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June 27: Happy Birthday Pancham Da



June 27: Happy Birthday Pancham Da

An ode to R.D. Burman on his 78th birthday

Remember Helen grooving to Mehbooba, mehbooba on a glittering night in Sholay? It was one of the many evergreen hits composed by Rahul Dev Burman, and he produced its opening beats by blowing into beer bottles. The ’70s belonged to that most unforgettable of music directors.

The story began much before the ’70s. It featured Burman as a child prodigy growing up with the great musician S.D. Burman as his father and lyricist mother M.D. Burman. He was trained by the stalwarts of Hindustani Classical music – Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the sarod player, and Pandit Samta Prasad, the tabla maestro. His earliest accolades include a number of songs he wrote as a youngster. He also assisted his father in such brilliant soundtracks as Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (remember Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si?) and Guide (and Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna?).

His own coming of age as a Music Director happened in the mid-60s with Teesri Manzil (remember Aaja aaja?). In the soundtracks that followed one can make out his diverse range of influences from Latin to Arabic music, which came together to revolutionise Bollywood music – they added a sort of buoyancy to the melodies that ruled the scene back then.

The combination that truly clicked and took his music to the top of all charts was his collaboration with Kishore Kumar behind screen and Rajesh Khanna on it (remember Ye jo mohabbat hai?). This was the ’70s and it was hard to find a single hit song not involving Pancham Da (as Burman was fondly called). The music that came to be identified with the three can be best termed Electronic Rock Pop.

But every wave that rises has to fall. Change overtook Pancham Da in the ’80s, perhaps the exact time when the groundwork for today’s crappy Bollywood ‘music’ was being laid. The ’80s brought dance to the fore and pushed melody off the scene, making Mithun hits soar, along which soared the (hard to imagine as soaring really) bulk called Bappi Lahiri. ‘Disco’ they called it; it is what has metamorphosed into the Himesh hits of today.

Unsurprisingly though, while Bappi’s jarring music faded away, Pancham Da’s compositions survived. Try putting an odd bunch of people in one room, a software engineer from Bangalore, an Urdu professor from Delhi or a millennial guitarist from Kolkata, and in all probability you’ll discover that the only way to please everyone’s ears musically is to put on a Kishore Kumar track set to an R.D. Burman tune. He remains fool-proof.

When the legend passed away in the winter of 1994, Lata Mangeshkar lamented his too-young, too unhappy demise. As if as a parting gift he left us the soundtrack of 1942, A Love Story (remember Ek ladki ko dekha to?). It earned him a posthumous Filmfare award and touched a chord with a younger generation.

It’s hard to compress R.D. Burman’s legacy in one blog post, but those interested in his life history could pick up a copy of The Man, The Music, or the more recently released R.D. Burmania. For a quicker access, watch this heartfelt documentary about Pancham Da featuring such great figures as Gulzar and Shammi Kapoor, and remember to play the ’70s Rajesh Khanna hits as you remember the musician that was.

Image Credit: Saregama




Mineli Goswami is a 24-year-old Assamese-East Indian, which usually translates into pretty good weekend feasts. When she’s not at her desk struggling with poetry – more often than she’d like – she’s seen wasting time on an assortment of things such as lugging an antique SLR, breaking nails climbing boulders, and chasing turtles. She’s graduated in history and has an unofficial PhD in Bandra-style jiving.

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