Meet Music Composer R D Burman

Knowledge

India's most popular music composer in the 1970s, R D Burman created music that enthralls audiences to this day!


Some years ago, a somewhat offbeat Bollywood movie called 'Jhankar Beats' hit the screens. The movie starred Sanjay Suri and Rahul Bose amongst others. Suri and Bose play the roles of two advertising executives who were also struggling musicians trying to win a music contest. Towards the end of the movie, just before they actually do go on to win the contest, Suri tells Juhi Chawla, "Bus, mandir ho ke aata hoon." (I'll just go visit the temple). Shayan Munshi, the third member of their troupe, is confused. He doesn't know where the mandir is. That's when Suri tells him "Woh dekh rahe ho, woh boss ka ghar hai. Woh hi hamara mandir hai." (Are you seeing that? That is Boss' house. That is our temple). The trio is then seen standing in front of a house, heads bowed and hands folded in prayer. And in doing so they echo the sentiments of millions of Indians across generations who have been enthralled and held spellbound by the sheer genius of the music of "Boss"! 

Boss aka Rahul Dev Burman, RD or Pancham da as he is affectionately known, was born on June 27, 1939 in Calcutta to Sachin Dev and Meera Burman. Sachin Dev or SD was a successful music director and the young RD grew up in a musical atmosphere.

A story attributes his name, Pancham, to the fact that whenever he cried as a baby, it sounded like the fifth note (Pancham) of the Indian musical scale. Another story claims that the veteran Indian thespian, Ashok Kumar gave him the name when he heard the baby RD uttering "Pa" repeatedly. Regardless of the origin, the name stuck and was somewhat prophetic in terms of the musical talent of Pancham da. 

RD received his early education from a government school in Ballygunge in Calcutta but then he moved to Bombay where he learned sarod from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Apart from the sarod, RD also played the harmonica (mouth organ) well. In fact, he even played it in the famous song 'Hai Apna Dil to Awara'. He was only nine years old when he composed his first song, 'Aye Meri Topi Palat ke Aa', which his father used in the 1950s film 'Funtoosh'. Around that time, RD also composed a tune which was later used by SD for ‘Sar Jo Tera Chakraye', which was included in the soundtrack of the landmark Guru Dutt film 'Pyaasa'. RD started his musical career as an assistant to his father and worked on many landmark films like 'Chalti ka Naam Gaadi', 'Kaagaz ke Phool' and 'Pyaasa'. It was yesteryear's popular and lovable comedian and producer Mehmood who gave RD his first break as a music director for the film 'Chote Nawaab'. A lesser known fact is that RD also made his acting debut in Mehmood's 'Bhoot Bangla' and later on, he gave a hilarious performance as Mr Popatlal in 'Pyaar ka Mausam'.

RD was quite the prolific musician, having scored music in over 330 films, TV serials and other non-film songs. He even made a western music album called ‘Pantera’ where he collaborated with Jose Flores, an American musician. But more than being a prolific musician, RD was also quite ahead of his time, not afraid to experiment with new sounds and techniques of creating music. He had an amazing ability to pick up cues from everyday sounds around him and turn them into music. He also used ordinary everyday materials around him to create new sounds. Once, to get the exact sound of raindrops, he spent an entire rainy night on the balcony of his flat to record the falling raindrops. In the song, 'O Manjhi Re' from the film 'Khushboo', the music is created by filling water in soda bottles to different levels and blowing across them. In 'Yaadon ki Baraat' for the song, 'Chura Liya', he used the sound of a spoon hitting a glass. In 'Abdullah', he used the sound of a bamboo whistle with a balloon tied around it for a song. And for the song, 'Masterjee ki Aa Gayi Chithee', he used classroom desks as percussion instruments while recording the song. He even found rhythm in the sound of a whirring fan and used it in the film, 'Aap ki Kasam' for the song 'Suno Kaho Kaha Suna'.

RD was extremely versatile, using genres from Indian classical music to western jazz as a base for his compositions. But in addition to his versatility, it was his speed which was awe inspiring. Once, when he had gone out for an after-dinner ice cream with a producer friend, he got stuck in a traffic jam. While waiting for the jam to clear, RD composed the chord for a song from the film 'Ghar' called 'Tere Bin Jiya Jaye Na'. RD used to often say that his best tunes came to him in his dreams and a lot of his most memorable songs were with Lata Mangeshkar and his second wife, Asha Bhonsle. Many of his compositions sung by them won national and Filmfare Awards. RD himself won the Fimfare Award for Best Music Director three times - for 'Sanam Teri Kasam', 'Masoom' and '1942 - A Love Story'.