Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022
Book Extract

The Wizard Of Music

On the 39th death death anniversary of Sachin Dev Burman (October 1, 1906 to October 31, 1975), a look back at the last three years of the maestro's life

The Wizard Of Music
The Wizard Of Music
S.D. Burman: The World of his Music
By Khagesh Dev Burman
Rs 295 / 291 PP Rupa Publications

[By 1973] age had begun to impact Sachin's health adversely. He somehow managed to continue working with his indomitable mental strength. Music was his life and he continued working tirelessly in pursuit of his muse. The result was the release of four films in 1973 with him as the music director—Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Abhimaan, Vijay Anand's Chhupa Rustam, Pramod Chakrabarty's Jugnu and Rajendra Singh Bedi's Phagun....

In Abhimaan, Sachin achieved a perfect blend of music that was both artistically and commercially successful, superimposing a popular tune on a classical base. Above all, the engrossing rapture created by the flute fills the mind with the soft glow of moonlight. Lata sang three songs, 'Nadiya Kinare', 'Ab to hai tumse', and 'Piya bina piya bina' for this film. All are unforgettable melodies. Who else but Lata, with her divine voice, could have been chosen to sing the songs which were meant to overshadow the hero's voice? Whatever it may be, whatever might have happened on screen, the melody of Kishore's solo, 'Meet na mila re man ka' was unforgettable.

Then there are the duets—the effervescence of Lata and Rafi's 'Teri bindiya re' and the poignancy of Kishore and Lata's memorable 'Tere mere milan ki' based on the classic Tagore song 'Jodi tere nai chini go'


Suffice it to say that even thirty-eight years later they remain the benchmark against which duets are measured. In one fell stroke, at an age when people retire from active life and rest on their laurels, Sachin Dev vanquished his competitors once again with his only ammunition—the classico-modern song.

More importantly, Sachin Dev Burman's continuous experimentation shattered existing systems and customs of the world of Hindi film music. We have already talked about how he breached the 'tune first, lyrics next' convention. Let me now turn to another custom that still held firm. It had been the custom in Hindi films that only one playback singer would play for the hero in one particular film—Mukesh for Raj Kapoor, Kishore for Rajesh Khanna, Mohammad Rafi for Shammi Kapoor and Dilip Kumar. Sachin broke this convention right at the beginning. In many of his films, he made the same artist lip-sync to the voice of several singers in the same film. He was never concerned with which playback singer's voice matches the hero's. He used to decide his singers (both male and female) depending upon the situation of the film and the mood of the song. In Abhimaan, Kishore and Rafi sang for Amitabh; likewise, in Manzil, Rafi and Manna Dey sang for Dev Anand. In Sagina, Dilip Kumar lip-synced for Kishore. Given the strong support the custom had in those days, Sachin's experiment was nothing short of miraculous.


Continuing with the tradition of popular music for films starring Dev Anand, Chhupa Rustam had a string of peppy numbers. Ever since Aradhana, Kishore had not only become a constant in Sachin's plan of things, he was also the reigning king of playback in the world of Hindi films.

Unsurprisingly then, it was Kishore all over in Chhupa Rustam, in his trademark fun avatar with songs like 'Dhire se jana khatiyan mein' (echoing Sachin's Bengali hit 'Nishite jeiyo phulabatie re bhramara'), 'Hum chhupe rustam hain', and the tap-beat-inspired duet with Asha 'jo main hota ek tuta taaj', Another romantic song by Kishore and Lata was also highly popular: 'Bolo kya humko dogey'. Then there was Asha rendering a vampish number, 'janu main jale mera dil.'


Though Sachin was nearing his seventieth year, the youthful fire in his heart seemed to be burning brighter as is evident in the sprightly numbers he composed for Jugnu in the same year as Abhimaan. If the latter was vintage classical Sachin, steeped in ragas, Jugnu was a reminder of his versatility, an example of how good he was with modern, romantic and playful numbers. An example is the super-hit Lata-Kishore duet 'Gir gaya Jhumka' with its naughty playfulness. Just as in his own Bengali songs he uses the indeclinable—ah, o-lio, a-ha, o-o-o-to bring the requisite effect, here too he had Lata and Kishore articulate an odd phrase of longing and mischievousness, conveying the playful nature of the romantic relationship between the hero and the heroine. Another example is Lata's 'Jane kya pilaya tu ne bada maza aaya'. Kishore's song 'Tera peechha na main chhodunga' shows Sachin's in creating a efficiency chartbuster in keeping with the demands of the era. Hearing the bubbling effervescence of these songs it is difficult to imagine that the composer was nearing seventy years of age. It was as if Sachin-karta had just stepped into his youth. 

