All about RD Burman (Pancham)
RD also inspired many on-screen names! For example, in Sanjay Dutt’s launch vehicle, Rocky…the hero (played by Sanju of course) is named Rocky D’Silva (or RD)…and the villain (played by the dancing-villain Shakti Kapoor) is simply named RD. Infact some scripts have his name as part of the dialgues. Like inNafrat, Mehmood Saab tells his co-star that she worked so smoothly, it reminded him of RD Burman’s music! In Gulzar’sAchanak, hero Vinod Khanna is taunted on by his wife in the film when she says, “What an RD Burman tune are you humming”! (straight translation from Hindi). In Teri Kasam, Kumar Gaurav names his son, Pancham Baba! Plus some references in Woh Saat Din, Honeymoon Travels pvt ltd, Khwahish and Bheja Fry.
Pancham spent his first few years with his grand-mother in Calcutta. His schooling happened in the same school as Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. However, it is said that he was more into music and sports. Infact, there is a story that Sachinda was invited to be the chief Guest at Pancham’s school…in the morning, SD awarded RD for winning a cycling championship and in the evening he heard his son play an instrument. That is also when Pancham told his father that he was interested in music and has also started composing. Pancham in an 1982 Filmfare interview remembered that once he was out with his friends to watch Dev Anand’s Funtoosh and he jumped out of his seat when the song Ae meri topi palat ke aa started playing. He wrote a letter to his father “accusing” him of stealing his tune. To which Sachinda responded with a confirmation that it was indeed his son’s tune.
After a lot of arguments in the Burman household, between Sachinda and Pancham’s grand-mother, Sachinda took his son to Bombay. The boy who failed his metric exams, quit studies for good and left for Bombay to join another school, the school of music. I don’t think either the father or the son ever thought in that train journey, that this school drop-out would tomorrow be called a school in himself, an institution from which many many future generations of musicians and singers would graduate. As percussionist Nitin Shankar said once, “my school-mates chose arts or commerce or science as their subjects post 10th std, but I chose Pancham as my subject and I am still busy studying!”.
So our boy landed in Bombay. His father started his trainings under the tutelage of the likes of Pandit Samta Prasad, Ustad Akbar Ali Khan, Pandit Brijen Biswas, Annapurna Devi, etc. Pancham would complain sometimes that he never wanted to be a tabalchi or an instrument player but was interested in being a composer. But his father insisted on such trainings to grasp the sense of rhythm and Indian classical notes which he found to be of prime importance to a composer. Even today his Gurus remember Pancham as a well-mannered and courteous student who never flaunted his Sachinda connection and even at the prime of his career, never forgot to thank his teachers. In fact once, Khan Sahab was performing in Bombay and many celebrities had gathered to enjoy his music. After some time, people noticed a man sitting at the entrance of the auditorium, literally sitting on the guest’s slippers due to lack of space. When they realised it was RD Burman, they tried to get-up from their seats to make place for him only to be signalled by RD to keep sitting quietly as Khan Sahab would get disturbed!
Pancham also started helping his father in his compositions, arrangements, etc. He mainly played the mouthorgan (one example is Dev Anand’s famous song Hai apna dil to aawara). Many people claim that SD’s orchestra sounded fresh after Pancham joined him. Many also remember Pancham to be oppostite to his father in terms of personality. If SD was the king, who was feared by everyone and maintained his distance from the assistants and the musicians, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia mentions that RD was the common-man’s prince…who would mingle with everyone, eat with them, entertain them with his jokes and pranks. It is a bit obvious that such a boy would find a true friend in similar personality-type entertainer singer, Kishore Kumar.
Not many could imagine that this “naughty-boy” running around in shorts, roaming about in his cars, smoking and playing pranks making sure his father doesn’t notice, and most of the time playing games would also join films as a composer. Though I feel, amidst all this masti, Pancham was absorbing lessons from his father, and also spent the time getting exposed to and spotting talent. But all this happened so smoothly that Pancham himself was oblivious to his training and upbringing. He would compose tunes for his dad’s films (it is said that Are yaar meri tum bhi ho gazab from Teen Deviyan is a Pancham composition,plus many more like Chhod do aanchal or Aradhana/Pyaasa tracks). One thing worth mentioning here is that Pancham never took claim for contributions to his father’s music. He was cornered in many interviews to mention the tracks that he composed for his father but he refused to divulge such information. Under SD, he would also make singers practice and many times conduct the songs himself. Asha and Lata were his seniors and he used to make them rehearse. Asha even adviced Pancham to continue studies, this angered him alot!…and once she quipped when Sachinda asked Pancham to make her rehearse a track for Jewel Thief,“Would he be able to teach me?”. She cant forget that session when an angry Pancham taught her the song !! In a recently released “remix” album by Asha, she has added an SD song fromTalash called Karle pyaar karle as RD’s number.
This is also the period when Pancham made friends with or came to the notice of many actors-producers like Guru Dutt, Dev Anand, Mehmood Sab, Amjad Khan, etc. Amjad Khan knew Pancham since 1955. He went to the extent of saying in an interview given in late 80s that, “I don’t have any friends in this industry. I can only call Pancham as my friend. He is quite wierd as he would not see me for 6 months and then suddenly start calling everyday for the next 6 months. He would call me and say “Ask your begum to make biryani for me, I will come tonight” but in the evening would send his driver with a note, “Sahab said he cant come, but please send the biryani” !! No wonder Amjad Khan called him Ghoncu. I have heard that Kachin’s (unofficial costumes designer for films) in Bandra, Mumbai had two grandsize chairs for Amjad Khan and Pancham as they used to visit the shop together.
Today when people remember Pancham, they remember him as a great musician (about which we are yet to discuss in detail) and a greater human being (a flavour of which you would have got from this post).
Guru Dutt noticed Pancham’s work in Pyaasa and offered him a film called Raaz in 1958. Pancham was to be launched by none other than Guru Dutt himself!! However the film got shelved though a few songs had already been composed. Then came his actor friend Mehmood….but debut of our man into films is for another post!