Newer and younger waves of music lovers and performers rediscover and reconnect to R.D. Burman’s genius — and this provides us with newer and fresher insights into his music. We also learn about how far back his influence made itself quietly and anonymously known in his father S.D. Burman’s compositions too. His new arrangements and the influences from world music that he introduced are still something of a gold vein for younger musicians to mine and marvel at.
Music arrangers — the badshah of them all being the legendary Anthony Gonsalves — were not, as many of us most uninformedly and foggily thought at one time, people who merely sourced and pulled together a bunch of background sax and flute and sitar and cello and violin players for the Hindi film songs of the 50s and 60s. They were evolved musicians from the Western tradition, who worked closely with the great film composers as well as the Hindustani classical musicians. They composed and scored the interludes and backgrounds to the songs and conducted the musicians to play them at recordings. (Two documentary films are worth seeing for a fantastic insight into this world: Ashok Rane’s film Anthony Gonsalves — The Music Legend , and Gumnaam Hai Koi . )
When Jewel Thief hit the theatres, the songs dazzled three generations simultaneously. My brother and sister, then teenagers, went crazy over ‘Hoton Me Aisi Baat’ every time it played on Binaca Geetmala and other radio programmes. A cousin immediately begged for, and actually got, a bongo, and promptly began to cajole and jockey for a conga. My grandfather, who we thought was shut off to any non-Marathi music and that too anything after 1950, declared in his measured Marathi that ‘Rula Ke Gaya Sapna Mera’ was ‘quite pleasing to the ears’.
My mother, the middle generation then, was taken with ‘Raat Akeli Hai’ and was waiting for the film to come to Natraj Theatre in Chembur. The mischief-masti of the song, the film posters with Tanuja’s laughing eyes, her upswept hairdo and elegant evening gown, all fascinated my mother. She was preparing for her Sangeet Visharad exam at the time, but the anticipation of watching this music-packed mystery film, and particularly the Tanuja number, put her more ‘serious’ classical pursuits on the backburner for those few weeks.
Adding to the curiosity factor for my otherwise non-filmy mother was a chance encounter with Tanuja, who was travelling in a car to Lonavala with someone who my parents knew; they had made a very brief stopover, a pit stop, at our house. The LP record had perhaps already found its way to our house, but my mother couldn’t wait to go listen and watch in the theatre.
My father was busy at work, and my mother wanted to catch the matinee show perhaps, while the older kids were in school. She was kind of stuck with me, and there we were, strapped into our red velvet chairs. When the opening chords of the song began, I asked for that one thing every parent is stuck complying with, however inconvenient the time and place: I whispered the Marathi equivalent of ‘I want to go potty’. My mother made an exasperated sound and to the sound of other irritated viewers, got up and headed with me to the restroom.
Perversely, but honest-to-god not deliberately, I sat on that pot for the exact duration of the song, and then jumped off and informed her that ‘it had gone away’ — there would be no bowel movement. She pulled me roughly and marched me back to our seats.
Thereafter, that song became known as the ‘false-alarm song’ at home for years to come. Perhaps she managed to sneak off and see the movie unhindered by moody-bowelled progeny later.
Much later, with the coming of Chhaya Geet , video cassettes, etc, she did get to see it again, no doubt, and to channel her inner Tanuja without having to attend to some maternal duty or the other.
Do listen to the songs again and pay attention to the superb interludes, the guitar chords, the percussion, produced by many unsung, gumnaam instrumentalists and the SD-RD magic of that golden era of Hindi film music.
The novelist, counsellor and music lover takes readers on a ramble through the Aladdin’s cave of Indian music.