Rahul Dev Burman (27 June 1939 – 4 January 1994) was an Indian music director. From the 1960s to the 1990s, Burman composed musical scores for 331 films. Burman did major work with his wife, Asha Bhosle, and Kishore Kumar and scored many of the songs that made these singers famous. He has also scored many songs sung by his sister-in-law, Lata Mangeshkar. Nicknamed Pancham, he was the only son of the composer Sachin Dev Burman.
He was mainly active in the Hindi film industry as a composer, and also provided vocals for a few compositions. He served as an influence to the next generation of Indian music directors, and his songs continue to be popular in India and overseas.
Burman was born to the Bollywood composer and singer, Sachin Dev Burman, and his lyricist wife Meera Dev Burman (née Dasgupta), in Calcutta. Initially, he was nicknamed Tublu by his maternal grandmother, although he later became known by the nickname Pancham. According to some stories, he was nicknamed Pancham because, as a child, whenever he cried, it sounded in the fifth note (Pa), G scale, of music notation. The word Pancham means five (or fifth) in Bengali, his mother tongue. Another theory says that the baby was nicknamed Pancham because he could cry in five different notes. Yet another version is that when the veteran Indian actor Ashok Kumar saw a newborn Rahul uttering the syllable Pa repeatedly, he nicknamed the boy Pancham.
Burman received his early education in West Bengal. His father S. D. Burman was a noted music director in Bollywood, the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry. When he was nine years old, R. D. Burman composed his first song, Aye meri topi palat ke aa, which his father used in the film Funtoosh (1956). The tune of the song Sar jo tera chakraaye was also composed by him as a child; his father included it in the soundtrack of Guru Dutt‘s Pyaasa (1957).
In Mumbai, Burman was trained by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (sarod) and Samta Prasad (tabla). He also considered Salil Chowdhury his guru. He served as an assistant to his father, and often played harmonica in his orchestras.
Some of the notable films in which Burman is credited as the music assistant include Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963), Bandini (1963), Ziddi (1964), Guide (1965) and Teen Devian (1965). Burman also played mouth organ for his father’s hit composition “Hai Apna Dil To Aawara”, which was featured in the film Solva Saal, and sung by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay.
In 1959, Burman signed up as a music director for the film Raaz, directed by Guru Dutt‘s assistant Niranjan. However, the film was never completed. The lyrics of this Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman-starrer film were written by Shailendra. Burman recorded two songs for the film before it was shelved. The first song was sung by Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhosle, and the second one had vocals by Shamshad Begum.
Burman’s first released film as an independent music director was Chhote Nawab (1961). When the noted Bollywood comedian Mehmood decided to produce Chhote Nawab, he first approached Burman’s father Sachin Dev Burman for the music. However, S. D. Burman declined the offer, advising he was unavailable. At this meeting, Mehmood noticed Rahul playing tabla, and signed him as the music director for Chhote Nawab. Burman later developed a close association with Mehmood, and made a cameo in Mehmood’s Bhoot Bangla (1965).
Burman’s first hit film as a film music director was Teesri Manzil (1966). Burman gave credit to lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri for recommending him to Nasir Hussain, the producer and writer of the film. Vijay Anand also said that he had arranged a music session for Burman before Nasir Hussain. Teesri Manzil had six songs, all of which were written by Majrooh Sultanpuri, and sung by Mohammed Rafi. Four of these were duets with Asha Bhosle, whom Burman later married. Nasir Hussain went on to sign Burman and lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri for six of his films including Baharon Ke Sapne (1967), Pyar Ka Mausam (1969) and Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973). Burman’s score for Padosan (1968) was well received. Meanwhile, he continued to work as his father’s assistant for films including Jewel Thief (1967) and Prem Pujari (1970).
The Kishore Kumar hit song “Mere Sapno Ki Rani” from Aradhana (1969), though credited to his father, is rumoured to have been Burman’s composition. “Kora Kagaz tha Yeh Man Mera” from the same film was also his tune. It is believed that when S. D. Burman fell ill during the recording of the film’s music, Burman took over and completed the music. He was credited as an associate composer for the film.
Burman’s first wife was Rita Patel, whom he had met in Darjeeling. Rita, a fan, had bet her friends that she would be able to get a film-date with Burman. The two married in 1966, and divorced in 1971. The song Musafir Hoon Yaaron (“I’m a Traveller”) from Parichay (1972) was composed by him, when he was at a hotel after the separation.
Burman married Asha Bhosle in 1980. Together, they recorded many hit songs and also staged many live performances. However, towards the end of his life, they did not live together. Burman had financial difficulties, particularly later in his life. His mother Meera died in 2007, thirteen years after his death. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s even before her son’s death. Just before her death she had been moved to an old age home, and moved back to her son’s residence after the issue became a controversy.
