By Chaitanya Padukone
What happens when two music-super-icons –singer ‘Bharat Ratna’ Lata Mangeshkar and Film Sangeet Ratna composer Rahul Dev Burman (Pancham-da) collaborate with their awesome talents.? Sheer mesmerizing ‘surreal’ magic –that has given us numerous evergreen timeless tunes-tracks! Whenever (as a film journalist) I used to meet legendary Lata-Didi, in the past, at events and concerts, I would always try to make her speak briefly about Pancham-da, whom I also knew personally.
The mahaan gaayika ‘late’ Lata-Didi, (who passed away in February this year) had analyzed when she exclusively spoke to me, “Hugely talented Pancham always had that rebel-enthusiasm in him and he had the confidence to be different, not always, but most of the time. Unfortunately, the classically-trained maestro was being labeled with a westernized musical image tag as he was highly popular mainly for his Westernized rhythms-tunes, thanks to certain chartbuster tracks. Like his hit western flavor-based youth-centric hit songs from movies Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Jawani Diwani, or Khel Khel Mein. For me, he was a very versatile composer because he made me sing a variety of contrasting songs. Classical raga-based songs like ‘Raina Beeti Jaaye (Amar Prem). Then there was a rhythmic gypsy dance number like ‘Dilbar Dil Sey Pyare’ (Caravan) and a brilliant Indo-Western fusion composition ‘Aisa Samaa Na Hota’ (Zameen Aasman),” melody-queen Lata Mangeshkar exclusively had mentioned to me.
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It is interesting to observe that RDB used Lata-Didi’s mellifluous voice when he started his music career in 1961 with that evergreen classic gem ‘Ghar Aaja Ghir Aaye’ and even after the legendary composer suddenly passed away in 1994, she recorded her version ‘Kuchh Na Kaho’. Consider myself very fortunate that Lata-Didi had even spoken to me and shared an exclusive tribute (including her anmol yaadein) to Pancham-Da, for my popular authored memoirs book ‘R D BurMania’ (2016). Where she mentioned to me in 2016 that “had RDB been alive, during the recording of ‘Kuchh Na Kaho’, he would have surely made some extempore changes and perhaps made it sound even better.” By the way, under sangeetkaar RDB’s brilliant baton, Lata-Ji has sung a total of 363 songs which include 194 solos.
What was that ‘X-factor’ that sets RDB apart from other conventional composer-singers? Responded Lata-Didi, “It is rebel-genius Pancham’s daring ability to deviate, innovate and experiment. Which I always admired. And he had that inborn gut feeling that this would click. Like how RD dared to record portions of that chartbuster song ‘Duniya Mein’ (Apna Desh) in that grunt-bass raspy voice, that too as playback for superstar Rajesh Khanna. Right at the beginning of his career, Pancham asked me to playback for Helen that racy cabaret song ‘Matwaali Aankhonwali’ which had Spanish flamenco-castanets elements. For my solo song ‘Sharabi Mera Naam’ picturized on Meena Kumari’s screen character, who is shown as inebriated, Pancham used an off-beat rhythm. He even made me sing off-beat to match the tipsy mood of that song. Or in my other solo song ‘Baahon Mein Chale Aa’ (Anamika) he asked me not to sing the mukhda in high octaves, but instead in hushed seductive whisper tones, or in that unusual song of mine ‘Kya Jaanu Sajan (Baharon Ke Sapne) RD used the twin-track recording to create that overlap-haunting effect. The list is endless,” smiled Lata-Ji.
Bollywood retro-music senior analyst Ajay Sheth shared his brief expert views. “Though the RDB-Lata combination started in 1961, what separates the amazing collaboration from others, is the use of Lata-Ji’s voice by Pancham-da post-1975 and 1980s. After the demise of Madan Mohan-Ji and S D Burman-da in 1975, amongst all the Composers of the later era, Lata-Ji’s songs with Panchamda stand out due to the quality of her voice (I have heard RDB used a special microphone to record her voice) the melodic appeal and longevity, more so in the 80s and well into 90s (Bengali film songs). This continued till Pancham-da passed away,” observes Ajay Sheth.
(The writer of this article Chaitanya Padukone is a Phalke Academy Award-winning eminent senior film and music-journalist-columnist and author of memoirs book R D BurMania’)