This book is a bottomless mine of information on the musician S.D. Burman and his life.
He came from royalty and reigned over an entire industry for years. His music was pure magic, setting trends and causing tsunamis as it challenged the notions of musicality of the time. His early history could be the script of a Bollywood blockbuster, with phrases and pauses speaking of palace intrigue, global politics and abiding romance. Born in Comila — formerly in British India and now part of Bangladesh — on October 1, 1906 to Nabadwip Chandra Dev Burman, exiled son of Maharaja Ishanchandra Manikya Dev Burman, Raja of Tripura, and Rajkumari Nirmala Devi, princess of Manipur, Sachin was the youngest of five sons and one of nine children.
His life swung between the freedom of exile in Comila, where he could laugh, talk, sing and be a child albeit with little privilege or money, and the more rigid and programmed existence as a member of the royal family in Tripura, hemmed in by convention, ritual and pomp. Family politics and archaic laws made sure that he could not become the king, but Nabadwip Chandra did become the first karta, or controller of the family fortunes — to translate very loosely — in the Tripura royal family. That title was inherited by his son Sachin, who was then-on called Sachin-karta.
The young man, educated at Comila Victoria College and Calcutta University started formal training in music in 1925 with KC Dey. A few years later, Bhismadev Chattopadhyaya took over as his teacher, even though there was only a three year age gap between guru and shishya. Sarangi master Kahifa Badal Khan and Ustad Allauddin Khan also taught him music. Where singers and musicians today might work on jingles and title tracks for television shows before getting their big break in films, Burman started as a radio singer in Calcutta in 1932; he soon became known for his work based on Bengali folk music, heavily influenced by Rabindra sangeet and Nazrul geeti, as well as the rural musical traditions of Bangladesh that he had heard while growing up. He started recording semi-classical songs that same year, with “E pathery aaj eso piya” and “Dakle kokil roj bihane” for Hindustan Records.
And then love happened. He met Meera Dasgupta, a music student and granddaughter of an illustrious judge, at Shantiniketan. She was his student and he was royalty — the family buzzed with indignation, but Burman willingly forsook his heritage for his love. In 1939 their only son Rahul was born — that is another story waiting to be told! Meanwhile, Sachin started composing music for films in 1937 with Rajgee, working on over 17 Bengali films, even after moving to Bombay in 1944.
While many consider Yahudi ki Ladki (1933) to be his debut Hindi film, and as a singer, it was actually in Sanjher Pidim (1935) that his voice was first heard. Filmistan was his big start — after “Mera sundar sapna beet gaya”, sung with so much pathos by Geeta Dutt in Do Bhai (1947), and the 1949 hit “Yeh duniya roop ki chor” sung by Shamshad Begum in Shabnam, Sachin Dev Burman was crowned the king of music in Hindi cinema. His last recorded composition was “Badi sooni sooni”, sung by Kishore Kumar for Mili; he went into a coma soon after and died on October 31, 1975.
This book is a bottomless mine of information on the musician and his life. It delves deep into the structure and machinations of the royal family and the various influences that coloured the work of Sachin Dev Burman. It shows off the wealth of knowledge the writer has and the breadth of information that can be harvested from a volume like this. Admittedly, readability does suffer; the book reads a bit like a very elaborate encyclopaedia entry stretching over so many chapters and pages, but with a little patience and the right frame of mind, it is indeed fascinating. What is particularly absorbing is not only the tracing of the evolution of Hindi film music and the various cultures and influences that have coloured it, but the way Sachin himself changed the music he made with the times, adapting to not only the demands of the story and its characters, but also pulling in tunes and notes from western and European sounds. In addition, the relationship between Sachin and his only child Rahul Dev Burman — who has his own significant chapter in the history of Indian cinema — is lovingly traced. As Sachin is said to have told his son: “Today, I’m very happy with you.
Till now I was recognised as S.D. Burman, but today someone pointed me out and said ‘There goes RD Burman’s father’.” A fitting tribute to any parent!
In his autobiography Sargamer Nikhad, Sachin Dev Burman wrote, “My music is the wealth of all Indians – my tune is a symbol of India.’ And his memory sings on …
(Ramya Sarma writes on films and life in Bollywood)