using Asha as his main singer in the 1957-62 period, which saw her go from strength to strength.
As a singer, Burmanda’s thin but powerful voice was often used as bardic commentary – Wahan Kaun Hai Tera from Guide or Safal Hogi Teri Aradhana from Aradhana.
Though he continued giving popular music, Abhimaan (1973) easily stands out for his outstanding musical score among his later films. Songs like Teri Bindiya Re, Tere Mere Milan Ki Yeh Raina, Piya Bina are remembered and hummed to this day. He was also given awarded his second Filmfare Award for its music, a good 19 years laterafter he had won it for Jayen Toh Jayen Kahan for Taxi Driver (1954). Burmanda’s later films include Us Paar (1974), Sagina (1974), Milli (1975) and Chupke Chupke (1975).
Some of his movies like Barood (1976) and Arjun Pandit (1976) released posthumously after his passing away on October 31st, 1975.