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January 04, 2003 13:45 IST
Nine years ago this day, Rahul Dev Burman passed into the ages. His death came just weeks before he was about to return to the reckoning with his score for 1942: A Love Story.
Never has a composer been so missed as Pancham, and the timelessness of his compositions is reaffirmed by the RD remixes which hit the music stores every month.
Arthur J Pais salutes the man he calls India's most versatile composer.
"I adore the father," my friend Vidya Nayak said with firm conviction. "The son is a copycat. Bahut chori karta hain."
I told her Rahul Dev Burman was not the only Indian composer who lifted songs. His father had done so, too. For every song he lifted, the younger Burman composed five or six asli songs. Many were so enchanting that even more traditional composers like Madan Mohan did not hesitate to acknowledge the great young, emerging talent.
"Didn't S D Burman base the song Jeevan ke safar mein raahi on a Western tune?" I asked Vidya.
From Naushad Ali to Madan Mohan to Shanker-Jaikishan to Salil Chowdhury, getting 'inspired' by a foreign tune wasn't anything unusual even in the 1950s. Only the number of times they did so differed, I argued.
Vidya was one of the few who didn't have a high opinion of RD and were beholden to his father S D Burman. They were vehement in their conviction:. RD was ruining his father's reputation. He is a copycat, one of them almost hissed.
Some members of the anti-RD faction accepted a test I offered to them.
I would play a few tunes composed by the father and son, and they had to identify the composer. They listened raptly to melodies from Amar Prem, Aandhi and Parichay. For the most part, they swore the numbers were composed by the father. They were wrong. I continued with the experiment.
When I played fast numbers from films like Chuppa Rustam, composed by the senior Burman, many identified them as composed by the son.
They could not believe that RD composed soft and lingering melodies, often inspired by the classical tradition. If only they had listened to the songs of Chhote Nawab, the first movie with Pancham's music, made about 37 years ago! There were several exquisite numbers in that film, especially a semi-classical Lata Mangeshkar number. RD must have been in his mid-20s when he composed those numbers.
Throughout his career, whenever he found inspiration in Western music, he also found plenty of stimulation in Indian folk, traditional and classical music. His scores for Chandan Ka Palna, Baharon Ke Sapne, Ghar and Kinara provide ample proof of his versatility.
In my book, R D Burman is among the most creative of Indian composers and was far more versatile than his illustrious father. Whether the son was creating mast songs to be sung by Kishore Kumar in Jawani Diwani, or the haunting, meditative melodies to be voiced by Lata Mangeshkar in Masoom or Asha Bhosle in Ijaazat, there was no denying that a genius was at work.
"He was a genius at composing semi-classical songs, just like his father," Manna Dey told me two years ago, recalling such songs as Aya Ghanshyam in Buddha Mil Gaya. "Despite many setbacks in the 1980s, he was determined to come back in a big way," the veteran singer added.
True, there were nearly two dozen movies in the 1980s that showed RD not even in creative mediocrity. In films like Manzil Manzil, his score was far from inspiring. Yet, from time to time, in films like Ijaazat and Namkeen, he would excel.
Not to forget the score for 1942: A Love Story. The huge popularity of the movie's soundtrack would have brought him back into limelight in a big way. But death was envious of this protean, truly magnificent composer.
While many out of work old-timers like Naushad composed miserable songs when they got an opportunity to return to glory and complained they did not find spurti (inspiration) in the movie's story and song situations, RD would have none of it.
That is why his non-movie album, Dil Padosi Hain, has some of his most acquisitive compositions.
The Rare Pancham