S D Burman – Melody Moghul
He was, without a doubt. a musical colossus of his times who unflinchingly held his own, even in the face of formidable competition and at all times emerged a winner. And in my opinion, no one has scored better duets than Dada in our film history.
Sachin Dev Burman (01-Oct-1906 – 31-Oct-1975), Scion of a princely family who armed with a profuse heritage of folk music left his native Calcutta to make it to the Bombay marquee.
The gaunt ascetic-looking maestro who hit the scene with Filmistan’s Shikari (1946), stayed on for 30 years to delight music lovers with his dulcet compositions.
Note: Please click on highlighted song titles for YouTube links.
Mention Burman and a veritable assortment of songs leaps to the mind. Despite the diversity however, the hallmark of a Burman composition was its utter sweetness.
Shorn of ornate orchestration and unnecessary complexities. his songs were soothing to the senses and highly evocative (“The orchestra exists to help the singer and not vice versa” he would often say). Burman’s prime-time compositions like Phaili hui hain sapnon ki baahen (House No. 44), Khoya Khoya chand (Kala Bazaar), Thandi hawayen (Naujawan), Kaali ghata chhaye (Sujata), Kahin bekhayal hokar (Teen Deviyan) and Apni to har aah (Kala Bazaar) are manna to any music aficionado’s ears.
But even his last and near-forgotten numbers bear his distinctive stamp of mellifluousness; recall 0 Mere bairagi bhanwara (Ishq Par Zor Nahin), Piya sang khelo holi (Phagun), Bola preetam (Arjun Pandit), Hum tum tum hum (Tyaag) or Aye mere man main hoon magan (Us Paar). His compositions to the very end were achingly sweet.
Age apparently did not take its toll of the man. His music remained spring-fresh youthful exuding immense joie de vivre. Burmanda moved with the times and adopted the pep of the younger generation without taking on its crassness. Dev Anand did not tire of remarking how at the ripe age of 62, Dada came up with such numbers in Jewel Thief as would put the youngest music directors to shame.
This vitality emanated from his very persona, the antithesis of the popular concept of the languishing ‘sensitive artist‘, here was a man who brimmed over with life. A die-hard sports enthusiast, he was fond of tennis and fishing and like any true-blue Bengali, crazy about football who lustily cheered his team by attending their matches. Raju Bharatan, “Take the interlude music following Piya tose naina Iaage re – (Guide) Dada‘s baton comes down with the flourish of a tennis racket.”
Burman’s verve was coupled with a certain restlessness, “l never sit down at the harmonium to compose,” he had once said, “my best tunes have come to me in a flash, invariably when l have been out at sea or on a long walk or drive. I was out angling with no catch when came the tune idea of ‘Tum najaane kisjahan mein kho gaye’ (Sazaa). Once, gazing out of the window on a moonlit night I got the tune for ‘Yeh raat yeh chaandni’ (Jaal). Out on a spin one morning, I heard a sound which found expression as Jaane kya tune kahee (Pyaasa). Meera was humming something on a drive and I got the idea for Aaj ko junli raat ma (Talash). Other such flash tunes are Mora gora ang Iai Ie (Bandini), Rangila re (Prem Pujari) and Khayi hai re humne kasam (Talash). One day I lost my way on a walk and that gave me Jaayen to jaayen kahan (Taxi Driver).”
However many Burman compositions were also born within the prosaic confines of four walls and none the worse for it. Vijay Anand, “His method of composing was unique. Eyes tightly shut he would first set the rhythm which was paramount. Then he’d rise as if in a trance and walk towards the wall humming a tentative tune. ‘How do you like the sound of this?’ he would say half to himself and come back to the harmonium to try out the notations, eyes still closed. One of the loveliest songs from Kala Bazaar took shape in this way. Shailendra, Dev, Dada and l were all gathered at Dada’s bungalow. The air was resounding with the strains of Dada’s harmonium. Shailendra, after listening attentively to the tune went up to the terrace. It was a misty, moonless night and he came down with his opening lines, recited them and Dada finalised the tune. Khoya Khoya chand was born this way, the entire process of creativity visible”.
With the soul of a poet and perhaps not wanting to throw away his beautiful melodies on doggerel, Dada paid a lot of attention to the lyrics. Not proficient in Hindi, he insisted on understanding the meaning behind the lyrics which inspired him. The intent was important.
Vijay Anand, “Sometimes to facilitate the singing of a tune which he had just composed. I would suggest makeshift mukhdas, and if he took a fancy to them he would insist that the lyricist incorporate them into his poem. For Tere Mere Sapne, it began with the words Jeevan kl bagiyan. And I impulsively added ‘Mehkegi…Iehkegi…chehkegi to fit the tune. A delighted Dada cajoled Neeraj into retaining the words in the final song.”
Both Jaidev and Vljay Anand speak of the firm grasp that SD had over the language of cinema. He had a very definite idea of what a song would eventually look like on screen and he’d set it to music accordingly. Often, he would get upset at the way certain songs of his were picturised – like Phoolon ke rang se (Prem Pujari) when he grumbled, “Dekho Dev ne kya bana diya mere gaane ko.”
He would also ponder over the mood of a number, find out who the onscreen artiste was and then choose his playback singer. So it not coincidental that singers such as Hemant Kumar, Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar all suited Dev Anand perfectly when singing under Burman’s baton? That Asha Bhonsle sounded so incredibly like Madhubala in the Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (Haal kaisa hai janaab ka) and Insaan Jaag Utha (Baat badhti gayi) songs? Being a singer himself, he would express how exactly he wanted a particular song rendered and demonstrate it, expressions and all whether the number was for Vyjantimala, Helen or Guru Dutt.
