The story of R.D. Burman is not so much about the successes he enjoyed as a music director during his short life. It is more about the stark truth that, had he lived a few weeks more, he would have had the last laugh, after having sustained a longish lean patch that saw one loyal producer after another deserting him.
Shortly before the songs of 1942-A Love Story stirred the nation in 1994, their composer had died heartbroken, at the age of 54, little knowing that the world would soon be at his feet — rediscovering, reliving, relishing, and remixing his music. Seventeen years after his death, his fans are still busy discovering — and gathering like awestruck schoolboys — hitherto unheard gems he had composed either during his lean phase or for films that had bombed back then. In short, the story of R.D. Burman is not so much about his life as about his death, after which he seems to have permanently become Hindi cinema's No. 1 music director — ask the RJ of any Hindi FM channel or the salesman of any music shop. Whether such a story celebrates a posthumous triumph or laments an inevitable tragedy, it is difficult to say. But it's been told quite well — in delectable detail — by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal, who have done great service to Hindi cinema by bringing out this book.
For the fans of R.D. Burman, or Pancham, this book should be a Bible. That this is the first book to be written about him in the 17 years since his death is a matter of shame, considering the number of lives his tunes continues to touch even today. Better late than never, though, because in Pancham's case, the later you discover him, the better he sounds. Just like wine.
One, however, wishes the title of the book had been more imaginative. But R.D. himself never cared much for the titles of the films he made music for, be it the intriguing Gol Maal or the aggressive Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin. Incidentally, these are two films whose songs are, like nursery rhymes, ingrained in the psyche of every Pancham fan, especially the notes of the trumpet that open their most famous songs — the Chaand Mera Dil medley and Bachnaa Ae Haseeno (Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin), and Aane Wala Pal (Gol Maal), for example.
So who played the trumpet in these songs? It's an important question for the Pancham fan — as important as asking a sixth standard student, ‘Who's the President of the United States?' Commonsense suggested that it might have been Manohari Singh, Pancham's long-time music arranger who played the saxophone for the senior Burman in Gaata Rahe Mera Dil for Guide. But no, the man who played the trumpet was an Anglo-Indian musician called George Fernandes! For a hardcore Pancham fan like yours truly, this piece of information alone is worth the Rs.399 the book costs. There are other priceless pieces of information too, but most of them tend to break your heart. This is what singer Abhijeet had to tell the authors: “From a time when he would record at Film Centre, Panchamda had slid to recording at a small studio in Khar. He would urge me to go to Anand-Milind and Rajesh Roshan as he did not have any work to give me.”
Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who made 1942-A Love Story, explains Pancham's lean patch thus: “Lack of self-confidence. People close to him, including Asha Bhosle, left him. He began thinking that he lacked the ability and was burnt out. This was untrue, but he somehow got swayed by other people's opinions and ended up losing his belief in his music.”
Pancham losing belief in his own music? This sounds funny now because his music is considered the yardstick for Hindi film music. But cruel are the ways of the world — the way it treats a man when he is dead is different from the way it does when he is alive. The book successfully dissects the hypocrisy.