From the 1960s to the 1990s, R. D. Burman composed musical scores for 331 movies. He was mainly active in the Hindi film industry as a composer, and also provided vocals for a few of compositions. R. D. Burman did major work with Asha Bhosle (his wife) and Kishore Kumar, and scored many of the songs that made these singers famous. He also scored many songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar. He served as an influence to the next generation of Indian music directors, and his songs continue to be popular in India even after his death.
R. D. Burman was born to the Bollywood composer/singer Sachin Dev Burman and his lyricist wife Meera Dev Burman (née Dasgupta), in Kolkata. Initially, he was nicknamed Tublu by his maternal grandmother although he later became known by the nickname of Pancham. According to some stories, he was nicknamed as Pancham because, as a child, whenever he cried, it sounded in the fifth note (Pa), G scale, of music notation. The word Pancham means five (or fifth) in Bengali, his mother tongue. Another theory says that the baby was nicknamed Pancham because he could cry in five different notes. Yet another version is that when the veteran Indian actor Ashok Kumar saw a newborn Rahul uttering the syllable Pa repeatedly, he nicknamed the boy Pancham.
R. D. Burman received his early education in Kolkata. His father S. D. Burman was a noted music director in Bollywood, the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry. When he was nine years old, R. D. Burman composed his first song, Aye meri topi palat ke aa, which his father used in the film Funtoosh (1956). The tune of the song Sar jo tera chakraaye was also composed by him as a child; his father included it in the soundtrack of Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957).
In Mumbai, R. D. Burman was trained by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (sarod) and Samta Prasad (tabla). He also considered Salil Chowdhury as his guru. He served as an assistant to his father, and often played harmonica in his orchestras.
Some of the notable films in which R. D. Burman is credited as the music assistant include Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963), Bandini (1963), Ziddi (1964), Guide (1965) and Teen Devian (1965). R. D. Burman also played mouth organ for his father’s hit composition Hai Apna Dil To Aawara which was featured in the movie Solva Saal (1958).
In 1959, R. D. Burman signed up as a music director for the film Raaz, directed by Guru Dutt’s assistant Niranjan. However, the film was never completed. The lyrics of this Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman-starrer film were written by Shailendra. R. D. Burman recorded two songs for the film, before it was shelved. The first song was sung by Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhosle, and the second one had vocals by Shamshad Begum.
R. D. Burman’s first released film as an independent music director was Chhote Nawab (1961). When the noted Bollywood comedian Mehmood decided to produce Chhote Nawab, he first approached R. D. Burman’s father Sachin Dev Burman for the music. However, S. D. Burman turned down the offer, saying that he did not have any free dates. At this meeting, Mehmood noticed Rahul playing tabla, and signed him up as the music director for Chhote Nawab. R. D. Burman later developed a close association with Mehmood, and did a cameo (apart from composing the music) in Mehmood’s Bhoot Bangla (1965).
Burman’s first hit movie as a film music director was Teesri Manzil (1966). Burman gave credit to lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri for recommending him to Nasir Hussain, the producer and writer of the film.Vijay Anand also said that he had arranged a music session for Burman before Nasir Hussain. Teesri Manzil had six songs, all of which were written by Majrooh Sultanpuri, and sung by Mohammed Rafi. Four of these were duets with Asha Bhosle, whom Burman later married. Nasir Hussain went on to sign R. D. Burman and lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri for six of his films including Baharon Ke Sapne (1967), Pyar Ka Mausam (1969) and Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973). Burman’s score forzsos Padosan (1968) was well received. Meanwhile, he continued to work as his father’s assistant for movies like Jewel Thief (1967) and Prem Pujari (1970).
The superhit Kishore Kumar song Mere Sapnon ki Raani from Aradhana (1969), though credited to his father, is rumoured to have been R. D. Burman’s composition. Kora Kagaz tha Yeh Man Mera from the same film was also his tune. It is believed that when S. D. Burman fell ill during the recording of the film’s music, R. D. Burman took over and completed the music. He was credited as an associate composer for the film.
Rise to popularity
In the 1970s, R. D. Burman became highly popular with the Kishore Kumar songs in Rajesh Khanna-starrer movies. Kati Patang (1970), a musical hit, was the beginning of a series of the 1970s films directed by Shakti Samanta of Aradhana fame. Its songs Yeh Shaam Mastani and Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai, sung by Kishore Kumar, became instant hits. Apart from Kishore Kumar, R. D. Burman also composed several of the popular songs sung by Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar.
In 1970, R. D. Burman composed the music for Dev Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971).The Asha Bhosle song Dum Maro Dum from this film proved to be a seminal rock number in the Hindi film music. The filmmaker Dev Anand did not include the complete version of Dum Maro Dum in the movie, because he was worried that the song would overshadow the film. In the same year, R. D. Burman composed the music for Amar Prem. The Lata Mangeshkar song Raina Beeti Jaaye from this soundtrack is regarded as a classical music gem in Hindi film music.R. D. Burman’s other hits in 1971 included the romantic song “Raat kali ek khwab mein” from Buddha Mil Gaya and the Helen-starrer cabaret song “Piya Tu Ab To Aaja” from Caravan. He received his first Filmfare Award nomination for Caravan.
In 1972, R. D. Burman composed hit music for several films including Seeta aur Geeta, Rampur ka Lakshman, Mere jeevan saathi, Bombay to Goa, Apna Desh and Parichay. His success continued with hits such as Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973), Aap ki Kasam (1974), Sholay (1975) and Aandhi (1975). He also composed a song for a small documentary film called Maa Ki Pukaar, in 1975. After his father S. D. Burman went into coma, R. D. Burman also completed the music of Mili (1975).
