27 June 2019

My Favourites: RD Burman

27 .06.1939 - 04.01.1994Photo credit: Decan Herald
Truth to tell, RD Burman's music in mainstream Hindi cinema in the 80s – which was when I was devouring every movie that came out – didn’t really appeal to me. Brought up as I was on the music directors of an earlier generation, the beats of the 80s were, on the whole, unappealing. Of course, RD wasn’t the only culprit. Hindi film music in the 80s was at its nadir, with only stray oases of melody to alleviate a parched landscape.
Strangely enough, I didn’t realise then just how many of the songs I loved from the 70s were RD’s compositions. I’m ashamed to confess that it took the soundtrack of 1942 A Love Story for me to actually pay attention to RD’s oeuvre. Thanks to my husband, I even began to appreciate some of his music from the aforementioned 80s. 

I will eventually get around to writing a more detailed – and much-deserved – “The Masters’ post on this maverick composer, but I couldn’t let his birthday pass without a post. So, today, a long-delayed post on a man whose talent far outstripped his due.  These are some of my favourite compositions of his, in no particular order.

Ijaazat (1987)
Singer: Asha Bhosle
Lyricist: Gulzar
What part of you do you leave behind when a relationship has run its course? Though RD complained – when he saw the lyrics - that Gulzar would eventually bring him the front page of The Times of India to set to music, he rose to the occasion to turn what would have been a monologue into a beautiful composition of love and loss. The feelings evoked by Gulzar’s poignant (yet not maudlin) lyrics are underlined by RD’s quiet melody and Asha’s touching rendition. It’s a ‘quiet’ song, not filled with bitterness as relationship-ending songs usually are, but one that celebrates the lovers’ moments of happiness, and ends with a wistful desire to be given permission to end everything – Ek ijaazat de do bas, jab inko dafnaaoongi… main bhi yahan so jaaoongi.

Anamika (1973)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Talk about bitterness when a relationship ends, and this song can top the list. It’s a scathing indictment of a woman whom the hero assumes has cheated on him. Her duplicity has been revealed and how better to shame her than to chastise her in public? With Kishore voicing the Majrooh’s lyrics, RD reworked his debut Bengali solo Mone pore Ruby Ray (lyrics by Sachin Bhowmick)

This song, based on Raag Kirwani, soared up to No.4 on Binaca Geetmala that year.

Chhote Nawab (1961)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyricist: Shailendra
One of RD’s finest compositions, this song, based on Raag Malgunji is sung exquisitely by Lata Mangeshkar. While the melody was originally composed for Guru Dutt’s Raaz, which was eventually shelved, RD recycled it for Mehmood’s Chhote Nawab.

Ghar (1978)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar
Lyricist: Gulzar
While RD was more commonly popular as a ‘western’ composer, he has very many songs based on classical ragas to his credit. This lovely melody, a romantic, affectionately-teasing song sung by a young, newly-married, middle-class couple, may not – at first hearing – seem like a classical number. But RD used Raag Kedar to great effect to showcase the sheen of a new romance. The song, with minimal instrumentation, let the singers’ voices take their place in the spotlight.

Singer: Asha Bhosle
Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri
This song never fails to make me chortle – Asha Bhosle channels her inner Kishore Kumar to out-zany her favourite collaborator; Asha Parekh reveals a hidden talent for physical comedy; the choreographer weaves comedy into a superbly directed dance sequence; RD goes all in to compose a tune that is half lunacy, half genius and total magic. Asha Bhosle is on record as saying that this was the most difficult song of her career. RD used the sounds of people jeering, clapping and even thumping their feet as part of the arrangement.

Dancing in front of a definitely down-market audience (the ‘stage’ is in a barn; and there is a brood of hens sharing the stage), Asha Parekh’s initial reaction is an anxious “Daiyya yeh main kahan aa phasi” (What trouble have I landed in?). The audience reaction is even more hilarious as they take in her odd assortment of clothes, including a tasselled lampshade as a headdress. Add Jeetendra doing his Jumping Jack routine, Junior Mehmood clowning around, and Asha trying desperately not to step on the hens, and you have a comic sequence for the ages.

