Pancham: The Urban Timbre (Part 6)

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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 6

Ek rah ruk gayi to aur jood gayi

In 1972, Pancham had a fulfilling year as he finally got the opportunity to work as a Music Director with Gulzar. By then, Gulzar had adapted Tapan Sinha’s Apanjan (1968) and made it into Mere Apne (1971), with Salil Chowdhury’s music.

While collaborating on the movie Parichay (1972), the poet-lyricist-scriptwriter-director presented a song sequence and a few stanzas for the music composer to contemplate. Later past midnight, Pancham was thumping his left hand on the roof of the car, matching the beat as he sang the stanzas that Gulzar had given him. The two drove around Bombay, with Pancham singing the tune and Gulzar scribbling down words in meter to fit the tune. By the time dawn broke, they had finalized the entire song.

After Pancham’s death, Gulzar recounted how in the post-Parichay days, Pancham used to take him for rides in his car on the way to the sound studio. However, he would suddenly drop him off, saying, “Go, I have much work to do now. Don’t waste my time!”

A dazed Gulzar would find himself in the middle of the road with freshly hummed tunes of Pancham still ringing in his head. He felt frustrated and described the feeling as if some boiling potatoes were dropped on him, and his whole body singed.

Pancham, on the other hand, used to hand-pick tunes for his “Gullu” and often prodded his musicians to exert themselves to equal the poetic excellence of that ‘sala’ Gulzar!

Pancham required a symbiotic relationship, which Gulzar had fulfilled for him for long. Therefore, it was natural for Gulzar to admit as his obituary, “I am feeling lonely, Pancham. Either you come back to me or take me where you are.”  

Dum Maro Dum

Pancham was back to his self – resilient and confident. With his spontaneity, rigour, and self-motivation to produce some of his best compositions, even in the face of faulty scripts and unrealistic demands from producers and directors. Amin Sayani described Pancham as having two very different streams flowing in his heart. One was soft, deep, and emotional, with a classical side, while the other was wild, effervescent, and youthful, with a modern and enthusiastic side to it.

Dev Anand, the actor-producer-director, wanted to challenge the emerging “flower culture” through his film Harè Rama Harè Krishna (1971). He sought Pancham’s unconventional style of composing the film’s soundtrack. Until then the music of his films was composed by the senior Burman, who rested on the traditional music. In this film, the music in Western beats would address a segment of young, disenchanted Indians exhibiting an uninhibited way of living while adhering to drug abuse.   

The ‘hippie chanting’ that Pancham composed, was a projection of rebellion far stronger than the actual visualisation of the song on screen. It became a recurrent theme of the nation and stayed as a chartbuster song of Binaca Geetmala during a turbulent time:

Duniya mein logo ko

In the movie Apna Desh (1972) directed by Jambu, Rajesh Khanna played the role of an anti-hero. It was Pancham’s first time singing as a playback artiste. 

He decided to experiment with Rahul’s voice. He made him sing the song “Duniya Mein” in a huskier tone to match Rajesh Khanna’s on-screen persona in a disguise: 

It became a popular trend for Rahul to sing zany playbacks, initially for non-heroes. Jalal Agha was featured in Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975):

and for Ram Mohan, as the steam-engine driver in Gulzar’s Kitaab (1977) accompanied by flanging to produce a distorted sound of the guitar with a delaying effect of two identical notes: 

Namaskar, bhaiyon aur beheno

Radio Ceylon’s Binaca Geetmala, which started in 1952, peaked during the early 1970s. This weekly countdown, anchored by the late Ameen Sayani every Wednesday from 8 pm onwards, connected India with all ‘happening’ Hindi songs breaking all boundaries. Pancham etched his niche – among the discerning ones and the unmitigated as well. 

Pancham’s songs reached villages through the radio. Binaca Geetmala remained a crucial link for Pancham as his songs kept playing on, even when many of the films they featured, were flops.

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