In the annals of Hindi film music, maestros are a plenty but no music composer has held such a sway over minds and hearts of Indians as Rahul Dev Burman. Son of equally legendary film composer Sachin Dev Burman, Rahul is a rare example of how sons of famous fathers can be just as successful and, like Pancham, as he was popularly called, stay on in public memory for much longer.
The only son of Sachin and Meena Dev Burman (Das Gupta), Pancham was born in Kolkata (then Calcutta) on June 27, 1939. Not just his father, his mother too was a singer and dancer, having studied music at Shanti Niketan. Pancham was nicknamed so because as child he would cry in the fifth degree of the musical scale.
Pancham is unique in modern Indian musical history as he stands at the crossroads of the Indian and the Western styles. While AR Rahman would take this to another level, the man to blend this seamless marriage of the east and the west was Pancham.
From late 1950s onwards, Pancham began assisting his father but it was in Chhote Nawab (1961) that he first composed music, independent of his father. While the music was appreciated, it didn’t cause major ripples in the industry. Then in 1966, came Shammi Kapoor, Asha Parekh starrer Teesri Manzil. It is said that though in the past Shankar Jaikishan were the favoured music directors for Shammi Kapoor starrers, at the behest of Majrooh Sultanpuri (also the film’s lyricist), director Nasir Hussain agreed to try out RD Burman.
Needless to say, all the songs from the film turned out to be superhits, thus giving Pancham his first hit. A lull would follow but all the time he was busy assisting his father in films with hit music such as Prem Pujari and Jewel Thief. However, after the success of Teesri Manzil, Nasir Hussain would work with Pancham in as many as six films including hits such as Baharon Ke Sapne (1967), Pyar Ka Mausam (1969) and Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973).
The best of Pancham was waiting the explode – the combination of RD Burman, Kishore Kumar, lyricist Anand Bakshi and Rajesh Khanna – would alter the music landscape completely. In fact, Pancham and Rajesh would collaborate in no less than 32 films. With hits in films like Kati Patang, Amar Prem, Namak Haraam, Aap Ki Kasam, Mere Jeevan Saathi, Mehbooba and Kudrat, the duo was an unbeatable combination.
Tune in to any FM radio in the late night slot and Pancham’s songs with dominate. A combination of melody, youthful fervour, frenetic pacing and foot-tapping rhythm meant Pancham has stayed in the hearts and minds of millions of Indians. Pancham was perhaps the first Indian musician to experiment with different genres and instruments. Think of sounds you will catch in his music – guitar, violin, santoor, sitar, cello, mandolin, tabla, dholak, bongo, chenda (percussion instrument from Kerala), pakhawaj, piano, accordion, electric organ, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet and shehnai to name a few.
Pancham was known to blend electronic rock into Indian melodies, mix disco and rock with Bangla folk music. In his music, he would bring in Latin, Oriental and Arabic music into Indian music systems with ease. What is magical about Pancham was his ability to find music in the most unmusical of things – he could make music by rubbing sandpaper, use cups and saucers to create the tinkling sound, knocking bamboo sticks or rubbing comb on rough surface, to name a few examples.
As much as Pancham was the toast of the crowds in the ’70s, come the ’80s, the downfall as just as dramatic. The films for which he composed music flopped badly at the box office. It is said that Nasir Hussain, with whom he worked in no less than 6 films, dropped him from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. Subhash Ghai promised to take him for Ram Lakhan, only to pick Laxmikant Pyarelal later.
It wasn’t as if Pancham had stopped making good music–he was on the last leg of his musical journey, creating the most amazing melodies with Gulzar. But these were considered art-house music. The mainstream music lovers had changed gears and turned to Bappi Lahiri and other disco-oriented musicians.
Pancham died of a heart attack aged only 54. He went in a flash but only after creating a splash in the pond – after his death his swan song, Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 1942 A Love Story’s music was a super hit.
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