Was industry unfair to RD Burman?

He was a game-changer, fusing Hindi music with a global resonance.

Republic Was industry unfair to RD Burman?

Son of maestro S D Burman, Rahul Dev Burman along with his classical legacy, gifted ‘the groove’ to Hindi playback with a dash of jazz, rock and pop. Well-conversed with his Western counterparts, the inclusion of bass guitar, acoustic guitar, bongo, African drums… proved RD’s yen for universal beats. Aaja aaja (Teesri Manzil), Piya tu ab to aaja (Caravan), Dum maaro dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna), Lekar hum diwana dil (Yaadon Ki Baarta), Bachna aye haseenon (Hum Kisise Kum Naheen) …

Rahul Dev Burman’s racy tracks could pull even the most reticent to the dance floor… Equal was his grip over the classical, reminding audiences of his vintage heirloom. Beeti na beetayi raina (Parichay), Tere bina zindagi se (Aandhi), O manjhi re (Khusboo), Roz roz aankhon tale (Jeeva), Rimjhim gire saawan (Manzil), Aap ki ankhon mein kuchh (Ghar), Mera kuchh saamaan (Ijaazat)… remain boutique compositions. At 40, RD, was courted as the Midas man, whose music promised gold… And then suddenly time changed its tunes.

The curtains falling on the romantic era with the ‘angry young man’ taking over, the incursion of ‘pots and pans’ potboilers and the disco fever led by Bappi Lahiri in the ’80s… RD soon found himself pushed to the periphery. The composer spent the last evenings of his life, sitting in his balcony, observing the world that had grown oblivious to him. His own composition, Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hain (Aap Ki Kasam 1974), played on loop retelling that nothing lasts. That 1942 – A Love Story in 1994, a year after his demise, brought him posthumous glory was perhaps life trying to make amends to a genius it had ignored… 

The Swing 

Rahul Dev Burman was born on June 27, 1939 in Kolkata to celebrated musician S D Burman and his lyricist/singer wife Meera Dev Burman. Burmanda called his little boy ‘Pancham’ because when he cried, he apparently hit the fifth note – ‘pancham’ in Hindustani classical music.

Wiki Was industry unfair to RD Burman?

Another interesting story is that the little Pancham would cry in five different notes.

As a youngster, RD assisted his father S.D.Burman, playing the harmonica and composing tunes – like Ae meri topi palat ke aa (Funtoosh 1956) and Sar jo tera chakraye (Pyaasa 1957). The evocative piece, which plays each time Guru Dutt’s character comes across estranged ladylove Mala Sinha in Pyaasa, was composed by RD. 

Nasir Hussain’s Teesri Manzil (1966), directed by Vijay Anand, was the turning point for RD. O haseena zulfon wali, Aaja aaja, O mere sona…  RD’s new age score made Shammi Kapoor-Asha Parekh a jubilee pair.

RD became Nasir Hussain’s melody maker for six more films including Baharon Ke Sapne, Pyar Ka Mausam and Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1967-1973). In the ’70s, RD and Kishore Kumar, along with lyricist Anand Bakshi, were catalysts to Rajesh Khanna’s stardom.

After the superhit album of Aradhana (1969) in which RD contributed to Burmanda’s score, came Kati Patang (1970) with chartbusters like Yeh shaam mastani and Yeh jo mohabbat hai.

Amar Prem (1972) with Kuchh toh log kahenge and Chingari koi bhadke… underlined RD’s classical expertise. Dev Anand’s cult film, Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971), owed its bohemian vibe to Zeenat Aman as it did to RD’s anthems of rebellion – Asha Bhosle’s Dum maro dum and Usha Uthup’s robust I love you.

With films like Jawani Deewani, Khel Khel Mein in the ’70s, RD ruled the charts. The composer won back-to-back Filmfare Awards for Sanam Teri Kasam (1982) and Masoom (1983). 

The Slide 

In the early ’80s, RD gave hit music for launch vehicles of stars sons Sanjay Dutt (Rocky), Kumar Gaurav (Love Story) and Sunny Deol (Betaab). But by the mid-’80s, his career hit a discordant note.

Get Bengal Was industry unfair to RD Burman?

Dev Anand was reluctant to work with RD after the debacle of Swami Dada (1982) and Anand Aur Anand (1984). Author Khagesh Dev Burman in the book, R D Burman – The Prince of Music, quotes RD saying, “Since Dev saab had seen me in my nappies, I’d no ego problem in pleading with him not to leave me. ‘If you leave me, everyone will leave me,’ I told Dev saab.

” But emotions sadly don’t work in an industry driven by economics. Similarly, old faithful Nasir Hussain did not sign RD for his production Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) as Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai, Manzil Manzil and Zabardast earlier had failed to make a mark.

Subhash Ghai, who’d apparently promised Ram Lakhan (1989) to RD, gave it to Laxmikant–Pyarelal instead. Yash Chopra didn’t work with RD even after the successful music of Deewar (1975).

