« Back to articlePrint this article

S D Burman's proudest moment

Last updated on: October 08, 2014 17:24 IST

Kishore Kumar and SD Burman'His son had become a composer after all, and one now chased by producers.'

'But while finding peace in one quarter, he had lost it in another. Jet was not a home any more. The room across his was empty, there were no sounds floating through the door.'

The world, in the eyes of the Burmans.

The father-son duo of Sachin Dev Burman and Rahul Dev Burman have made such beautiful music, they are hugely popular even today.

Author Sathya Saran chronicles S D Burman's life in a book called Sun Mere Bandhu Re: The Musical World of S D Burman, and captures his inner and outer worlds.

In this excerpt from the book, she details RD Burman's -- fondly called Pancham -- rise to fame, and his father's deep loneliness when his son stepped out of his shadow to carve out his own future.

I was right, he thought, as he sat listening to the radio. The song came clear and loud over the air waves, and he smiled when he imagined his beloved Asha singing it, swaying slightly, as she articulated the words to the tune with her characteristic zest and gusto. 

They had come to him with the film, Dev and his assistant. 

And he had refused. 

Point Blank. 

Take Pancham, he had said, smiling, but firm as a rock. Nothing would make him change his mind, and no, he would not hold the boy’s hand or peer over his notations to see if he was doing the right thing. 

And now, the song was a rage. It was pure; it held the spirit of the film. He smiled and eased his slight body into the easy chair as his eyes took in a flower caught at the point of blooming. Like Pancham, he thought. The boy’s time had come. 

Dum maro dum
Mit jaye gham
Bolo subah shaam
Hare Krishna Hare Raam

It would be an exercise for music buffs and SD fans to imagine how the song would have shaped up in the maestro’s hands.  

If Dev Anand had had his way, SD Burman would indeed have spun out the tune, giving it possibly, knowing the setting, a north-eastern or pahadi flavour. There was no reason for Dev to imagine that his most trusted composer would turn down his request. 

He had amazing powers of persuasion, Dev did; besides, his ebullience and energy were boundless and infectious. He was still drunk on the success of Johny Mera Naam which quite eclipsed the failure of his first production. And riding the wave of this success, he crafted the idea of a film that would be as sensational in theme as it would be offbeat. 

The 1970s was the era of the flower children. Drug addiction was sweeping through colleges and schools, and dropouts were leaving the cloistered security of their homes to exhale in the freedom of smoke-filled drug dens. 

Always quick with responses to social issues, Dev Anand launched Hare Rama Hare Krishna, with a brother-sister theme at its centre, and a love angle thrown in for good measure. 

There was enough scope for good music, as in all Dev’s films. And the double thrust would give the composer enough variety to play around with. 

Despite media reports to the contrary, it was not Dev who chose Pancham for the film’s musical score, but SD Burman who decided his son would handle the film. 

For one, the elder Burman disapproved of drugs and the filming of such scenes. He was not sure of its impact. 

Besides, he felt someone younger would be more in tune with the kind of scene Dev would shoot and be able to fit the music in better. 

HQ Chowdhury reports in his book that in a personal interview with him, Dev Anand spoke about the fact that he did request SD Burman to at least score the softer, more folk-based songs for the film, leaving the younger hippie numbers to Pancham. 

But S D Burman, worried about the fact that his gifted son’s career was not really flying as high as it should, and was floundering around like a kite with no wind to lift it off, suggested that Pancham should handle the film on his own. Maybe the disappointment with Prem Pujari and his understanding of Dev Anand’s limited abilities as a director were at the back of his mind too, but in handing the entire film to his son, the maestro must have had only one thought in mind. 

He knew Pancham could handle all aspects with brilliance. He knew his son’s measure of talent. 

History proved him right. 

The title song, shot on a young, fresh Zeenat Aman, who burst into the viewers’ consciousness with her role as Dev Anand’s hippie sister and would in future films change the way heroines dressed and looked, was a runaway hit. 

Adopted as an anthem by the youth of that time, the song gained cult status. 

If Teesri Manzil had seemed a flash in the pan, Hare Rama proved beyond doubt that

Pancham was a kite who would threaten his own father’s space in the sky with daring and impunity. 

For the father, it was a mixed blessing. 

On the one hand, his son was finding his own space. 

But on the other, he must have sensed that he would be left to manage a lot more on his own, with the boy who had first started assisting him as a teenager in Pyaasa no longer by his side in the studio.

Yet there was still time.

The father would still have teachings that would stand the son in good measure. And add wind beneath his wings.


S D Burman with son PanchamHe dreams of being father to his son. Of taking forward what his father had done; a spool unwinding its thread of music through generations. Maybe his son will also be a musician, he thinks; then, in his sleep, he smiles. 

