Monday, June 27, 2011

RD Burman

His songs were mega-hits with Bengalis and non-Bengalis alike; he was the quintessential romantic hero with heartaches, longings and laid back philosophies. Yet celebrated musician-composer Rahul Dev Burman took time to flower into a Bollywood phenomenon. The oft-repeated question: Why?
Despite the moderately successful launch of his career, “Pancham”, as he was lovingly called, was unable to leverage the clout that his surname carried in the rather conservative film fraternity in Bombay (now Mumbai).
Producers always wanted Sachin Dev Burman, but no one was willing to experiment with his son, writer Aniruddha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal say in the biography, “R.D. Burman -- The Man and Music”.
Yesterday (June 27) marked the 72nd birth anniversary of the iconic music director who brought about a breath of fresh air in the Indian music industry.
R.D. was born in Calcutta (Kolkata). According to stories, he was nicknamed “Pancham” because, as a child, whenever he cried, it sounded in the fifth note (Pa) of the Indian musical scale. After moving to Bombay, he learnt sarod from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
When he was nine years old, R.D. composed his first song, “Aye Meri Topi Palat Ke Aa”, which his father used in the film “Funtoosh” (1956). The tune of the classic “Sar Jo Tera Chakraaye” was composed by R.D. as a child. His father loved the tune and included it in the soundtrack of Guru Dutt's “Pyaasa”. R.D. began his music career as an assistant to his father.
Out of his 331 released movie soundtracks, 292 were in Hindi, 31 in Bangla, 3 in Telugu, 2 each in Tamil and Oriya, and 1 in Marathi. He also scored a large number of non-film songs in Bangla (belonging to the Adhunik category).
He was one of the earliest composers in Bollywood who was influenced by Latin music. Exposed to Latin music in Calcutta, R.D., over the years, developed a fondness for its vibrancy.
“He soon made Bossa Nova (a musical form which finds inspiration in the Brazilian samba) his very own, literally bringing it across the globe from the beaches of Rio to the studios of Bombay where he dovetailed it to create a pentatonic tune for a song in 'Kati Patang',” according to the book, “R.D. Burman -- The Man and Music”.
Bollywood scripted fame for him, but it was Calcutta, where he let his nostalgia erupt unbridled.
Pre-Durga Puja 1965, public attention was focussed elsewhere as India gathered itself in the immediate aftermath of a war with Pakistan. A ceasefire was announced three weeks ahead of the Puja.
“The soldiers rushed back to their families leading to the reinstatement of the Puja spirit. Musically, the puja of 1965 aroused the curiosity of spirit when news got around that R.D. Burman was making his 'debut as a composer of Puja songs.'” the biography says.
This was a chance happening for Burman “too rebellious a name for the average Bengalis, whose musical taste were limited to sombre and solemn.”
It turned out that Bengali lyricist Pulak Mukherjee wanted to produce a few songs with S.D. Burman, who refused and passed the assignment to his son.
An unwilling R.D. expressed his discomfort in composing in Bengali, but assured of Lata Mangeshkar's voice, he offered eight tunes to Mukherjee, who selected two.
His next round of Bengali compositions came in 1967.
His best-known Bengali song, “Mon-e Pore Ruby Roy” -- incidentally the song he released first as duet with Kishor Kumar for one of Guru Dutt's projects -- has an interesting story.
Sachin Bhowmik (actor) had lost his heart to a certain lady, who unfortunately spurned his affections. Her name was Chhobi Roy and she was immortalised as Ruby Roy in the song, which R.D. coerced Bhowmick to write. It was loosely based on Raga Kirwani and Raga Mukhari.
The ditty, which was branded as “degenerate westernisation” took a long time to be accepted.
The Hindi version of the song, “Meri Bheegi Bheegi Si...” was released in 1973, as part of the soundtrack of the movie “Anamika”.
R.D. Burman was arguably India's most popular composer in 1970s. During this time, he teamed up with singers like Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and others to produce some of the jazziest hits in the history of Bollywood music. For example, there were musical hits like “Amar Prem”, “Buddha Mil Gaya”, “Caravan”, and “Hare Rama Hare Krishna”.
R.D. Burman died on January 4, 1994.

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