Noticing the youthful vigour in his songs, Asha Bhonsle asked Sachin Dev: 

'Dada, please tell me how is it that your songs are so full of youthful vigour even now?' Karta replied, 'Look Asha, songs are my life, my religion, everything I have. Just remember one thing. Whenever you sing a song, you must merge yourself with its meaning, with its character. You must become the character singing the song, that is, when you are singing a cabaret song, imagine you are Helen.' Asha started laughing loudly at these words. Sachin Dev continued, 'Do not laugh. Look, as long as you cannot cultivate the song in your heart, you will not be able to sing it properly.' (Bhati Gang Baiya)

In Phagun, Sachin paid a tribute to his memory of the celebration of Holi in Tripura in his younger days, when he would visit Agartala, compose songs for Holi, and walk through the streets in a group, singing with joy as if drunk with the colours of his beloved 'phagua'. He composed a brilliant Holi number 'Piya sang khelo holi', intoxicatingly rendered by Lata Mangeshkar.

With youthful exhilaration in their voices, Kishore and Asha sang 'Kab maney o dil ke mastane'. And there was the exquisite Mira bhajan 'Mere to Giridhar Gopal' in Lata's honey-oozing voice, which almost imparts life to the stone idol of Gopal. 

Though increasingly frail, Sachin Dev did not deprive his fans of Puja songs that year. He came out with one record which had what turned out to be the last songs he sang, 'Se ki amar dushman dushman' and 'Ki kari ami ki kari'.

But the voice gives away his illness. In place of the openness for which his voice is famed, one finds a touch of fatigue. The weariness is clear to anyone who listens to the songs. The hoarse voice that scaled E-major with such ease for so long now betrayed his breathlessness. And yet, 'Ki kari ami ki kari? Bol re Subal bol dada' is a heart-rending classic. This wonderful song of separation was his last gift as a singer to us. 

In 1974, three films were released under Sachin Dev Burman's music direction—K. S. Rao's Prem Nagar, Tapan Sinha's Sagina and Basu Chatterjee's Us Paar. The songs of Prem Nagar became a  rage, particularly two Kishore Kumar numbers, 'Bye bye miss good night', which once again demonstrated how wonderfully youthful Sachin could be despite his illness and age, and the classic 'drunk' number 'Yeh lal rang kab mujhe', where Kishore effortlessly conveys the agony of an alcoholic.

Another solo by Kishore 'jaa jaa jaa mujhe na ab' is somewhat similar to SD's Bengali song 'Na aamare sashi cheyo na'.

In Sagina, Sachin dipped into his repertoire of Bihari folk tunes which he had collected during his tour of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh after the All-India Music Conference of 1934. How lively it turned out in Kishore's 'Aag lagi hamari jhopariya mein hum gaaye malhar'.

Another Kishore song from the film still lives in one's memory. This song proves what an expert Sachin Dev was in creating a tune suited to a given situation. I am referring to 'Sala main to sahab ban gaya', Sagina Mahato's mocking self-appraisal after becoming a leader after one peg too many.

Some say it is inspired from the Italian song 'Chella Lla' by Renato Carosone. 

Also, perhaps this is the first Hindi film in which Anup Ghoshal sang. The song was 'Chhote chhote sapne hamar'.

Us Paar boasts only five songs of which two deserve mention. Lata's solo 'Yeh jabse huyi jiya ki chori patang sa ude' starts with a romantic dialogue between the hero and heroine.

Moushumi Chatterjee's laughter creates an erotic ambience along with the flute which played a vital role. S. D. Burman would definitely have sung this song if he was not unwell. 

He had chosen Manna Dey' to sing 'Piya maine kya kiya mujhe chhod ke jaiyo naa'. Manna Dey took the challenge in right spirit and sang this song imitating the singing style of S. D. Burman. How far he succeeded is anybody's guess. But it is a marvellous song indeed! 

The next year, 1975, saw two of his films being released, which were, in effect his swansong—Chupke Chupke and Mili, both directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Well, what music he created in these films! With age, his compositions seemed to have reached an unsurpassable height. In an era that was becoming more and more inclined towards son Rahul's 'Dum maro dum' and 'Mehbooba mehbooba', Sachin stayed true, with absolute devotion, to Indian tradition and culture in his music. 