The vision of a child on his lap, crumpling his spotless dhuti, comes uninvited. He watches the scene as if distanced from it, yet his heart swells. The child jumps off and sits on the ground. He sees himself approaching, up the step, to the door, and stopping as he hears the sound of the tabla. Who could be playing, he wonders as he pushes open the door. 

The child sits cross-legged, his small back ramrod straight, his eyes shut as his fingers, small and still plump, and his wrist encased in puppy fat, drum on the tabla. He laughs, and runs across to pick the boy up. 

Again, watching the scene his heart swells. 

Unspoken desires, his lips mumble, and the child vanishes, the scene dissolves. 

Restless now, he cannot sleep. Thoughts crowd into his head, jostling each other like they were riding an overflowing train to the land of grief. And his heart contracts. 

He must seek recourse in happier thoughts. Far away the sound of the song comes to him, uncurling into his consciousness, a smoke of memory with its own set of images. 

Only a few months ago, he had been creating the song... sat listening to the boy trying to shape it. Lata standing by, as Pancham played out the tune. A bhajan, it was sweet and melodic. 

But he had been disturbed; it was too staid, too pat. 

Something had to make it different, or it would be just another song. The boy could do better than this! 

It was perhaps his last real lesson. The re-tuning of the song ‘Bada natkhat hai re’ that was now swirling around the room he lay in. 

‘Listen, can you hear that?’ Meera’s voice floated in from the room, but he did not quite hear it, nor notice the marked pride in her voice. 

If he had, he might have stopped to wonder if the same pride bordered her voice when she spoke of his music to others.

But his mind was elsewhere. He was caught in the bubble of memory. His sitting with Pancham. His telling him to change the song.

The song being filmed on Sharmila, who was chasing a playful child, not her own. The director had wanted a bhajan. 

It would remind the audience of the love of Yashodha for the infant Krishna, who was not born from her womb, but was still her son. The relationship in the film was similar. 

The child saw Sharmila as his mother, though she was not. The boy had created the bhajan all right. But he, the father, was not happy with what he heard. 

No, it would not do. 

He had told his son so. 

Where is the emotion in the song, where is the mother’s love, the overflowing of unconditional love, the laughter at his mischief, the worry over his future. 

All of it should spill out of the song in layers, as the tune unfolds. He had said as much, and the boy and the director had listened with gravity. 

Going a step further, he had taken the tune and embellished it with twists… a shift here and there, an emphasis on a word, and suddenly the song was alive. It was no longer a bhajan, but so much more. It would cause women to sigh and weep, and also take the story forward. 

He had watched Pancham’s face light up as the song was played in its changed form. It was his tune all right, but changed masterfully! 

He had patted the boy on his shoulder and left the room. 

Amar Prem, that is the love a father has for his son, regardless of who he is, what he does, what he becomes in life. 

His son had become a composer after all, and one now chased by producers. 

But while finding peace in one quarter, he had lost it in another. Jet was not a home any more. The room across his was empty, there were no sounds floating through the door.

The music hall was silent when he was silent, there was no Pancham trying out his tune, or playing his instruments.

The last time, the boy had sat with a glass of liquid, swirling it, swirling the spoon in it, listening to the sound of the liquid against the glass. He had taken a comb and run it against the glass. 

He had watched indulgently and a bit mystified by the boy’s strange obsession with sounds. 

Now, everything was silent. 

Meera broke into his mood. ‘What music, what a song,’ she said, as she entered, wiping her hands on the edge of her sari. ‘You should be proud of the boy.’ 

He sat up. Proud he was, but this emptiness...

‘I am,’ he responded, ‘I am.’ 

And he lay down on his bed, and turned to face the wall. Every living creature does the same, he consoled himself. 

It is nature’s way. 

How often had he looked out of his window to see the birds being taught to fly? Small sorties, then larger circles, then out into the sky. How patiently the parent would teach, lead, follow, keeping an eye out for a marauding hawk or kite. 

Within a week, the nest would be empty, the little ones would have flown away, maybe to make nest of their own, have their own babies to teach. 

Each generation must make its own nests, he mused, but the heat behind his closed lids would not cool. I have to come to terms with this, he said, the boy is only a road’s length away. And visits often. 

Besides, he is doing what I dreamt of for him, making good music and earning a big name. 

How proud he had been, when coming across some young people during his walk he had overheard them saying he was the composer RD Burman’s father. 

Today, more listeners tuned in to Pancham than to him; if there was ever a contest on popularity, the boy would win. There was joy in that. 

But he was lonely. There was no denying that. Or getting away from it, either.

Photographs: SMM Ausaja

Excerpted from the book Sun Mere Bandhu Re: The Musical World of SD Burman, by Sathya Saran, HarperCollins India, with the publisher's permission, Rs 499.

Buy the book here!