Rise to popularity
In the 1970s, Burman became highly popular with the Kishore Kumar songs in Rajesh Khanna-starrer films. Kati Patang (1970), a musical hit, was the beginning of a series of the 1970s films directed by Shakti Samanta of Aradhana fame. Its songs “Yeh Shaam Mastani” and “Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai”, sung by Kishore Kumar, became instant hits. Apart from Kishore Kumar, Burman also composed several of the popular songs sung by Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar.
In 1970, Burman composed the music for Dev Anand‘s Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971). The Asha Bhosle song “Dum Maro Dum” from this film proved to be a seminal rock number in Hindi film music. The filmmaker Dev Anand did not include the complete version of “Dum Maro Dum” in the film, because he was worried that the song would overshadow the film. In the same year, Burman composed the music for Amar Prem. The Lata Mangeshkar song “Raina Beeti Jaaye” from this soundtrack is regarded as a classical music gem in Hindi film music. Burman’s other hits in 1971 included the romantic song “Raat kali ek khwab mein” from Buddha Mil Gaya and the Helen-starrer cabaret song “Piya Tu Ab To Aaja” from Caravan. He received his first Filmfare Award nomination for Caravan.
In 1972, Burman composed music for several films, including Seeta Aur Geeta, Rampur Ka Lakshman, Mere Jeevan Saathi, Bombay To Goa, Apna Desh and Parichay. His success continued with hits such as Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973), Aap Ki Kasam (1974), Sholay (1975) and Aandhi (1975). He also composed a song for a small documentary film called Maa Ki Pukaar, in 1975. After his father S. D. Burman went into coma, Burman also completed the music of Mili (1975).
Mohammed Rafi received the National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer for the song “Kya Hua Tera Wada” from Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977), composed by Burman. He continued to compose several popular songs for films such as Kasme Vaade (1978), Ghar (1978), Gol Maal (1979) and Khubsoorat (1980). He received his first Filmfare Best Music Director Award for Sanam Teri Kasam (1981). In 1981, he also composed hit music for Rocky, Satte Pe Satta and Love Story.
Abhijeet was given his major break by Burman in Anand Aur Anand (1984). Although he made his debut a long time ago, Hariharan was first noticed in a duet with Kavita Krishnamurthy in Hai Mubarak Aaj ka Din from Boxer (1984), which was composed by Burman. In 1985, Mohammed Aziz made his debut with Shiva Ka Insaaf (1985) under Burman.
The trio Rajesh Khanna-Kishore-R.D.Burman have worked together in 32 films together, and these films and songs continue to be popular. The trio were close friends. R.D.Burman composed for 40 films for Rajesh Khanna.
During the late 1980s, he was overshadowed by Bappi Lahiri and other disco music composers. Many filmmakers stopped patronizing him, as films featuring his compositions flopped at the box office one after the other. Nasir Hussain, who had signed him up for every single one of his productions since Teesri Manzil (1966), did not sign him up for Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988). Hussain defended Burman in the press, saying that the latter did not give weak music in Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai (1982) and Manzil Manzil (1984). He also said that the composer was going through a lean phase during the recording of Zabardast (1985). But after these three films flopped, Hussain stepped down as a director, and his son and successor Mansoor Khan switched to other composers. The filmmaker Subhash Ghai promised Burman Ram Lakhan (1989), but gave it instead to Laxmikant-Pyarelal, who had earlier played in Burman’s orchestra.
In 1986, Burman composed songs for Ijaazat; the score is regarded as one of his best. However, the film belonged to the Parallel Cinema genre of (art films), so it did not stop the decline of Burman’s commercial film career. All four songs in Ijaazat were sung by Asha Bhosle and written by Gulzar. Burman was greatly appreciated by the critics for setting the non-rhyming lyrics of the song “Mera Kuchh Saamaan” to music. While both Asha Bhosle (Best Female Playback) and Gulzar (Best Lyrics) received National Awards for the score, Burman received none. Burman suffered from a heart attack in 1988, and underwent heart bypass surgery a year later at The Princess Grace Hospital in London. During this period, he composed many tunes, which were never released. He composed music for Vidhu Vinod Chopra‘s film Parinda in 1989. He composed one song called “Chhod Ke Na Jaana” which was sung by Asha Bhosle for the film Gang. But since the film took too long to release and due to his untimely death, director Mazhar Khan signed in the then little known Anu Malik for the music of the film. Thenmavin Kombath, a Malayalam film by Priyadarshan was the last film he signed, but he died before he could score for the film. The music of 1942: A Love Story (1994) was released after his death, and was highly successful. It posthumously won him the third and last of his Filmfare Awards. As per Lata Mangeshkar, he died too young and unhappy.
