LoRD of the Melodies: A tribute to R. D. Burman

Thought of the day – Pancham!

At my home, it's a sacrilege to think anything else today. Like thousands of others, I am a die-hard, completely crazy, jabra fan of the Great R. D. Burman. 

Expressing any opinion on a legend of Pancham's magnitude is surely a daunting task. However, it's my fervent love for the maestro that gives me the courage to pay my humble tribute to him. It is extremely difficult to compile a list of my most favorite R. D. numbers. There are too many different reasons to love his compositions, with each one bringing its own distinct flavor to the plate! However, here is a list of my all-time go-to songs –

  1. Katra katra (Ijazat) – This twin-track cult classic is my hands-down favorite. The composition, the mood, the melody..it's got to be the last word in romance. And the genius of Gulzar's words! Can you express your longing for unrequited love in a more lyrical way? I think not. 

  2. Chhoti si kahani se (Ijazat) – Another R.D./Gulzar magic that keeps me spellbound even after all these years. 

  3. Do naina aur ek kahani (Masoom) – Arati Mukherjee won the Filmfare award in the Best Female Playback Singer category for this one. Small wonder – right?

  4. Mere dil se yeh nain (Zehreela Insaan) – In this less-popular but an incredibly romantic duet, Pancham uses the slightly nasal bass of Shailendra Singh's voice and offsets it against the clear, silvery soprano of Lata Mangeshkar to strike the perfect contrast.

  5. Aisa sama na hota (Zameen Asmaan) – How the opening bars of the flute melts into the constant 'zhik zhik zhik zhik' rhythm in the background of this eternal love song!  

  6. Ab jo mile hai to (Caravan) – Oh! The sultriness, the allure of this number! The way it changes the mood from the bewitching temptation in Asha Bhonsle's voice to the mournful yearning that only Lata Mangeshkar can create.

  7. Do nainon mein ansu bhare hai (Khushboo) – The imagery of pathos that this song evokes - of sleepless nights, tired eyes that have done their crying... If you haven't identified with this song at least once in your life, then you haven't really felt the melancholia of love.

  8. Phir wohi raat hai (Ghar) - This beautiful composition creates an atmosphere heavy with understated passion - not expressed openly with exuberant gestures, but with that deep, subtle understanding that a long bond creates.   

  9. O hansini (Zehreela Insaan) – This lilting melody starts on an almost haunting note. A bewitching composition with an equally marvelous background score. 

  10. Chand chura ke laya hoon (Devata) – The simple, playful beat of this catchy melody reminds me of the innocent naughtiness of a teenage crush! It's the perfect mood lifter to set the foot tapping.


But there's so much more to Pancham than just these numbers! Think cult classics like 'piya tu ab toh aa ja' (the last word in cabaret); 'mehbooba mehbooba' (did you know that it's originally the Greek song 'Ta Rialia' sung by Michalis Violaris); the flirty 'chura liya' (that unforgettable spoon clinking on glass effect!), the incredible range of 'chand mera dil' series; the 'yeh laal rang' (an invariable accompaniment to broken hearts and the resultant empty bottles); 'hum dono do premi' and 'Dhanno ki ankhon mein' (two completely different renditions of the vivacious rhythm created by the tempo of a moving train); 'botal se ek baat' (ah! That hollow sound cunningly made by a bottle whisperer)… I can simply go on and on!


Pancham's talent for creating music came as effortlessly as breathing. He instinctively knew how to use instruments (not only musical ones but often objects as mundane as school desks, glass bottles, combs, and even his music assistant Maruti Rao's back!), breathing patterns (think 'duniya mein logon ko'), different eclectic genres of music, to form a perfect harmony – one that served the simple purpose of creating unforgettable melodies.


There are so many anecdotes, trivia, and discussions around the legend, that it is impossible to encompass it in a few words. However, there is one area that I feel is somewhat less talked about, and this is about the fantastic songs that the maestro produced in the '80s which had gone relatively unnoticed because of the movies not doing well in the box office. Remember 'maine puchha chand se' (Abdullah), 'kisi ki sadayen' (Red Rose), 'Bindiya tarse' (Phir Wohi Raat), 'Yeh rut hai haseen' (Harjaee), 'Shikwa koi tumse' (Dhan Daulat), 'Kahin na ja, aj kahin mat ja' (Bade Dil Wala), 'Roz roz ankhon tale' (Jeeva), the melodies of 'Ghungroo ki Awaz', 'Manzil Manzil', 'Anand aur Anand', 'Sitamgar' – each of these were incredible compositions that are generally classified now as the 'rare' Pancham hits. If you are not so familiar with them, then please listen to these numbers. Each one of them is a gem that deserves an ovation.


Yet another of Pancham's haunting melodies comes to mind -

“Raah pe rahte hein,

yaadon mein basar karte hain

khush raho ahal-e-watan

hum to safar karte hain”


We hope that your musical safar has taken you to a place of eternal harmony. 


Happy birthday, Pancham.