Pancham: A legacy of melody

As the day started, music lovers started to pay their tributes to the man who revolutionized the music industry in India, even Google tributed the showman with a doodle.
Rahul Dev Burman will always be remebered, when Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen would look upon each other with intensity and pain in their eyes in Gulzar’s classic Aandhi, that expression had to be given a musical language. The language came about in the form of the song Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi, one of the finest compositions Hindi cinema has ever seen, and one which transcends generations of music lovers and touches their hearts.

He will be remembered everytime Chingaari Koi Bhadke, plays on the radio. That brilliant song from Amar Prem rendered by the inimitable Kishore Kumar and picturised on Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore against the backdrop of a boat ride on a Calcutta evening will be part of cinematic history forever.

That, in essence, was what Rahul Dev Burman was all about.

A man whose music spoke a million languages, talked to generations of followers and captures the imagination of people even today, several years after he passed away on January 4, 1994. Had RD – or Pancham as he was known in music and film circles – lived, he would have been 77 today.

But one can hardly conceive of RD as someone who would ever grow old, such was the everlasting freshness of the melodies he created. If popular film music ever had an idiom in India, RD was it. The sheer range of music he created – from popular western and African sounds to classical Indian melodies – mesmerized listeners over the several years which he strode the Hindi film music scene like a colossus.

Teaming up with three other legends – Gulzar, Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhonsle, who later became his wife – RD weaved his magic with classics in films like Ijaazat,Namkeen, Angoor, among several others and churned out equally brilliant melodies with singers like Lata Mangeshkar and Bhupinder.

Throughout the seventies and the eighties, Hindi cinema hardly knew any other music composer with the versatility of Rahul Dev Burman. Every single blockbuster had to have music by RD – from Ramesh Sippy’s cult film Sholay to Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Namak Haraam and several Rajesh Khanna mega hits like Amar Prem. 

And so will be the songs from Namkeen, where RD’s music merges with the pathos and the struggle of the protagonists effortlessly through songs like Raah Pe Rehte Hain and Phir Se Aaiyo Badra Bidesi. Not surprisingly, these were sung by his favourites Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhonsle respectively.

But RD’s genius also lay in the range of his music. If Hum Kisise Kum Nahin was a mega hit, it was RD’s music which gave it the cult status the film enjoys today: from Bachna Ae Haseeno (later remixed into the title song of a movie of the same name) to Yeh Ladka Hai Allah to Kya Hua Tera Waada, the songs have stood the test of time and enthralled listeners from the 70s through to 2016.

Even before that, the sound of Zeenat Aman tapping her glass and crooning Chura Liya Hai Tumne (sung deliciously by Asha Bhonsle) in Yaadon Ki Baaraat was stuff musical legend was made of.

If RD has given us the quintessential rain song in Rim Jhim Gire Saawan, he has also given us the delightfully romantic Jaane jaan from Jawaani Diwani and the intense Gum hai kisike pyar mein from Raampur Ka Lakshman.

Several of RD’s songs have their origins in Bangla, or have Bangla versions. Few can recall a Bengali Durga Puja without RD songs playing at the pandals – whether it is Phire Esho Anuradha (Saajan Kahaan Jaoongi Main from Jaise Ko Taisa), Ashbo Arek Din(Aaoongi Ek Din from Baseraa) or Mone Pore Ruby Ray (Meri Bhigi Bhigi Si in Hindi).

RD’s own inimitable singing style – evidenced not just by the cult number Mehbooba from Sholay, which became a rage with the youth but also by his several Bangla renditions like Jete jete pothey holo deri (the Bangla version of Tere bina zindagi se koi) – demonstrated the enormous range which the composer had.
That he was good enough even in his last days is borne out by the thumping comeback he staged with Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 1942: A Love Story, a soundtrack which gave Kumar Sanu a different level of fame. But that realization came too late, and RD had gone by then.

We know so much about his professional life and yet so much is left about this self-made legend’s personal life.
Born on June 7th, 1939 to another music legend Sachin Dev Burman (popularly called as SD Burman) and his lyricist wife Meera Dev Burman (née Dasgupta), in Kolkata.
Initially, he was nicknamed Tublu by his maternal grandmother although he later became known by the nickname of Pancham. According to some stories, he was nicknamed as Pancham because, as a child, whenever he cried, it sounded in the fifth note (Pa), G scale, of music notation. The word Pancham means five (or fifth) in Bengali, his mother tongue. Another theory says that the baby was nicknamed Pancham because he could cry in five different notes. Yet another version is that when the veteran Indian actor Ashoke Kumar saw a toddler Rahul uttering the syllable Pa repeatedly, he nicknamed the boy Pancham.
Schooled at Ballygunje Govt. High school, young Pancham showed signs of a musician at a very young age, often accompanying his father into concerts as a harmonica player and finally these signs were fulfilled when this kid made it big in the Bollywood industry.
What adds to this legend is that he was a Bengali, another prodigy from Bengal that followed the likes of his Father and other legends from Bengal to stardom.

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