Jawani Diwani
Singers: Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Jawani Diwani may have set the box office on fire but it certainly wasn’t a great movie. However, the film is had a couple of great RD compositions – Jaane jaa doondhta phir yahan is one of them. As Anirudha Bhattacharya and Balaji Vittal put it in R.D. Burman – The Man, The Music, Jaane jaa was ‘a very Indian melody in a very western shell.’ I love Asha’s rendition in this song – the way her voice ebbs and soars in answer to Kishore’s oft-repeated ‘Tum kahaan?’

Parichay (1972)
Singers: Bhupinder, Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Gulzar
Lata Mangeshkar and Gulzar, won National Awards for playback and lyrics respectively. Oddly enough, both Bhupinder and RD Burman who tuned this delicate melody, was ignored. A melody based on Yaman Kalyan, this song was the highlight of Parichay, Gulzar’s inspired take on The Sound of Music, and RD’s defence against the accusation that he was too ‘westernised’ a composer.

Manzil (1973)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Lyrics: Yogesh
This song has made its way onto many of my lists because it is a perennial favourite. This song, sung in a mehfil, is a prelude to a romantic relationship and is later reprised as a romantic song that plays in the background. Rhimjhim gire sawan would mark the beginning of the RD-Yogesh collaboration.

Golmaal (1979)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Lyrics: Gulzar
In Golmaal, Hrishikesh Mukherjee cast Amol Palekar against type as a street-smart young man in his tale of  dual identities.  The RD-Gulzar combination joined in the madness ((Utpal Dutt, Amol Palekar, Shubha Khote et al) without reservation. But amidst the craziness was this lovely romantic, philosophical song about the passage of time. And Gulzar would pen these beautiful lines:
Ek baar waqt se, lamha gira kahin
Wahan dastaan mili lamha kahin nahin
Thoda sa hansaake
Thoda sa rulaake
Pal ye bhi jaanewala hai

RD’s score for this film would include the rib-tickling Golmaal hai bhai sab golmaal hai, the whimsical Sapne mein dekha sapna, and the poignant Ek baat kahu gar man lo tum.

Teesri Manzil (1966)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Teesri Manzil was RD’s fifth film as composer, and it took a nerve-wracking interview with its leading man, Shammi Kapoor, before RD could come on board as music director. (Shammi wanted his favourites, Shankar-Jaikishan to compose the music.)  RD rose to the occasion with a brilliant score, but I particularly like this one for the hope that Shammi brings to it, the sheer romanticism in Mohammed Rafi’s voice, and RD's rich instrumentation.

This song is especially poignant because Shammi was shooting for it when Geeta Bali died. He went into a self-imposed exile and when he finally returned, it was to shoot this song. Teesri Manzil would see the beginning of RD’s collaboration with Nasir Hussain, ending only with the director’s  swansong, Zabardast.

Bahaaron ke Sapne (1967)
Singers: Manna Dey, Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
On the face of it, just another romantic song, right? Wrong. Majrooh's poetry made it a philosophical song of hope in a community that has none. Look at:
Pal chhin piya pal chhin,
Ankhiyon ka andhera
Raina nahin apni,
Par apnaa hoga kal ka savera

RD wove his music around these verses, adding his signature flourish to compose a melody that's as catchy as it's classic. 

Ye safar bahut hai kathin magar
1942 A Love Story (1994)
Singer: Shivaji Chattopadhyay
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Javed Akhtar takes inspiration from Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ghazal –
'Hum par tumhari chaah ka ilzaam hi to hai,
Dushnaam toh nahi hain, ye ikraam hi toh hai' as he pens an ode of hope and solace. 1942 was RD’s bid to make a ‘comeback’ after an exile that had lasted many years. Creatively speaking, he was regaining his mojo, and the score that he composed for the film would outshine his output in the few years previous to this. Alas, he wouldn’t be alive to see its success. Ye safar bahut hai kathin magar is my favourite song from this film.

It seems oddly fitting that Lata should sing RD’s first independent composition in Chhote Nawab, and one of his last compositions (Kuch na kaho) in 1942 A Love Story, bookending a chequered career that ended too quickly.  

Credits: My thanks to Anirudha Bhattacharya and Balaji Vittal's in-depth analysis of RD Burman's music for the details that accompany every song.

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