The rare Pancham
A tribute to the composer on his birth anniversary
Dr Rajiv Vijayakar
Rahul Dev Burman, born in the monsoon, always showered us with a vast range of melodies and rhythms.
Innovative and therefore often tantalisingly unpredictable, Pancham (as he was fondly called) would be studded with ideas that translated into outré compositions. To state that Pancham was different from the rest was, really, superfluous.
From the very beginning, Pancham experimented. Which explained why he had to wait almost for a decade for big time. Effortlessly different from his father, for whom he ghost-composed some fabulous numbers till as late as 1969, he was precisely one film old
when he composed Jaago sonewalo (Kishore Kumar) and Aao twist karen (Manna Dey), two absolutely contrasting confections of immense calibre in his second independent outing, Bhoot Bungla.
That is not all. Today, when a single item song is enough to make the (transient) career of a composer, it would shock people to know
that Pancham's all hit Teesri Manzil score did not translate into a string of assignments for this composer. But for Pancham, it did not seem to matter. For in the less than dozen films he did in the first decade of his career, Pancham went all out to prove his musical mettle with compositions that may not have generated mass hysteria, but were liked then and can be treasured now.
Studded around his few chartbusters from Baharon Ke Sapne, Abhilasha, Padosan, Pyar Ka Mausam and The Train were exotica like Lata's Sharaabi sharaabi mera naam ho gaya and Paar lagaa de mere (Chandan Ka Palna) and Bhai battur (Padosan), the Pyar Ka Mausam quartet Chekhush nazarein (Mohammed Rafi), Aap chaahe mujhko, Aap se miliye and Main na miloongi (all Lata) and the Lata-Rafi duets Lehrake aaya hain, Kabhi kabhi aisa bhi to and the Lata seduction number Dil ki lagi ko (Waris).
The early 1970s saw Pancham hit the right popular notes. But if he had his 'areas of difference' even among his many Binaca Geet Mala entries, his oeuvre in this phase was also studded with magical --- if less mass-friendly --- numbers galore.
Remember how mischievously he borrowed the Salil Choudhury leitmotif in Lata-Mukesh's Kahin karti hogi, the Phir Kab Milogi non-starter that found fame in the fag end of the 1990s through Anamika's remix? Or how he almost sounded his dad in Rafi's Koi aur duniya mein tumsa haseen hai (Pyar Ki Kahani), which along with another Rafi-R D song from the same film, Ek pate ki baat sunaoon has gone into history because they were the first two songs ever lip-synched by Amitabh Bachchan.
R D may have had sparse time for Mukesh, but the delightful Lata-Mukesh duet, Sooraj se jo kiran ka naata (Hungama,1971), remains another song to savour, even if shorn of its own historic value as the first ever song enacted by Dum maaro dum girl Zeenat Aman.
Pancham, unlike archrivals Laxmikant-Pyarelal, never believed in stepmotherly treatment to assignments that were obviously exercises in cinematic mediocrity. Idealistic, yet paradoxically bad as a career move, this led to many of RD's most innovative and imaginative musical feats getting lost in myriad worthless films, like Kishore-Asha's brilliant Aao, aao jaan-e-jahaan (Gomti Ke Kinare), Kishore-Lata's Ab ke saawan mein jee dare (Jaise Ko Taisa), Kishore-Lata's Jana hai hamein to jahaan (Daulat Ke Dushmun) and, above all, the Kishore classic O hansini kahaan udd chali (Zehreela Insaan).
Many more R D ditties also lost the race because of the fact that the films faced an indifferent or a calamitous fate at the box-office. Do ghoonth mujhe bhi pila de (Lata, Jheel Ke Us Paar), Dil se dil milne ka, the Kishore-Lata delight from Charitraheen, Jab tum chale jaaoge (Lata, Bullet), Kishore's Aise na mujhe tum dekho and the Kishore-Asha title-track of Darling darling.
Pancham, of course, also faced the occupational hazard that every composer worth his salt has to endure --- of great songs in a film being dwarfed into obscurity by its one or more chartbusters. Thus Lata-Asha-Usha's Dulhan maike chali and Asha's Chori chori solah singaar (Manoranjan), Asha's Jaaoon to kahaan jaaoon (Anamika), Lata's Oye buddho lambo lambo and Manna Dey's Aayo kahaan se Ghanashyam from Buddha Mil Gaya, Kishore-Lata's Bheegi bheegi raaton mein (Ajanabee), Lata's Chalo ri and Lata-Kishore's Parbat ke peeche (Mehbooba) and Asha's Ab jo mile hai (Caravan).
This phenomenon of course went well into the 1990s when Shivaji Chattopadhyaya's Yeh safar bahut hai kathin (1942 -- A Love Story) lost out. In the 1980s, R D was creatively and psychologically compromised, but his ability to deliver the occasional humdinger remained intact, evidence of which abounded in low key delights like Saawan nahin, bhadon nahin (Asha-Suresh Wadkar) and Sajti hain yoon hi mehfil (Asha) from Kudrat, Kiski sadayein mujhko bulaye (Red Rose) and Main hoon diya sooni raaton ka (Jai Mahal).
There were many more delicious confections in the autumn of his career; creations into which Pancham poured his passion in what were probably these rare moments of confidence unalloyed by insecurity. Tere liye palkon ki jhaalar (Lata, Harjaee), the title-track (Kishore-Asha) of Yeh Vaada Raha, O meri jaan (Asha-Shailendra Singh, Manzil Manzil), Kahin na jaa (Kishore-Lata, Bade Dil Wala), Aasmaan se ek sitara (which Pancham himself vocalized in Raahi Badal Gaye), Lata-Anwar's Duniya badal gayi hai (Hum Hain Lajawab). And finally the Lata beauty Sili hawaa chhoo gayi (Libaas) were examples that proved that Pancham, more than losing form, had lost the will to conform to a retrograde change in tastes.
Like their creator, many of R D Burman's songs never got their due. But where would film music be without such unforgettable musical moments?