Pancham: The Urban Timbre (Part 1)

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About Satyabrata

Satyabrata Ghosh is primarily a cineaste, who loves to pen his thoughts on movies, actors and directors who matter to him. Since his adolescence to his youth and further, with a mind to make films and write about films, one thing that keeps him grounded is listening to the loop of Hindi songs and Bengali as well. Incidentally, quite a large number of songs in this loop are composed by Rahul Dev Burman. The euphoria of listening to these songs – poignant and grandiose, with their imagery-rich lyrics by stalwart song-writers Gulzar, Anand Bakshi et all, stimulate him to probe more into his social and cultural milieu that borne such creative restlessness. This is the very first piece of his daring out of undying love for a man he feels very close to, albeit, with no personal encounter.

Pancham: The Urban Timbre
Part 1

It drizzled that evening. I distinctly remember that Durga Puja Asthami years ago, when the crowd was not quantified as hourly footfalls. Had it not rained, I could not experience the magic, as the crowd would teem the arterial road of Gariahat. The reflection from the chains of blue and yellow Tuni bulbs shimmered on the desolate street I was walking. Words of a song suddenly wafted in … মহুয়ায় জমেছে আজ মৌ গো (penned by Gouriprasanna Majumdar), and I saw the golden hue of the magic hour that evening.

Far away, in place of the lonely pandal, I saw a palanquin passing away led by a small procession. Whenever I think about that late evening, the moment pulsates as the song does. And so does Rahul Dev Burman (27 June 1939 – 4 January 1994), who could make listening to his songs not only aural but also a visual experience.

His craving as a young artiste evolved with a blend of musical sense and innovations, as like an uncut diamond is fashioned to proportion, symmetry and polish to sparkle intensely by keen workmanship.  No wonder, he could cut across the age of AI!

Koyee aane ko hai dil…

Singer-composer Sachin Dev Burman went away from Calcutta and settled in Bombay with his wife Meera Dev Burman, when their son Rahul was 5. For the next four years, Rahul stayed with his grandparents at Southend Park, who let him go on a spree. Rahul’s parents discovered that their son was struggling with his academic studies. They brought him to Bombay when he was 9. 

Rahul observed how his mother turned into a shadow, fading away behind her temperamental husband while resonating strings and vibrating bols filled the air. This experience motivated Rahul to pursue two different self-trainings. 

He became eclectic in the world of music, instead of instead of rooting himself in his father’s traditional base. He was also learning to hide the scars and become resilient enough so that he would not scar anyone with any insensibility whatsoever. 

A determination not to lose his identity was growing. His mother, who was also a composer and singer, might have indulged Rahul to claim more than what came his way as a legacy of an illustrious father. Rahul’s rebellious nature was evident through the continuous drumming of his fingers, not on tablas, but on the bonnet of his father’s car. This continued even after his fingers were numb and no longer ached.

As the saying goes, the senior Burman was so vexed seeing the persistent damage on his car’s body, that he told Mehmood, a comic artist of fame, to engage the boy in whatever film venture he was so excited and eager about. 

Ae Mere Topi Palat Ke Aa 

Bombay was then a teeming hub of creative minds. People from the eastern and north-western parts of India found Bombay as a place offering them work in the film industry. They were either pushed away or pulled into the city as a consequence of the Partition. Though Rahul too had left his birthplace in Calcutta, he never felt that he was displaced, as he only had to change his home address.

He was a novice in the competitive music industry where his father, with Salil Chowdhury, Hemant Kumar, Anil Biswas, Naushad Ali, and Vasant Desai, Roshan, Shankar-Jaikishan, O P Nair, N Dutta, C Ramchandra, Madan Mohan, and Rabi were proving their consistency in composing ‘hit’ songs. In comparison to these stalwarts, Rahul seemed to lack self-discipline. The truth, however was, instead of basking under Baba’s glory, he was rearranging the musical idioms that would not sound like those of the senior Burman.

Back in those days, film songs were created through a collective brainstorming process. The Director came to senior Burman’s house with his Producer and a lyricist. They presented a list of sequences in the film they were making, where they sought songs. Once all reached to consensus, the lyricist read the opening lines, which were elaborated with an active participation of senior Burman.

Rahul would often eavesdrop on these sessions and imagine himself in his father’s place, composing tunes for the movie. Even though he had no takers, he continued to create music. During one such session, he overheard Chetan Anand, the director, detailing a song sequence for his film Funtoosh (1956), in which Dev Anand, the hero, had to do some flamboyant act with his hat. Sahir Ludhianvi recited the line Ae mere topi palat kee aa during the conversation. It inspired Rahul to hum the first line of the lyric.

Senior Burman must have heard the humming this time. He encouraged Rahul to elaborate on the tune, which proved to be a defining moment for him. Instead of scolding Rahul for eavesdropping, senior Burman’s encouragement reignited to complete the tune of the song.

It’s open to conjecture what went through senior Burman’s mind when he approved Rahul’s composition and credited him. It wasn’t fashionable to display such emotion publicly at the time, nor was it a time to cry out against nepotism. However, S. D. Burman paved the way for Rahul’s entry into the world of Hindi film music.

Rahul was 17 when Kishore Kumar trilled his tune:

Rahul found a resilient soul in Kishore Kumar when he saw the singer-actor during the filming of Baap Re Baap in 1955. While watching Kishor Kumar imitate senior Burman and others, Rahul could connect with his apparent madness. Their friendship led to a fruitful and melodious journey in the years that followed.

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