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The making of RD Burman’s genius

Bhanu Gupta and Ramesh Iyer — two musicians from the RD Burman camp — speak of the making of the unforgettable song, “Chingari Koi Bhadke”, in the newly released coffee table book and a three CD set of interviews on RD Burman, Knowing Pancham, Pancham Unlimited by Brahmanand Singh and Gaurav Sharma. “The song was just not happening,” recalls Bhanu Gupta. “Pancham announced pack up. My weary fingers strummed the guitar strings randomly, on an unusual combination of notes. Pancham came running to me, ‘play it again,’ he said. In the next three to four minutes he had composed the ‘Chingari’ song. What he heard on my guitar became the opening phrase of the song.”

In the book, RD Burman: The Man, The Music (Aniruddha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal), lyricist Javed Akhtar in his Foreword, writes: “Most of his tunes that you appreciate, like ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha’ were created in five to six minutes. That was the level of creativity, the energy he had.” In this CD set, there is a short interview with the Bengali composer Shantanu Moitra, who narrates an episode. “I was composing music for a film for which Gulzar was the lyricist,” he begins. “For one of the songs, I got the tune in just a few minutes, in the click of a finger!” Shantanu shares the happy news with Gulzar; he stares blankly at him. Shantanu continues: “I feel ecstatic! Isn’t it something?” Gulzar, breaking his silence, says: “So? So what if you get your tune in a jiffy?! Tell me what you’re going to do with it? Pancham (RD Burman was dearly called Pancham) got most of his tunes like that, but he took them home and worked incessantly till a perfect form and structure emerged. That’s what converts a tune into a piece of music.”

There are any number of stories in the musical world — which makes its way into this book and are heard in the interviews – about Pancham’s genius. But it is Gulzar who tells you that the genius of Pancham was an outcome of his obsession and unrelenting hard work. Gulzar himself has a huge bag of stories, days when Pancham would land up in front of Gulzar’s house in the dead of the night, get Gulzar into his car and drive through the roads of Bombay till sunrise, explaining and discussing his composition. During the making of Amar Prem, Pancham locked himself up in his room for a week, from 9 am to 9 pm. Pancham’s friend, Badal Bhattacharya, speaks of how he would book the studio for months, and would work without taking a break. He worked 20 hours a day, and as the yesteryear actor Shammi Kapoor says, “Who knows, even when he slept, he may have had musical dreams!”

The making of RD Burman’s genius

If the magic of Pancham’s music was the result of his unsevered engagement, it was also the result of his curiosity to study other forms of music – jazz, Latino, folk. Several musicians, co-artistes, and friends feel that his music was so remarkable simply because it existed for its own sake. Shankar Mahadevan, in his interview, puts it rather well: “As composers, we are always bothered about what works. So, even when we compose, it is a ‘performance’. But with Pancham it was spontaneous. He dared to follow his instinct and intuition, achieving what no one else did.” Shammi Kapoor, in his introduction to the “RD Burman: The Man, The Music” echoes: “Pancham had to wait for seven years before he tasted success. He was in no apparent hurry. Rather, he seemed to savour the wait. But that is how it is with the truly and perennially talented. They expect the best to happen and they know that the best takes time to come by. They are patient with their destinies.”

For any admirer of RD Burman music, this collection is of immense value. The interviews by themselves may not be complete, but the large group of people – friends, well-wishers and musicians – who speak about him, in a way keep on extending his personality for you. Almost all of them speak about Pancham’s culinary skills, but some tell you that he was a great host as well. His culinary skills were not for him alone, or his immediate family members. It was a means by which he could tell people around him that he cared for them. It was his way of connecting with people, it was a way by which he could shed his superiority as a music director and become one among his huge team. He cooked for them, served them, heard to their joys and sorrows, and gave them the support they needed. Kavitha Krishnamurthy, with her eyes welled up, speaks of his large heartedness and the gentleman that he was. Recalling her first live concert with him abroad, she narrates how he personally came on stage and introduced the young singer, praised composers Lakshmikant-Pyarelal who had found her. He later even tells her that if she needed money for shopping, she should take it from him.

Kersi Lord calls him “musical scientist”, Leslie Lewis says he was an amazing translator who could take tunes from other cultures and transform it, Pt. Ronu Majumdar says his compositions were like “paintings”, Annette Pinto says he was “a noble prince”, Asha Bhosle calls him “Mozart”, Manohari Singh says, “he took even small suggestions from us so seriously and gave us a lot of importance”, Uttam Singh says, “Pancham was genuine, child-like, best friend to all and a connoisseur”, Ismail Durbar says, “After I die, I want to go to heaven and hug him”…. The book and CD abounds with memories, and an effort to capture this phenomenon called R.D. Burman through words. Pancham was an experience beyond words, his genius and generosity lives on in his music.

What haunts, like his music, is Bhupinder Singh’s words: “In his best days, people thronged him, and partook of his generosity. But in his bad days, he was alone. Where did everyone go… How could he die like that, alone…?”

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