Mohammed Rafi received the National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer for the song Kya Hua Tera Wada from Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977), composed by R. D. Burman. R. D. Burman continued to compose several popular songs for films such as Kasme Vaade (1978), Ghar (1978), Gol Maal (1979), Khubsoorat (1980). He received his first Filmfare Best Music Director Award for Sanam Teri Kasam (1981). In 1981, he also composed hit music for Rocky, Satte Pe Satta and Love Story.
The playback singer Kumar Sanu was given his first break by R. D. Burman in Yeh Desh (1984) as voice of Kamal Haasan. Abhijeet was given his major break by R. D. Burman in Anand Aur Anand (1984). Although he made his debut a long time ago, Hariharan was first noticed in a duet with Kavita Krishnamurthy in Hai Mubarak Aaj ka Din from Boxer (1984), which was composed by R. D. Burman. In 1985, Mohammed Aziz, made his debut with Shiva Ka Insaaf (1985) under R. D. Burman.
The trio Rajesh Khanna-Kishore-R.D.Burman have worked together in 32 films together and these films and its songs continue to be popular till date.The trio were close friends. R.D.Burman composed for Rajesh Khanna in totality for 40 films till Sautela Bhai released in 1996.
During the late 1980s, R. D. Burman was overshadowed by Bappi Lahiri and other disco music composers. Many filmmakers stopped patronizing him, as films featuring his compositions flopped at the box office one after the other. Nasir Hussain, who had signed him up for every single of his productions since Teesri Manzil (1966), did not sign him up for Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988). Hussain defended R. D. Burman in press, saying that the latter did not give weak music in Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai (1982) and Manzil Manzil (1984). He also said that the composer was going through a lean phase during the recording of Zabardast (1985). But after these three films flopped, Hussain stepped down as a director, and his son and successor Mansoor Khan switched to other composers. The filmmaker Subhash Ghai promised R. D. Burman Ram Lakhan (1989), but gave it instead to Laxmikant-Pyarelal, who had earlier played in Burman’s orchestra.
In 1986, R. D. Burman composed songs for Ijaazat; the score is regarded as one of his best. However, the film belonged to the Parallel Cinema genre of (art films), so it did not stop the decline of R. D. Burman’s commercial film career. All four of the songs in Ijaazat were sung by Asha Bhosle and written by Gulzar. R. D. Burman was greatly appreciated by the critics for setting the non-rhyming lyrics of the song Mera Kuchh Saamaan to the music. While both Asha Bhosle (Best Female Playback) and Gulzar (Best Lyrics) received National Awards for the score, R. D. Burman received none.
R. D. Burman suffered from a heart attack in 1988, and underwent heart bypass surgery a year later at The Princess Grace Hospital in London. During this period, he composed many tunes, which were never released. He composed music for Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s movie Parinda in 1989. He composed one song called Chhod Ke Na Jaana which was sung by Asha Bhosle for the movie Gang. But since the movie took too long to release and due to his untimely death, director Mazhar Khan signed in the then little known Anu Malik for the music of the movie. Thenmavin Kombath, a Malayalam film by Priyadarshan was the last film he signed, but he died before he could score for the film. The music of 1942: A Love Story (1994) was released after his death, and was highly successful. It posthumously won him the third and last of his Filmfare Awards. As per Lata Mangeshkar, he died too young and unhappy.
R. D. Burman has been credited with revolutionizing the Bollywood music. He incorporated a wide range of influences from several genres in his scores. Burman’s career coincided with the rise of Rajesh Khanna-starrer youth love stories. He made electronic rock popular in these popular love stories.He often mixed disco and rock elements with Bengali folk music. He also used jazz elements, which had been introduced to him by the studio pianist Kersi Lord.
According to Douglas Wolk, R. D. Burman “wrapped sugary string swoops around as many ideas as he could squeeze in at once”. Biswarup Sen describes his popular music as one featuring multicultural influences, and characterized by “frenetic pacing, youthful exuberance and upbeat rhythms”.
R. D. Burman was influenced by Western, Latin, Oriental and Arabic music, and incorporated elements from these in his own music. He also experimented with different musical sounds produced from methods such as rubbing sand paper and knocking bamboo sticks together. He blew into beer bottles to produce the opening beats of Mehbooba, Mehbooba. Similarly, he used cups and saucers to create the tinkling sound for the song Churaliya Hai from the film Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973). For Satte Pe Satta (1982), he made the singer Annette Pinto gargle to produce a background sound. He also used a rubbed a comb on a rough surface to produce a whooshing sound in the song Meri Samne Wali Khidki Main from the movie Padosan (1968)
On multiple occasions, R. D. Burman experimented with recording the same song with different singers. For Kudrat (1981), he recorded the light version of the song Hume tumse pyar kitna in the voice of Kishore Kumar, while the classical version was recorded in the voice of Parveen Sultana. In Pyar Ka Mausam (1969), he recorded the song Tum bin jaun kahan in the voices of Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi separately.
R. D. Burman sometimes used the Western dance music as a source of inspiration for his compositions.As was common in Bollywood, some of his songs featured the tunes of popular foreign songs. Often, the filmmakers forced him to copy these tunes for the soundtracks, resulting in allegations of plagiarism. For example, Ramesh Sippy insisted that the tune of the traditional Cyprus song Say You Love Me (arranged and sung by Demis Roussos) be used for Mehbooba Mehbooba (Sholay, 1975), and Nasir Hussain wanted to use ABBA’s Mamma Mia for Mil gaya hum ko sathi.