“Manmohan Desai, having used RD for Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1973)… never said a word in his favour afterwards,” mentions Khagesh Dev Burman’s book. There were several reasons that contributed to RD’s decline.

The rise of the ‘angry young man’ and the easing out of ‘lover boy’ Rajesh Khanna affected RD, whose USP was romance. Kishore Kumar’s passing away in 1987 created an irreplaceable emotional and professional vacuum for RD. In R.D. Burman: The Man,

The Music, authors Aniruddha Bhattacharya and Balaji Vittal point out two other factors. One was the trend of kitschy South remakes, which popularised ‘pedestrian’ music. The other was the disco fever, fronted by Bappi Lahiri with Mithun Chakraborthy as the mascot. 

While RD composed subliminal music for Gulzar’s Libaas, Ijaazat, Namkeen and Masoom during the ’80s, his prominence somewhere began fading and so did his ‘friends’.

Singer Bhupinder Singh (sang RD’s legendary Naam gum jaayega for Kinara) seconded that (in the twin books Knowing Pancham and Pancham Unlimited) saying, “In his best days, people thronged him, and partook of his generosity. But in his bad days, he was alone. Where did everyone go?” 

Premature End 

A distressed RD suffered a heart attack in 1988. He underwent bypass surgery a year later at The Princess Grace Hospital in London. Soon, he composed music for Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parinda (1989), which had soulful songs like Tumse milke and Pyaar ke modh pe. But it was difficult for RD to gather his earlier confidence. Vidhu, who was privy to RD’s declining self-assurance revealed,

“People close to him… had left him. He began thinking that he lacked the ability and was burnt out (www.beingindian.com).” But the director had faith in him and signed him for 1942: A Love Story (1994). “The first song we did was Kuch na kaho. He made a tune… I was appalled. I told him,

‘You’re the best music director in the country… I’m looking for him… Next week, he started the song with SD Burman’s note… RD came back from selling music to creating music,” recounted Vidhu (www.beingindian.com).

However, the composer couldn’t ward off the sense of insecurity. “Ab main demand mein nahin hoon. Log synthesizers par music banate hain. I need a full music arranger. I can’t cheat people. Also, I can’t sell myself,” a visibly shaken RD said in an interview on TV Today, in late October 1993. RD planned to move into a new house in hope to change his fortunes. Soon enough he left his Santacruz home… but in an uncanny way.

Weddinz Was industry unfair to RD Burman?

The new year had just begun when RD fell ill in the first week of January 1994. He suffered from breathing problems. Reportedly, wife Asha Bhosle and her son Nandu (from her first marriage), rushed him to a hospital in Khar. “An oxygen tank couldn’t be located for hours at several hospitals…

He kept saying, “I’m in pain…bahut dard hai,” she was quoted saying in a feature in The Print. RD passed away at 54 on 4 January, 1994 at 3.45 am, after suffering two heart attacks one after another. “I’ never seen a body so much at peace. Pancham Kaku (uncle)…The king of rhythm was lying without a beat,” wrote nephew Ajitabh Menon (panchamonline.com).

Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan arrived early morning. While Jaya read the Gita by his side, Raakhee, his neighbour and friend Gulzar’s wife, sprayed his favourite colognes Grey Flannel and Dunhill on Pancham. He was draped in a silk dhoti and kurta that Raakhee had bought as a gift for RD mentioned an article on www.panchamonline. RD’s mother, who was 82 and suffering from age-related ailments, refused to believe that her son was no more. Apparently, she kept repeating, “This is not my son. This is someone else’s body.” Lahirida, Pancham’s old guardian from Calcutta, performed his last rites. 


1942 – A Love Story (1994) released three months later on 15 April 1994 to receptive audiences.

Nav Bharat Was industry unfair to RD Burman?

The album, RD’s swan song, is perhaps his most subliminal one. Ek ladki ko dekha, Kuch na kaho, Rhimjhim rhimjhim, Ye safar bahut hai kathin magar… capture the mood of the love story set against the freedom movement. RD won the Best Music Director Filmfare Award but he was not around to receive it. “It was twice that my recording for Pancham for 1942: A Love Story got postponed.

Finally, I was in Delhi when I heard he passed away. I recorded the song Kuch na kaho posthumously for Pancham with a heavy heart… If Pancham had lived, he would have been so happy to see his songs used so beautifully,” said the legendary Lata Mangeshkar (News18.com).

She also stated, “For a composer as talented as Pancham to be jobless was a living death… He would sometimes share his grief with me… how cruel the industry was to Pancham just because some of his music didn’t do well,” lamented Lata (IANS). 

“Mozart died unsung too. Today thousands flock to his grave in Vienna. Pancham didn’t get his due during his lifetime but he will be remembered forever… he was at least 50 years ahead of his times,” wife Asha Bhosle was quoted saying (The Print). We agree with her and in reverence.

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