Burman has been credited with revolutionizing Bollywood music. He incorporated a wide range of influences from several genres in his scores. Burman’s career coincided with the rise of Rajesh Khanna-starrer youth love stories. He made electronic rock popular in these popular love stories. He often mixed disco and rock elements with Bengali folk music. He also used jazz elements, which had been introduced to him by the studio pianist Kersi Lord.
According to Douglas Wolk, Burman “wrapped sugary string swoops around as many ideas as he could squeeze in at once”. Biswarup Sen describes his popular music as one featuring multicultural influences, and characterized by “frenetic pacing, youthful exuberance and upbeat rhythms”.
Burman was influenced by Western, Latin, Oriental and Arabic music, and incorporated elements from these in his own music. He also experimented with different musical sounds produced from methods such as rubbing sandpaper and knocking bamboo sticks together. He blew into beer bottles to produce the opening beats of “Mehbooba, Mehbooba”. Similarly, he used cups and saucers to create the tinkling sound for the song “Chura Liya Hai” from the film Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973). For Satte Pe Satta (1982), he made the singer Annette Pinto gargle to produce a background sound. He also rubbed a comb on a rough surface to produce a whooshing sound in the song “Meri Samne Wali Khidki Main” from the film Padosan (1968)
On multiple occasions, Burman experimented with recording the same song with different singers. For Kudrat (1981), he recorded the light version of the song “Hume tumse pyar kitna” in the voice of Kishore Kumar, while the classical version was recorded in the voice of Parveen Sultana.
Burman sometimes used Western dance music as a source of inspiration for his compositions. As was common in Bollywood, some of his songs featured the tunes of popular foreign songs. Often, the filmmakers forced him to copy these tunes for the soundtracks, resulting in allegations of plagiarism. For example, Ramesh Sippy insisted that the tune of the traditional Cyprus song “Say You Love Me” (arranged and sung by Demis Roussos) be used for “Mehbooba Mehbooba” (Sholay, 1975), and Nasir Hussain wanted to use ABBA‘s “Mamma Mia” for Mil gaya hum ko sathi. Other examples of Burman songs inspired by foreign songs including “Aao twist karein” from Bhoot Bangla (Chubby Checker‘s “Let’s twist again”), “Tumse milke” (Leo Sayer‘s “When I Need You“), and “Zindagi milke bitaayenge” (Paul Anka‘s “The Longest Day”) and “Jahan teri yeh nazar hai” (Persian artist Zia Atabi’s “Heleh maali”) and “Dilbar mere” (Alexandra‘s “Zigeunerjunge”).
Burman often collaborated with the same film directors and worked with the same musicians.
- Guitar: Bhanu Gupta, Ramesh Iyer, Dilip Naik, Sunil Kaushik, Bonny D’Costa, RK Das, Gorakh Sharma, Soumitra Chatterjee, Bhupinder Singh, Anibal Castro, Binoy Singh
- Lap Steel Guitar: Bhupinder Singh
- Bass Guitar: Tony Vaz, Charanjit Singh, Ramesh Iyer, Raju Singh, Gorakh Sharma, Emil Isaac
- Santoor: Shiv Kumar Sharma, Ulhas Bapat
- Sarangi: Sultan Khan, Iqbal Khan
- Sarod: Zarine Daruwalla
- Sitar: Kartik Kumar, Arvind Mayekar, J.V Acharya
- Tar Shehnai: Dakshina Mohan Tagore
- Song Violin: Gajanan Karnad, Sapre, Prabhakar Jog, Harishchandra Narwekar
- Violin: Rajendra Singh Sodha, Nanekar, Nandu Chavathe, Uttam Singh, Ernest Menezes, Jerry Fernandes, Dorado, Ganesh Sharma, Bablu Chakraborty, Narbade, Puranmohan Singh, Buddhadev Singh, Bahadur Singh, Kishoresingh Jawda, Ashok Jagtap, Surendra Singh, Neville Franco
- Cello: Basudev Chakraborty
- Swarolin: Rajendra Sodha
- Mandolin: Kishore Desai, Ravi Sundaram, Mustafa Sajjad, Pradipto Sengupta, Shailu Sundaram, Mahendra Bhavsar, Arvind Haldipur
- Bulbul Tarang: Rashid Khan
- Tabla: Devichand Chauhan, Shashikant Kudalkar, Amrutrao Katkar, Homi Mullan, Chandrakant Satnak, Deepak Naik, Indranath Mukherjee, Vijay Katkar, Nitin Shankar, Iqbal, Janardan Abhyankar, Bhavani Shankar, Marutirao Keer, Pt. Samta Prasad (the ‘Sholay’ chase scene background track)
- Dholak: Shashikant Kudalkar, UK Dubey, Iqbal, Roshan
- Drums: Buji Lord, Franco Vaz, Leslie Godinho, Wency D’Souza, Trilok Gurtu
- Bongo: Cawas Lord, Manya Barwe