The songs from both these films became very popular. Lata had a field day with gems like 'Chupke chupke chal ri purvaiya' and 'Ab ke sajan sawan mein', the former pensive, moody, conveying the lilt of the yesteryears that soothes one and makes one long for one's beloved; the latter naughty, playful, like the monsoon rain drenching one's courtyard while one waits for one's love to come home.

And Sachin also brought together the two rivals Kishore Kumar and Mohammad Rafi in what is probably their most popular duet ever: 'Sa re ga ma, ma sa re ga'. What a powerful song it is! This is what a duet should be like. Though popularly thought of as a fun song, given the situation in which it is sung, the seeds of classical music are hidden in it. 

Mili had three immensely popular songs. Lata's 'Maine kaha phoolon se' conveys the wonder of creation and it is no longer surprising that something as young at heart was composed by someone in his seventieth year.

Kishore's 'Aaye tum yaad mujhe' and 'Badi sooni sooni hai' were in keeping with the serious and mature nature of the hero, played by Amitabh Bachchan, and remain two of the singer's finest songs. 'Badi sooni sooni hai' is generally credited as Kumar Sachin Dev Burman's last composition. 

Streaming through the windows of his Bandra home, 'Jet', the setting sun hovered on the horizon, on the verge of dipping into the sea for its ritual evening bath. Watching the sunset was a childhood fascination Sachin had nurtured even in the concrete jungle of Bombay. And now in the evening of his own life, the memories of those baul-bhatiyali days haunted him more and more-sailing on a boat over the Gomti, its waters sparkling in the midday sun, puffing on his hookah in the company of the boatmen, the strains of the bhatiyali harmonizing with the beat of the boat's oars in the calm water. The past beckoned him. He could hear the call of his innermost self. Success, fame, honour counted for little any more. Rabindranath expressed the innate truth in the following words: 'jaha chai taha bhul kare chai / Jaha pai taha chai na' (Whatever I want, I want by mistake! whatever I get I do not need). Increasingly, Sachin-karta's mind travelled to his country horne. Those days of peaceful leisure, those days of playing the flute, beckoned him; the bend in the river, the palm and betel-nut orchards played hide-n-seek with him. The call of the past: 'Whither has gone the smell of mother earth, whither my mother's lap? Where is that smile, that play and the days?' 

Right from 1930, it had been a difficult struggle for SD. He did not have a foothold and he made a name for himself in the musical world without the help of any godfather. Forty-five long years of  disappointments, humiliations and rejections, of continuous hard work, incessant practice and constant experimentation with his art led to victory, the sweet smell of success and international fame. 

Sachin Dev Burman was truly a wizard of music. The magic of music oozed out of his storehouse of talent like P. C. Sarkar's 'Water of India', limitless, seemingly unending, casting a spell and mesmerizing the listener. Personally speaking, his music electrifies my body and mind. Listening to him I feel his presence.

I feel as if some mendicant is playing on his ektara and singing 'Rangila, rangila, rangila re' or a boatman on the Gomti is singing the heart- rending bhatiyali, 'Mere sajan hain us paar'. 

Sachin Dev Burman's greatness lay in his ability to strike a delicate balance between the classical and the popular. His songs are plain and simple, bereft of complexities and full of grace. His songs hum in one's mind. He was always mindful that his compositions had to be accessible to the common man. The world of film songs has never been a field for exhibiting one's expertise in classical music. Yet, without abandoning the traditions of Indian music, he simplified the rigours of classical music for the benefit of the common listener. At times he had to create classical tunes too. And he did so with such delicate grace as would make the listener hold his breath. To me it appears that even though Sachin Dev's target audience had always been the common folk, his songs never failed to attract the connoisseur. Such a synthesis is rare in music makers. 

Sachin Dev suffered from a paralytic attack during the recording of the songs for Mili. Rahul took the responsibility of completing the recording.

Even as Kishore sang 'Badi sooni sooni hai', Sachin-karta was in deep coma. Karta lived for another five months. Meera and Rahul made every possible effort to revive him. Day in and day out they would tell him old anecdotes from their days in Tripura, remind him of close friends from Calcutta and narrate countless other stories from the past. But to no avail. It was only once that he is reported to have opened his eyes. The day East Bengal defeated Mohan Bagan in a league match by 5-0; Rahul shouted the news for the benefit of his father. A die hard supporter of East Bengal, an out-and-out Bangaal, the prince opened his eyes for one last time and never thereafter. On 31 October 1975, the Prince of Music, King of Kings, Kumar Bahadur Sachindra Chandra Dev Burman breathed his last.

This excerpt from
S.D. Burman: The World of his Music by Khagesh Dev Burman is reprinted by permission of Rupa Publications


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