As a singer too, Dada was peerless. The full-throated poignancy of that voice never failed to strike an answering chord. and though it didn’t send him zooming up the popularity charts, it won him many ardent admirers. He gave many leading playback singers the styles for which they became famous. Asha Bhonsle was a rather crude singer before Burman’s tutelage and he also gave Mohammed Rafi his soft crooning style in songs like DiI ka bhanwar kare pukar (Tere Ghar Ke Saamne). Before this, Rafi was normally asked to render his songs in a high pitch.
This multifarious genius also had a stunning range and neatly escaped being rubber stamped. With equal effortlessness, he could come up with a seductive Raat akeli hal (Jewel Thief), a classical Naache man mora (Teri Soorat Meri Aankhen), a breezy Chhod do aanchal (Paying Guest) or a sombre Yeh dunlya agar mil (Pyaasa).
His real forte though was folk music; particularly of Bengal which he used liberally in songs like Wahan kaun hai tera (Guide) and Sun mere bandhu re (Bandini). Call it instinct or idiosyncrasy or a genuine consideration for the taste of the masses, contrary to his contemporaries, he believed that classical music was not really meant for the medium of cinema. He would say, “I don’t have to make use of the film medium to display my knowledge. I’ll give stage performances with all the great ustads if have to prove myself.”
But whenever Burman did condescend to give the plebians a glimpse of his ‘knowledge’ it was a treat: songs like ‘Jhan jhan payal baje (Buzdil), Pawan diwani (Dr. Vidya), Mose chhal kiye jaay (Guide) which stand up to the efforts of the best music directors with classical leanings.
His fearlessness also led him to experiment. He would not hesitate in the most radical transformation of types. ‘Tadbeer se bigdi hui’ (Baazi) was a ghazal but he gave it a western tune. Again, the tune of ‘Na main dhan chaahoon’ (Kala Bazaar) was originally that of a ghazal–Burman. with a slight modification incorporated the words of a bhajan and the end result was far from incongruous. Thus he began various musical trends – Baazi ushered in an era of ‘serious’ lyrics set to western music: films like Nau Do Gyaarah and Paying Guest heralded songs that were more romantic dialogue than anything else. The colloquialism of Majrooh and the uncomplicated snappy tunes of Burman were the perfect mix – delightful numbers like Aaja panchhl akela hal, Kali ke roop mein and Aankhon mein kyaji? (Nau Do Gyaarah) were the result.
Perhaps the best thing about SD was that he was a perfectionist to the core. Not for him making money at the cost of music; mediocrity was something unpalatable. Vijay Anand, “He never took on too many films at a time because it would affect the quality of his compositions. And he did not want that under any circumstances. He would allot a month or two to one director at a time so that he could devote himself to his film totally—this is one of the reasons why he gave such beautiful music. For some songs in Jewel Thief, he insisted on a particular dhol from Sikkim – (Hothon pe aisi baat) only when it arrived did he begin composing.”
Dev Anand, “For almost every song that he composed, he would have two alternative tunes. Sometimes we rejected his songs even after the recordings but he took it all in his stride. Like there was one particular ghazal in Guide which we had recorded but did not really satisfy either Goldie or me. So that very night at 12 p.m we went to Dada’s house and hesitantly told him so. He did not take offence. All he said was, ‘let me think it over.’ Early next moring, he came to our place, went straight to the harmonium and within five minutes, ‘Din dhal jaye’ was composed.”
An artist first and foremost, he was never interested in the rat race. With not a business bone in his body, he even at the height of his popularity charged Rs.75,000/- per film when Shankar Jaikishan were charging 3 lakhs. Vijay Anand, “Once he called me and said he had decided to hike his price. I was very amused and replied, ‘Of course Dada, whatever you wish for’ at which he beamed childlike and said, ‘Then, I am going to charge Rs.5,000/ more. Such was his naiveté.”
Whether it is mood music (Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool), or subject scoring (Devdas, Bandini), or the folk base (Shabnam, Apna Haath Jagannath) or the light classical (Meri Surat Teri Ankhen, Kaise Kahoon), or the western motif (Taxi Driver, Jewel Thief) or sheer ‘amusical’ stuff (Funtoosh, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Aradhna) or song and dance (Bahar, Guide), Dada had a bountiful baton ready for it all.
And, with his fine sense of composition, Dada also got the best out of each voice on record, as Suraiya (Man mor huwa matwala: ‘Afsar’) , Shamshad (Saiyan dil mein aana re: ‘Bahar’), Manna (Tere naina talaash karen: ‘Talaash’), Asha (O Panchi pyaare: ‘Bandini’), Talat (Jalte hain jiske liya: ‘Sujata’), Lata (Pyar bhare dhadkanon: ‘Angarey’), Hemant (Teri duniya mein: ‘House No. 44’), Rafi (Manzil ki chah mein: ‘Devdas’), Geeta (Waqt ne kiya: ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’), Mukesh (Chal ri sajni: ‘Bambai Ka Babu’), Kishore (Dhole tu aaj apne : ‘Apna Haath Jagannath’), Suman (Chhodo chhodo mori baiyan: ‘Miya Bibi Razi’) and last but not least, S. D. Burman himself (O re maajhi: ‘Bandini’).
Remembering Dada and a career nonpareil which ended on 31 Oct 1975. He was 69.