Pancham: The Urban Timbre (Part 5)

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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 5

Kitney Sapney Kitney Armaan

As Rajesh Khanna started enjoying the superstardom, he discovered that lip-syncing songs on screen was one of his forte. In a way, he was repeating the method to showcase his appeal as Dev Anand did (who never appeared in a songless film). 

While Dev Anand relied heavily on the songs composed by the senior Burman, it was his son to whom Rajesh Khanna banked to fashion the song to shape his career. 

Evidently, a symbiosis developed between Khanna and Rahul, both were zealous to excel in their respective fields – while Khanna ensured to make his screen appeal last, Rahul enjoyed a free spirit to synthesize the Oriental and Occidental musical traditions to form a distinct signature of his own. Theirs was not a friendship, but the need to collaborate, so that they could become indispensable in the highly volatile world of Hindi films.

The senior Burman was noticing the changes around him too. So, in Aradhana (1969), he once again used Pancham’s composition Pancham, who was in a momentum, collaborating with songs to showcase Khanna, knew the sounds he had to incorporate in his songs. Besides the effervescence of Mere sapno ki rani and sensuality of Rup tera mastana, the songs he arranged, he ‘gifted’ his tune for Kora kagaz tha yeh man mera. Shakti Samanta, the Producer-Director knew that Pancham’s beats and sounds would captivate his audience in years to come: 

As Rajesh Khanna lip-synced songs like Ye Shaam Mastani relishing his superstardom, Pancham knew how to tweak the songs he composed for Khanna. This was tasted when he picked up a harmonium to the superstar and sang O Mere Dil Ke Chaain, and clear up the doubts, instead of arguing:  

And even when the appeal of Rajesh Khanna had considerably waned, Rahul worked hard to come up with a song to rejuvenate the actor’s appeal among the audience:

Although the song was a major success for R. D. Burman as a leading music director, it also led to criticism from his rivals who claimed that it was yet another instance of his songs being popular while the film itself was declared a flop. However, this criticism conveniently overlooked the fact that the movies in question were not well-written or well-directed, which contributed to their lack of success at the box office. 

Rajesh Khanna was its first victim. He tried hard though. He ruthlessly replaced Pancham with Laxmikant Pyarelal duo when Shakti Samanta ventured to make Khanna as effective as Uttam Kumar in Anurodh (1977)   

Ek Chatur Nar

Mehmood Ali, the two-films-old producer-actor was sure that only Pancham could take the music of his Padoson (1968) to an unattainable height. This was a Hindi version of Sudhir Mukherjee’s Bengali film Pasher Bari (1952) based on a short story by Arun Chowdhury. The film starred Kishore Kumar and Mehmood, and the song-duel remains a toast for listeners/watchers across generations even after half a century had passed. It remains a glowing instance where four talents – Pancham, Manna De, Kishore Kumar and Mehmood engaged in an intense ‘method in madness’:

Another song in the same film showcases the virtuosity that Pancham was developing to excel in the 1970s. In the song Main chali main chali, the innovative use of harmony between Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle reminds us that Pancham was not only experimenting with different musical forms but was also diligently applying these intricate grammars to establish what would later be known as the ‘Pancham School of Music’:

Pyar Deewana Hota Hai

In 1971, Pancham had a painful and inevitable divorce from Rita Patel. He started living a life of remorse alone in Room No. 304 at Caeser’s Palace Hotel with music alone. He stayed in that suit for the next three years. The song from the film Kati Patang (1971) resonates with his state then:

Healing is said to be a journey, and for the Burman family, it began when the parents accepted that Pancham was suffering. The elder Burman stood by his son, who, due to his infatuation with someone, mistook flattery for love, leaving a young composer feeling dejected. S.D. Burman, by then, a veteran in the unpredictable world of playback music in Bombay, accepted Pancham as his equal. He could not let his son waste away, because he had seen how self-pity could destroy the confidence of some artistes he knew. Meera Dev Burman too, might have urged her husband to help Pancham come out of the quagmire. 

The vehicle to lift the Burman family from the distress was Shakti Samanta’s Amar Prem (1972), a Hindi adaptation of Arabinda Mukherjee’s Nisipadma (1970), based on a short story by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. For the first and also the last time, the senior Burman agreed to sing the title song under Pancham’s direction – for the sake of setting the mood and to offer therapeutic help to his son regain what seemed to be ebbing first – his self-worth:

It’s hard to say for sure what hurt Pancham the most. Perhaps it was the realization that his marriage was a bad dream and that he needed to move on with his life. Or maybe it was the judgmental comments and criticisms of a merciless group of people who seemed determined to prove just how immature Pancham was when it came to his personal life. Either way, it must have been a difficult and painful experience for him to endure. Listening to Gouri Prasanna Majumdarযা খুশি ওরা বলে বলুক, sung by Manna Dey to the tune of Dr Nachiketa Ghosh, must have stirred him considerably:

Pancham, by then, was known for infusing an independent spirit into his music as a Music Director. In this rare instance, he and Shakti Samanta asked lyricist Anand Bakshi to transcreate a Bengali song into Hindi. Kishore Kumar, who had also experienced a difficult life after the death of his second wife Madhubala on February 23, 1969, empathized with Pancham’s pain. When he sang Kuch to lok kahege, he put his heart and soul into conveying a poignant message:

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