- Congas: Babla, Ravi Gurtu, Nitin Shankar, Manya Barve
- Bangla Dhol: Abani Das Gupta
- Halgi / Dhol / Chenda: Ganpatrao Jadhav
- Tabla Tarang & Jal Tarang: Janardan Abhyankar
- Matka: Indra Atma
- Mridangam: Jairaman
- Madal: Ranjit Gazmer (Kancha), Homi Mullan
- Pakhawaj: Bhavani Shankar
- Octapad: Nitin Shankar
- Piano: Louis Banks, Mike Machado, Lucille Pacheco
- Synthesizer: Louis Banks, Kersi Lord, Ronnie Monsorate, Vipin Reshammiya ,Jackie Vanjari
- Transicord: Charanjit Singh
- Accordion: Kersi Lord, K. Bharat, Suraj Sathe, Homi Mullan , Jackie Vanjari
- Electric Organ: Ronnie Monsorate
Several Hindi films made after Burman’s death contain his original songs or their remixed versions. Dil Vil Pyar Vyar (2002), which contains several re-arranged hit songs of Burman, was made as a tribute to him. Jhankaar Beats (2003), which catapulted the music director duo Vishal-Shekhar into the limelight, is also a tribute to him. In Khwahish (2003), Mallika Sherawat‘s character is a Burman fan; the film features repeated references to him. In 2010, Brahmanand Singh released a 113-minute documentary titled Pancham Unmixed: Mujhe Chalte Jaana Hai, which received critical acclaim. The music of Lootera (2013) is a tribute to Burman. Other films which credit R. D. Burman include Gang (2000) and Monsoon Wedding (2001), for Chura liya hai.
A number of Indian remix albums feature Burman’s songs, which are also popular in the country’s pubs and discos. Several of his compositions were re-mixed by the South Asian DJs in the United Kingdom and North America, and feature in popular albums such as Bally Sagoo‘s Bollywood Flashback. Kronos Quartet‘s You’ve Stolen My Heart (2005) contains Burman’s compositions sung by his wife Asha Bhosle. In the 2012 film Khiladi 786, Himesh Reshammiya-composed song Balma is also a tribute to R.D. Burman.
In 1995, Filmfare Awards constituted the Filmfare RD Burman Award for New Music Talent in his memory. The award is given to upcoming music talent in Hindi cinema. In 2009, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation named a public square in Santa Cruz after Burman.
Burman inspired many later Bollywood music composers, such as Vishal-Shekhar. Jatin-Lalit are considered to have carried on Burman’s legacy through the 1990s. Notable musical assistants to Burman include Manohari Singh and Sapan Chakraborty. His instrumentalists included Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Louis Banks, Bhupinder and Kersy Lord. He is also noted for his partnership with the lyricist Gulzar, who wrote the words for several of his finest compositions.
Pancham Unmixed, a winner of 2 National Awards, is a 113-minute biopic on Burman, directed by Brahmanand Singh. A postage stamp, bearing Burman’s likeness was released by India Post to honour him on 3 May 2013.
Out of Burman’s 331 released film scores, 292 were in Hindi, 31 in Bengali, 3 in Telugu, 2 each in Tamil and Oriya, and 1 in Marathi. Burman also composed for 5 TV Serials in Hindi and Marathi.
Pancham’s non-film music comprises a few albums, including Pantera (1987), a Latin Rock album produced by Pete Gavankar (father of Janina Gavankar). The album was an international collaboration, for which Burman partnered with Jose Flores in San Francisco. In 1987, Burman, Gulzar and Asha Bhosle worked on an album titled Dil Padosi Hai, which was released on 8 September 1987, Asha Bhosle’s birthday. Burman and Asha Bhosle also recorded the song “Bow Down Mister” with Boy George. In addition, he scored a large number of non-film songs in Bengali, which are available in different albums, and from which many numbers were later adapted in Hindi films. Burman also did playback singing in eighteen films for which he himself composed the scores.
Awards and recognitions
Burman on a 2013 stamp of India
Though Burman laid the foundation for numerous Bollywood music directors to pave the path for the future of music in Bollywood cinema, he was awarded a total of only three Filmfare Awards, one of which was awarded posthumously (for 1942: A Love Story).
- Google Doodle
- On the anniversary of his 77th birthday on 27 June 2016, Google had a Doodle of R.D Burman on its Indian Home Page.
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