The appeal of Rabindranath Tagore is universal. Much above than a normal human being, Rabindranath was a culture. A poet, dramatist, composer, musician, actor and humanitarian- Tagore put a foundation of art and culture in Modern India, on which still many skyscrapers are built upon.
Any Bengali friend reading this article would be a bit unpleased at me perhaps, because to describe Tagore is to show light to the sun; and he would be very correct in that. But the only reason I gave a small introduction is to put forth an idea that as a culture, Tagore could never be ignored. So, when it comes to his songs, more than the notes and the words, it is the high degree of emotion which has fascinated people for such a long period. Such a long period, yes; even as early as 2005, when Shantanu Moitra took Tagore’s “Phule phule dhole dhole” to make “Phool phool bhanwara dole”, and the people loved it!
Yes, this is the topic of discussion today. Hindi film music is very rich. Likes and dislikes of people vary, so do the talents of various composers. But, it is a fact that Khemchand Prakash was also a genius and A R Rehman is also a genius-albeit with different strongholds.
I don’t know whether using the word “plagiarism” would do justice to the fact of adapting Tagore’s tunes in Hindi movie songs by various music directors. It might not be necessary that the composer did it for intentional copying or he was short of creativity, but can also be due to the fact that in certain situations, Tagore became too great to be avoided. As I said, for many musicians, he was an institution, a culture. You can change your outer dimensions, but the culture lies somewhere deep within yourself.
And it is also interesting to note that, it was not only the predictable Bengali music directors who took influence from Tagore in Hindi movies, even non-East composers like Rajesh Roshan and Laxmikant Pyarelal also used Tagore tunes in their movies. Kanu Roy went to the extreme end of using a Tagore song-Sedin dujone dulechhinu bone, intact in Bengali, in a full length Hindi movie called “Anubhav”(1971). Laxmikant Pyarelal used the tune of “Purano sei diner katha” multiple times as a background mouthorgan score in their hit movie “Dost”(1974). Rajesh Roshan made one of the most famous adaptations of Tagore songs in the form of “Chhukar mere man ko” in Yaarana (1981).
But the person who took the culture of Tagore songs to a very different level was Sachin Dev Burman. As I had earlier said, “Plagiarism” is an avoidable term when it comes to adapting Tagore by certain composers. S D Burman was definitely one of them. He took Tagore just the way Naushad had taken the Hindutani classical ragas. When nobody criticized Naushad for using bandishes of different Ragas just as they were, Sachin Dev Burman had been more than often criticized for taking, adapting and sometimes even bettering a Rabindranath Tagore composition. But, for him, Tagore music was a culture which was quietly staying in his heart, just like Classical music fostering inside the Ustaads. He was an “Ustaad” of the Gharana called “Rabindrasangeet”. There were others also, Pankaj Kumar Mullick and Hemanta Mukherjee are the two to be named amongst the greatest exponents of Tagore from Hindi film music fraternity, but they preferred to keep Tagore aside from their Hindi professional music work; whereas SD took the popularization of Tagore with the flow of his professional work.
Sometimes he was quite blunt; “Nain deewane ek nahi mane”(Suraiya, Afsar-1950) was a complete “Sedin dujone”. Sometimes he was like a delicate craftsman taking some initial notes and then changing the song entirely; “Jayein to jayein kaha” (Talat, Taxi driver-1954) and “Jalte hai jiske liye”(Talat, Sujata-1959) are delicate cuisines prepared by the Master chef combining the spices of both the worlds. And then, there were times, when you simply could not point your finger and say “Yes, this is copied from that”, but always left to feel that Tagore was there, the “cultural feel” could not be overlooked; “Aese to na dekho”(Rafi, Teen Deviyan-1965) and “Yeh tanhayee haye re haye”(Lata, Tere Ghar Ke Saamne-1963).
From a neutral perspective, he actually bettered “Jodi tare naai chini go” with “Tere mere Milan ki yeh raina”(Kishore-Lata, Abhimaan-1973), changing the stanzas altogether in Antara.
There were many more of Tagore, when it comes to SD; ultimately, just like the Folk music, the music of Tagore was also SD’s own. He wanted to spread the universality of Tagore amongst all the common people in India.
And it was just another facet of the Great musician of India.