I have a series of complaints about the book “R.D. Burman – The Man, The Music” by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal. For starters, it has a really confusing structure. It consists of three sections, each focusing on a decade of his life and career – the 60s, 70s and 80s, but within each section the chronology is disorienting. Within the sections, the authors try to focus on R.D. Burman’s associations with directors, lyricists, etc and in the process dilute both the chronology and the associations. Also, the authors may have deemed the chapter names clever (“Mango and Cadbury Uncle”, “Inexpensive Grass, Free Love”, etc.) but they only serve to frustrate readers trying to make sense of the book’s structure.
For people who are not trained in music (like me), the book gets too technical at times (“Also prominent was the use of Suddha notes and major scale, apart from touching upon the flat seventh note, Komal Ni…”). After the first few chapters, I became proficient at spotting these bits and skimming over them.
My last complaint is that while ambitiously tag-lined “The Man, The Music”, the book has a lot more of The Music than The Man. I was particularly disappointed with the sketchy treatment of Pancham’s relationship with Asha Bhonsle. Their eventual separation is described like an after-thought through a Vidhu Vinod Chopra quote that focuses not on their relationship but on Pancham’s slump in the mid-1980s – “Lack of confidence. People close to him, including Asha Bhonsle, left him.”. This is the first time in the book, their separation is mentioned!
Despite these flaws, this is a book to be loved and cherished.
The book’s biggest strength is it’s focus on R.D. Burman’s career. We find out about the 4-year gap between his first two movies and what he did during that time. We discover that we may have never known Pancham if an interview with Shammi Kapoor had gone awry. We get to appreciate that his success was as much due to the strength of his team, as his own musical genius. We trace the various ups and downs in his career, his troubled last days and his emphatic resurgence after death. The authors have clearly put in a lot of effort to amass a treasure trove of information on Pancham.
I also enjoyed the detailed analyses of all of R.D. Burman’s key songs and then some. Tip – To truly appreciate the authors’ analyses, you need to be plugged into the internet (in case you don’t have the songs) so you can listen to the songs while reading the analysis.
Apart from the serious stuff, the book has loads of delightfully quirky trivia. The authors do a nice job of not only informing but entertaining. Some of my favorite trivia from the book:
- Pancham coaxed Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma to play the tabla on “Mose Chhal Kiye Jaye” (Guide) even though he had given it up for santoor.
- “Dum Maro Dum” was originally meant to be sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Usha Uthup.
- Pancham was inspired by the cyclic noise from a faulty table fan to compose “Suno, kaho, kaha, suna” (Aap Ki Kasam).
- Pancham’s title music (starts at 0:40) for the movie Joshila was used in many movies, including movies that had other music directors.
- In “Zindagi Milke Bitayenge” (Satte Pe Satta), Pancham shuttled between the voice cubicle and the orchestra area because he had to sing and play the harmonica in the song.
For the most part, the authors appear objective but their deep admiration for Pancham is evident in their analysis of his music and shows through at times as petulance (“Not that Pancham needed the endorsement of any curvy statuettes” on Pancham not winning a Filmfare award till 1983) and defensiveness (over charges of plagiarism against Pancham). These elements transform the book from a dry research paper to a warm, vibrant homage.
This book is more than just a good read. It has a neat, 500-song index that will provide for many more hours of exploration any time you listen to your favorite Pancham songs or are in the mood to discover some new ones.