Sound of RD's Music
by Raju Bharatan
The one who ruled the sound waves through the '70s is no more in the '90s. It seems incredible that the man who shook the stalwarts like only C. Ramchandra did in the '40s and O.P. Nayyar in the '50s should, in the end, have been consumed by the genie he uncorked.
Kishore Kumar's passing in October 1987 found R.D. Burman feeling suddenly diminished in composing stature. The sound of the voice, through which Rajesh Khanna had arrived like an avalanche in Aradhana, was stilled. Yes, it can now be told that it was R.D. Burman, not S.D. Burman, who conceived and executed the music score of Aradhana.
Dada Burman was far too ill during the recordings of Aradhana to alter substantially the shape and direction RD gave to the film's tuning and orchestration. Insiders knew this, none more so than Shakti Samanta as the maker of Aradhana.
That is the reason Shakti turned from SD to RD for Kati Patang and Amar Prem. I was among the select invitees to "The Jet" home of Dada Burman to announce the release of the records of Aradhana. Everyone present there that evening showered high praise on Dada Burman for what sounded even then a path-breaking score. Everyone present there that evening ignored the son standing in the corner of the drawing room, the son who had been instrumental in creating this totally fresh-sounding score.
Is is not significant that RD chose to break away from SD after Aradhana, for mother Meera Burman to emerge as the chief assistant of Dada Burman with Tere Mere Sapne, when the credit for the wave-making tunes of Aradhana went entirely to the father? It is as if in that moment, in which he stood isolated in "The Jet" corner, RD took a spot decision to cease to be SD's chief assistant and move out to be his own music man, make his own individual mark as a composer off the beaten sound track.
There was a whole new generation of music lovers waiting to be conquered by Kishore Kumar and Rajesh Khanna on the oral evidence of Aradhana. And RD soon made this generation empathethically his own to change the visage and format of Hindustani film music with Jawani Diwani.
"I feel sorry to say this, but the boy doesn't understand poetry at all," Majrooh told me. To which I replied: "But Majrooh Saab, even Dada Burman did not understand Hindi poetry." Majrooh's counter to that: "Dada Burman might not have understood Hindi, but he understood poetry, which is the same in any language."
Give RD credit for the fact that he remained wholly undeterred by such innuendo regularly hurled at him. RD had tuned with the same Majrooh to metamorphose the sound of film music with Yaadon ki Baarat. It was the same Majrooh I encountered in RD's Santa Cruz music room, sheepishly handing over to the composer "a piece of paper that's not poetry", to quote his own words.
Majrooh need not have bothered to stress his point. RD asked for poetry only when he needed it. And when he needed it he went to Gulzar, knowing Majrooh could never bring himself in tune with his generation even if he condescended to write for it. For only a Gulzar could comprehend RD's depth of feeling in an Ijaazat vein of Mera kuchch saaman tumhare paas pada hai. In the Ghar of Gulzar alone could RD fly with his notes: Aaj kal paaon zameen par nahin padte mere.
I heard those RD notes fly one last time on December 21, as I chased Pancham on the phone, to Film Centre, Tardeo, to invite him for my daughter's wedding reception. I was put through straight to RD's recording room and, during the four-five minute wait, thrilled, on the phone, to the harmony of what, ironically, was to prove Pancham's last live recording. As the tune came resonantly over, as RD lost no time after that on coming on the line, I said: "Congrats, the sound of RD music, it's still so refreshing, though the tune sounds suspiciously like Raat akeli hai from Dada's Jewel thief!"
"Who can escape your ears!" moaned RD. Spare a thought, therefore, for twice-widowed, Asha Bhonsle, whose "amazing breath control" in Raat akeli hai Dada Burman publicly praised. It was this that RD harnessed to his art and craft to bring to our film music a new vim, a new vitality, as a composer who understood both electronics and Western notation.
