When it comes to music, Sachin Dev Burman and Rahul Dev Burman have been the ultimate for me. In fact, both the Burmans- the father and the son, have been amazing me for the last 25 odd years of my Hindi Film Music following. As rightly put by one of my acquaintances, their appeal lies in their contradiction. The way both of them had taken their schools of music separately but with equal élan is learning! Traditionally, the senior Burman has always been regarded as the one belonging to the conservative school- inspirations from Indian classical, folk, Tagore songs; whereas the Junior Genius is considered from a rebel group of Westernization, bringing in concepts like Jazz, Bossa Nova, Samba and Hard Rock into Indian music. Well, ahem, this generalization can be nothing but FALSE.
It is so unfortunate, that almost always, even by luminary Film critics, this generalization between the Burmans always occurs. And slowly but steadily, this has given rise to a discretely different type of fan followings for both the father and the son. I have seen many people who consider SD to be the greatest MD in Hindi films (and rightly so) and junking out RD saying “loud” and “cacophonic” (wrongly so). Vice versa, RD group has also hailed RD as the biggest genius in the industry (and rightly so) and ignoring SD saying his songs were slow and old schooled (wrongly so).
The entire idea of this article is to “put things straight”. The idea of SD being “old schooled” is as bizarre as the idea of RD being “cacophonic”.
I discuss six albums here, yes, that’s all- three each from each of the Burmans- just to show the believed notion a twist. RD could be as conventional as the best goes and SD could be as modern, as effervescent as you can think of.
S D Burman- the Modern Man:
Come out of flute, sitar and violin and listen to one of my all-time favourite SD album- Jewel Thief. Yes, he took necessary influences from David Lean’s Bridge on the River Kwai and some arrangement supports from his son, but JT is so SD-ish to the core!! The beautiful Raag Pahadi based duet of Lata-Rafi or the melancholic “Rulake gaya sapna” or the sizzling dance extravaganza “Hothon pe aesi baat”,the sensual “Raat akeli hai” and the signature Dev Anand from the colour era “Yeh dil na hota bechara”- you could never miss SD!! And he used plethora of instruments to give the cult album a treat- you have trumpets and sax blowing, Guitars giving lead, along with his favourite flute and violins retaining their identities. JT was a cult album in the late 60s, and I must say, a proper response from the grand old man(he was 61, when JT released) to tose who had signed him off due to his poor health then.
Much before JT, had come Paying Guest. The old man (yes, even then, in 1957) created a new trend of conversational duets with the evergreen “Chhod do aanchal”. Melody with rhythm, sweetness with mischief and romance with fun- SD created a garland of melodies in that movie. The Kishore-Asha duet of “O nigahein mastana” had Kishore deliberately hushing up his voice in the third stanza for one line only to raise up his baritone once again in the following- a concept SD repeatedly used with KK in many songs later on ( Pyar ke is khel mein, Sa re gama, Meet na mila re man ka etc) and giving a beautiful contradiction with the Genius’ voice.
Has anyone heard the new year theme music of the album Gambler? Trust me; it would give Goosebumps to even the strongest RD fan… So modern, so well ahead of time and yet so less discussed. I paste here the link of the whole album, so that, everyone can understand that SD was equally inheriting the sense of arrangement and sound as his son.
Gambler also saw SD using Kishore Kumar in a super-contrasting mood song “Kaisa hai mera dil tu khiladi”- one of the most underrated song from the combo. Just like, no one else could have sung the song with so much justice other than Kishore, the compositional brilliance of SD is unmatched here as well. The mood switching happens throughout. And he gets traditional with Rafi with equal swiftness in “Mera man tera pyasa”- a soft romantic genre where Rafi was definitely the best. And the improvisation with “Dil aaj shayar hai” is exemplary. A ghazalish song, treated with so much of modernism, it simply changed the way sad songs were being sung in Hindi films. No over emotion, no sobbing, no melodrama- pathos expressed with dignity and yet conveyed meaningfully and passionately!
