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Senior scribe Jyothi Venkatesh revisits memories of Rahul Dev Burman a.k.a Pancham da on his birth anniversary

Though it was his birth anniversary yesterday on Sunday, we take this opportunity to pay our rich tributes to Panchamda.




By Jyothi Venkatesh

The simple seedha saadha genius would have turned 82 if only he had been alive today, but then unfortunately for us, he was not destined to live long. Though it was his birth anniversary yesterday on Sunday, we take this opportunity to pay our rich tributes to Panchamda. When music director R.D. Burman, who was born on 27th June, 1939 died on 4th January 1994, exactly 28 years ago, he actually left behind nothing else but a memorable treasure trove of songs. His bank locker revealed that the pitiful financial legacy he had left for his second wife Asha Bhosale was just Rs 5 in the locker. “It’s a joke,” Asha Bhosale had told the media folks then.

Though his maternal grandmother had fondly given him the nickname Tublu, Burman was fondly called Pancham– or the fifth music note – by friends in the industry. Although Asha Bhosale had married Burman in 1979, they drifted apart over the last few years and Panchamda was just leading a very lonely and disturbed life before death embraced him. I should know, because the otherwise boisterous Burmanda had turned stoically a chronic loner and a cynic in every respect, especially after he drifted away from his wife Asha Bhosale. 54 was no age to die but in his death, Panchamda had sought solace, away from the cunning and also matlab-oriented film industry which was only exploiting him.

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Not many of today’s teenage fans of Salim Sulaiman or Vishal-Shekhar , A.R. Rahman may even know that Panchamda had actually revolutionized Hindi film music ever since he had made his debut with comedian Mehmood’s film Chhote Nawab on his own steam, way back in 1961, without bothering to piggy ride on the back of his illustrious father Sachin Deb Burman. How can you forget his wide range as a versatile composer with hit chart-busting numbers like Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyar Tera (Teesri Manzil) , Parveen Sultana’s soulful thumri Hame Tumse Pyar Kitna Yeh Tum Nahin Jaanti (Kudrat) or for that matter the hilarious Ik Chaturnar Badi Hoshiyaar (Padosan) or for that matter the extremely melodious and lilting number Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koyi Shikwa Toh Nahin (Aandhi)

During the second half of the 1980s, R.D Burman was overshadowed by several up and coming young new music directors including Bappi Lahiri and other disco music composers. Many filmmakers stopped patronizing him, as films featuring his compositions had started flopping one after the other at the box office. Take for example, Nasir Hussain, who had signed him up for every single of his productions since Teesri Manzil (1966), did not sign him up for Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and opted for Chitragupta’s sons –the young turks Anand and Milind, who had shot to fame with their number ‘Papa Kehte Hain Bada Naam Kahega’ that made Tahir’s nephew Aamir Khan zoom to the top echelons of stardom.

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Panchamda had evolved as a philosopher thanks to the jolts that life had bestowed on him during his later stage when he was getting very few offers to compose even from his ardent friends like Subhah Ghai. Subhash Ghai (who is known to have an amazing musical sense), had announced his movie Ram Lakhan with a top heavy star-cast like Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff and Madhuri Dixit. Though the task of composing the music was given to R. D Burman, Subhash Ghai, as luck would have it, when the project was about to start, another of Subhash Ghai’s big budget mega movie (If I am not mistake it was Dev starring Amitabh Bachchan in the lead) got shelved and there was major re-shuffling done of all his projects onboard.

The result was that Laxmikant Pyarelal duo, who was earlier supposed to do another big movie for Subhash Ghai, were roped in to compose the music of Ram Lakhan too and Pancham was simply taken off the project unceremoniously. Yes. The so-called great Subhash Ghai did not even have the courtesy of asking R.D. Burman for his permission or better still just even simply inform him about it.

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With the return of the melody post-Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak,  Panchamda’s score in Parinda in a way laid the foundation for his swan song, 1942: A Love Story but unfortunately for Panmchamda, he did not live to see his song becoming a rage after it was released.

Though without any trace of doubt at all, L-P had come up with one of their career’s best scores in Ram Lakhan, which is still remembered for its musical excellence, the unexpected incident did hurt Panchamda a lot and it also became one of the few crucial things which not only broke his ‘musical’ heart but also wounded his soul deep inside. I actually have the first hand information as I was privy to what went on in Panchamda’s mind when I met him at the music release function of an album of Leena Chandavarkar and Amit Kumar, with whom Panchamda shared very warm familial vibes especially as he had composed several hit chartbusters for her late husband Kishore Kumar.

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The music release function was held in the dilapidated gala of an industrial estate in Andheri East in the terrace of a factory, a very unusual place where anyone would host a music release function. I made it a point to attend the function, in tandem with yet another journalist friend of mine (Chaitanya Padukone) who was very close to Panchamda, not only because Leenaji had specifically requested me to be present but also because I knew that Panchamda was supposed to attend the function as the chief guest on Leenaji and Amit Kumar’s insistence.

It was a very solemn function with a difference because not many in the media or the film fraternity had bothered to attend the function in the far out place and after the formal official release of the album by R.D Burman, when it was time to leave the venue, Panchamda offered to drop me and my journalist friend wherever we wanted to go, we asked Panchamda if he could drop us at the Leela Penta Hotel which was nearby, on his way back home from the function.

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Panchamda asked us to hop across in his humble Fiat and on the way asked us which function were we headed to and literally froze for a second when we told him that it was a party which was being hosted by Subhash Ghai to mark ten years of his having become a director in the film industry and also mark his tie up with Lakshmikant and Pyarelal whom he had signed to compose music for Ram Lakhan , ironically after he had unceremoniously dumped R. D. Burman who had been signed earlier . It might have been the manner in which he was replaced in Ram Lakhan by Subhash Ghai, after the showman had promised him the film, which had actually dampened his spirit.

Panchamda asked the driver to stop the car a minute before it was about to enter the portico of the Hotel and  politely told us in folded hands whether it was okay if he dropped us from the car there itself instead of going all the way till the area where Subhash Ghai was hosting his party, because he was not even invited to the party as Ghai was skeptical how he would take it  if he was invited to a party where he was announcing that Lakshmikant and Pyarelal were going to compose for his film Ram Lakhan.

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Not many are aware of the fact that under his tutelage, musicians like Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Louis Banks, Ramesh Iyer, Pandit Shiv Kumar and also the Lakshmikant-Pyarelal duo had come up. Even today, legendary singers like Asha Bhonsle, Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi and Bhupinder are known for some of their most memorable evergreen songs with Pancham’s music backing them up. And then there are the lyricists, whose words Pancham brought to life in his music, like his musical partnership with Gulzar (Parichay, Ijaazat), Anand Bakshi (Amar Prem) and Javed Akhtar (Love Story 1942) etc.

It was very touching for me to hear and very humiliating and distressing for Panchamda that Subhash Ghai had actually forgotten the innumerable golden hits that the music maestro had painstakingly composed over the years like Duniya Mein Logon Ko, Kuch To Log Kahenge, Chingari Koi Dhadke, Mere Saamne Wali Khidki Mein to name a few top music directors and dumped him just because a few films for which he had composed did not succeed at all at the box office. It is indeed very sad that after his bad patch as a music composer, it was Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 1942: A Love Story, which helped Panchamda reclaim his mantle as one of the greatest film score producers India has ever seen, but Panchamda did not live for a long time after the music clicked like anything.