Asha and Kishore, the two formed the life-breath of RD's music. Yet RD was so versatile that, like SD in Taxi Driver, he could get Lata, as late as 1969, to 'do an Asha` all through Pyar ka Mausam. Lata spelt melody, Asha rhythm, in RD's recording room. A spontaneous tribute to RD's hold on the public imagination came from Ravi Shankar when Panditji was engaged with a Meera recording. An instrumentalist played a wrong note for Ravi Shankar who whispered through the mike: "I say, play it right, otherwise it will become RD on the LP!"
Laxmikant-Pyarelal were the only ones in the late '70s to ward off the RD challenge. The duo had to work extra hard to overcome the solo maestro. Dev Anand found RD to be in such wonderful tune with the spirit of the film that he wanted, from the outset, that Pancham, as he was affectionately called, score Hare Rama Hare Krishna independently. But how was he going to jettison Dada Burman, who had come to symbolise the Navketan signature tune? Dev told me that he cleverly suggested to Dada Burman that he compose the traditional tunes for Hare Rama Hare Krishna, leaving his son to do the mod songs.
"No way!" said Dada. "Let Pancham do the film all by himself. Pancham is now a full-fledged music director, Dev. My combining with him, for the first time in our careers, will help neither me nor him. So let the entire Hare Rama Hare Krishna score be Pancham's."
Remember, Dev's Ai meri topi palat ke aa tune in Funtoosh had been composed by prodigy Pancham at the age of nine. Dada had quickly filched his own son's tune! Upon Pancham's asking how Dada could possibly palm off RD's tune as SD's, Pancham had quoted Dada as saying: "I was testing your tune on the public! Now that Ai meri topi has proved a hit, I know you will make it as a composer when your time comes."
That time came much earlier than expected when Guru Dutt booked 19-year-old R.D. Burman to score the music for his Raaz. The film was later shelved after RD had done the musical spadework for it. "How did you find working with Guru Dutt?" I asked Pancham. "Want the truth? I found Guru Dutt to be most whimsical. No tune Guru Dutt okayed was ever final. What he approved this evening he would scrap next morning!"
"Was your experience the same with Raj Kapoor on Dharam karam?" I sought to know. "On the contrary, I found Raj Kapoor very firm in his judgement," noted Pancham. "I felt distictly shaky about the fact that the very first tune I was asked to compose for Dharam Karam was to be in Mukesh's voice on Raj Kapoor, who's playing the piano in the film. I came up with a selection of six tunes fearing the worst. But Raj Kapoor okayed the very first tune I played, adding by way of bonus: 'Hit tune hai, bottle kholo!` That's how my very first tune for RK went on the screen as Ek din bik jaayega maati ke mol."
Yet his best lesson in music, said Pancham, came from his father SD. Shakti Samanta had outlined to RD something that sounded to Pancham like the usual bhajan situation (on Sharmila Tagore) in Amar Prem. "And I had come up with the standard bhajan tune for it," revealed Pancham. "But Dada was there when I was giving the finishing touches to the tune and wanted from me the precise details of the song situation. When I gave him a picture of the setting in which Lata Mangeshkar was to render the number on Sharmila Tagore, Dada was aghast.
"But where's the composer in you in this tune, Pancham?" he wanted to know. "So what if Shakti said it's the usual bhajan situation. Still it's a most creative situation for any composer. For Sharmila here is something more than the nautch-girl she plays. Her motherly insticts have been aroused by that kid. Your tune therefore must communicate all the agony of the nautch-girl wanting to be the mother she can never be. Do it again, your way, but with the moving human situation in mind."
"That's how," admitted Pancham, "my Amar Prem tune finally came out of Lata's thrush throat as Bada natkhat hai re Krishna Kanhaiyya. It was my tune and yet not my tune, for it was Dada who had taught me to put the right shade of feeling into it."
There was thus something of Dada Burman, something recognisably his own, in the music so trendily made available by Rahul Dev Burman. This is what saw RD score as no other composer did in the annals of Hindi cinema. There has been only one SD, to be sure. But there has also been only one RD. Now both are no more. And popular music, in the words of Gulzar, is reduced to a plastic art.