R D Burman- the Traditional:
He changed the entire gambit of Hindi Film Music in the early 70s. The foundation he had created with Teesri Manzil (1966) was enhanced further and further in the early 70s. RD happened to be the musician Modern India had been waiting for- a person who could mix melody with rhythm. A sad thing is that the next generation took inspiration only from RD’s rhythmic experimentation and very little from the amazing melodies he had given to us to spend our lifetimes.
RD was very much captivated in his experimentation till Amar Prem(1971) happened. Ironically, getting traditional was the ultimate experiment for Pancham. If Shakti Samanta- the maker of the film is to be believed, Pancham had to plead to get the assignment. Amar Prem successfully completed the trilogy of Woman centred movies by Samanta, preceded by Aradhana (1969) and Kati Patang (1970)- both musically chartbusters.
Pancham showed his grasp on Indian classical to the audience. Even if we leave out “Doli mein bithaike kahar” and “Bada natkhat hai re”- songs composed unaccredited by SD in that movie, the balance 4 were mesmerizing. RD exploited the vocal genius of Kishore like never before- a true Bhairavi (Chingari koi bhadke) with another Kalavati-Khamaj mix (Kuchh to log kahenge) and a timeless pathos (Yeh kya hua), RD, as mentioned by Ganesh Anantharaman in his book “Bollywood Melodies”, singlehandedly ended all the doubts on whether Kishore Kumar cold be a complete singer or not. And not an end yet, even if today we get a lifetime album of Lata Mangeshkar, “Raina Beeti Jaaye” can hardly be missed out. A supreme Khamaj composition with Guitar rhythm instead of traditional Tabla thekas, RD showed his mastery over rhythm and Indian classical simultaneously.
The following year-1972- saw a whole new partnership of RD-Gulzar in Hindi films. With Gulzar, Pancham delivered what he could not otherwise do in the then –on-going commercial masala flicks. And with excellent outputs in Parichay, Aandhi, Khushboo and Kinara, happened Ghar (1978). A masterpiece, to say the least, Pancham did wonders with the voices of Lata and Kishore, just like Amar Prem. Both the Lata solos- Aaj kal paaon zameen par and Tere bina jiya jaye na(a portion at the end sung by Kishore, retained in the movie but removed in the records), had Pancham utilizing the sweetness of Lata to the extreme. Both the compositions reminded us of Karta- his father, who had left for heavenly aboard three years back that time. Coming right after his Western chartbuster Hum kisise kum nahi(1977) a year before, Ghar had shocked the musical society with a Pancham punch of traditional Indian music. The duet of Kishore-Lata (Aap ki aankhon mein kuchh) and the Kishore solo(Phir wohi raat hai), excelled brilliantly in terms of singing, poetry and compositional achievement.
It seems Satyajit Ray had asked Kishore Kumar to do something about the former’s protégée Anup Ghoshal (information source: RD- the man, the music by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vithal) in Hindi film music. The request was transferred from the Big K to the Big P. The result was Masoom(1982)- in my opinion, the best experimental album of Pancham in the 80s. Yes, Lata was there for a solo but that’s all!! The whole album was done by RD with unorthodox singers like Anup Ghoshal, Aarti Mukherjee (winning a National award for a song in the movie), Suresh Wadekar, Bhupinder and children. No Kishore, no Asha, no instrumental extravaganza. RD created simple soothing melodies with maximum effect. Masoom is a underrated album of RD filled with his musical genius. Each and every song was tenderly created with utmost melodic achievement.
Not that, these are the only albums showing deviations from the Burmans’ perceived images. There have been many more modern albums from the Papa Burman(Chalti ka naam Gaadi, Aradhana, Prem Pujari, Teen Deviyan) which had absolute modern treatment, modern arrangement and orchestral genius. So did Pancham show his orthodox calibre in all the Gulzar movies and many Rajesh Khanna, Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Basu Chatterjee movies.
Both the Burmans, for me, were a boon to the music industry and carry forward a legacy which made many more people’s lives. To constrain them by labelling is not only uncalled for, but also unethical!