Tabla master, Padmabhushan Ustad Ahmedjan Tirakawa was restless. It was the pathos in the song, “Suno mere bandhu re” which he had heard from his radio that made him so. He requested his host for the record but it was hard to find. When it was finally sourced, he listened to it with rapt attention, again and again, his eyes welling. The song had the bent of folk music of East Bengal with the smell of wet soil emanating from the soulful baritone of Sachin Dev (SD) Burman. He kept aside a ten rupee note as ‘nazrana’ for the singer to collect which the maestro did and treasured throughout his life.
SD Burman’s music is a rare pleasure, coloured and revered. Such was his love for the folk and the rustic countryside that the religious training of Hindustani classical music received from a plethora of gurus that included Badal Khan, Allauddin Khan, KC Dey and Vishmadev Chatterjee plus instructions from Shyamlal Kshetri, Amiya Nath Sanyal, Faiyaz Khan and Abdul Karim Khan, could not dilute the essence of his hinterland — East Bengal, now Bangladesh. His folk touches had to be there even in his rendition of the semi classicals, which according to Ravi Shankar, opened a new frontier in Bangla music.
Sachin Karta as known in Bangladesh and West Bengal first cut his musical teeth in 1932 and his Bangla songs of the thirties (KaNdibo na phagun gele, Jhan jhan manjiro baje), forties (Rangeela rangeela, Ei choiti sandhya jai britha), fifties (Mono dilo na bodhu, Ghum bhulechi nijhum), sixties (Borne gondhey chhondey geetitey, Tumi eshhechiley porshu) and seventies (Ke jash re bhati gaang baiya, Se ki aamar dushmon dushmon) continue to charm old and young even today. He forged a style of singing that remains inimitable and is a school of his own. His vocals were ingrained in Indian music — essentially East Bengal folk and Hindustani classical. He sang these for 41 years, creating ‘new music’ all along, to the pleasure of his generation, before and after.
In Hindi films, where he came to be known as ‘Burman Dada’ and amongst the younger set as ‘SD’, he struck a chord with all … from the front benchers to drawing room occupants. This journey began in 1946 when he settled in the crassy commercial city of Bombay leaving behind the Mecca of Indian culture, Calcutta. Here, throughout his career, like his Bangla songs, he looked for quality and did not leave any stone unturned to achieve that. He turned down lucrative offers fearing too much work would affect his output. It was like a well needing time to fill up before one could draw anything out of it.
He was a part of 100 odd films many of which stood out and achieved cult status. Baazi (Taqdeer se bigdi huye), Naujawan (Thandi hawaye), Saza (Tum na jane kis jahan mein),Taxi Driver (Jayen to jayen kahan), Devdas (Mituwa, mituwa), Solva Saal (Hai apna dil), Pyaasa (Jane wo kaise), Kagaz Ke Phool (Waqt ne kiya), Sujata (Jalte hai jiske liye), Bandini (O jane wale ho sake tu), Baat Ek Raat Ki (Kisne chilman se mara), Mere Surat Teri Ankhen (Puchho na kaise), Guide (Aaj phir jene ki tamanna), Jewel Thief (Yeh dil na hota bechara), Aradhana (Roop tera mastana), Talaash (Khai haire humne kasam), Abhiman (Teri bindiya re) are some, where his music played an intrinsic part in the success of the film. And in these films, he immersed in folk, classical, qawwali, western, macho, rebellious lover, sex appeal. He was so versatile.
In films, Burman Dada’s method of composition was to make different playback singers rehearse the same song and finally go with the one he thought was best to match the situation of the film. He never fell prey to the pressure of either the producer or the director of the film to take the most popular singer unlike his contemporaries. He could detect the fall out of voice quality of singers; and this was done through telephone calls. In the process, his music room was closed for all singers of his era at some stages of their careers. These included Shamsad Begum, Mukesh, Talat Mehmood, Md. Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Hemant Kumar, Asha Bhonsle, Manna Dey, Suman Kalyanpur and Kishore Kumar.
As film situations kept changing with time, so did his music. Therefore, Sunder sapna beet gaya in1947, Hai apna dil in 1958, Tere naina taalash in 1969, Badi sooni sooni hai in 1975 all sounded refreshingly current to pull in fans. He was a ‘great value’ for listeners as he was never out of date or out of mark.
Dada believed in the simple presentation of film songs. To him, it was very easy to make a song difficult but extremely tough to make a song simple for all to hum. The result is, till today he is the music director who has the highest number of hit songs per film. He was also the only composer who composed at least one memorable song for every known singer and lyricist of his time … from singer, Amirbai Karnataki to Manohar; poet, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan to Yogesh. None of his contemporaries can make these claims.
Dada believed that film was not the medium to show one’s knowledge of classical music. “Shastriya sangeet mere ko bhi aata hai, par mein kiyo dikhaoon chaar anna wale aadmi ko. I will give stage performances if I have to prove myself’.” But when films needed the use of classical music, he proved his mettle with Naache mora manwa, Kisne chilman se maara, Pyaar ki aag mein, Tere naina talaash, Saiyan beiman, Ghayal hiraniya, Jhan jhan payel baaje and many others. He advocated the use of sound that in later years son, Pancham, experimented so much in his music.
With music, he never compromised. He was a hard taskmaster. If he needed anything special for his music, it was a must. In “Jewel Thief” for instance, the recording of a song was held up until the arrival of drums from Sikkim. Again if any of his assistants brought an extra violinist, he would pack him off with payment. He also had the rare quality to express his joy if a singer, lyricist or an instrumentalist performed exceptionally well and he would reward the person in some form or the other. Brojen Biswas’ tabla playing in his song, “Mono dilo na bodhu” made him ecstatic. He literally forced HMV, the recording company to put his name on the 78 rpm record along with his. HMV did it much against its policy.
Music was his only priority in life and for which gave up everything. Football, volleyball, lawn tennis, administrative position in the state of Tripura and of course money. As a result, his life was no cakewalk as it moved in turbulent waves from days of royal insignia to being nearly penniless after the death of his father; from dizzying heights to a nosedive when he fell sick and producers shied away from him. Music, however, remained the only constant.
Sachin Dev Burman left us on this day, 38 years ago leaving us a treasure trove of music. Here was an outstanding composer and an incomparable singer. International by art, Bengali at heart.
“Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman” — by music and movie connoisseur HQ Chowdhury is a tell-all book on the legendary vocalist-composer-music director