February 23 2020
How RD Burman changed the game in Bollywood
28 June 2018

Along with directors, music directors too were the game changers at various epochs within Hindi cinema

Chronologically, Shankar-Jaikishan, is considered the first game changer in Hindi film music, the duo transforming the way a Hindi song would sound.

Their debut film Barsaat, one of the most popular musicals of all time was a lesson in the usage of a single raga – Bhairavi, as a backbone for most of the songs of the films. A sampurna raga with minor notes, the songs, thus composed, were simpler in comparison to the prevalent patterns used then. Orchestration too was lighter, as instruments did not overburden the melody.

The sound of Awarasaw more milestones. The medley ensemble (Tere bina aag yeh Chandni and Ghar aaya mera pardesi) was the first to be recorded using a hundred-piece orchestra. The title track Awara Hoon had a very prominent counter-melody. From thereonthey followed the style set in their first few films, till they changed it once more with films starring Shammi Kapoor, starting with Junglee.


How RD Burman changed the game in Bollywood

Till the early 50s, romantic duets were either breezy or intense. Chori Chori was an example where all the three romantic duets were breezy. In spite of being extremely intense, Lekh Tandon’s Amrapali was a disaster at the box office, but its songs — a combination of classical and light music brought the duo back into limelight as serious composers. And that too at a time when their focus was only on light breezy numbers.

Now, all this happened over a decade starting 1951. In contrast, RD Burman’s game changing run happened in a span of five years starting 1971. While Teesri Manzil (1966) was definitely one of the best things to happen to Hindi film music and despite instant successes like mere sona re, the widespread acclaim and acceptance of Teesri Manzil music was gradual. Many, including director Vijay Anand were shocked when the film was withdrawn from the theatre a week before the Silver Jubilee was to be celebrated. But damage had been done. But Teesri Manzil aged well over time with Pancham’s music being acknowledged as one of the key reasons for the film’s success. Teesri Manzil also enjoyed very strong nostalgia factor during its re-release in the late 1970s. By then, RD was already the auteur of many change elements.


Memorable tunes Stills from Teesri Manzil, Hare Rama Hare Krishna and Kati Patang

Memorable tunes Stills from Teesri Manzil, Hare Rama Hare Krishna and Kati Patang  

Let us see how Pancham changed the game in the period 1971-1975.

Kati Patang

Rajesh Khanna’s dream run commenced with Aradhana but Kati Patang established Rajesh Khanna as THE romantic hero of all times. He played Kamal, a sensitive poet, handsome and unmarried, a great singer living in a mansion in the hills. And, he had just been through a traumatic break-up. Kishore Kumar and RD ensured that this image of the lonely rich man stuck in the minds of all ladies every time they heard the music. The ladies were already weak-kneed.


Amar Prem

RD explored a hitherto unheard of dimension of Kishore Kumar – a master of classical raga based songs. In a world where it would be blasphemy for classical singer to sing Hindi film songs, Chingari koi bhadke would be hummed even by classical exponent. This was the Kishore Kumar that silenced everyone for ever.


Hare Rama Hare Krishna

The music was a cult within a cult with Usha Uthup’s introduction being the master stroke. Her booming bass-heavy voice and perfect English diction was the rabbit-out-of-a-hat trick by Pancham. Asha’s Dum Maro Dum, Usha Uthup’s I Love You and the good girl numbers of O re ghungroo and Kanchi re Kanchi re contrasted the pristine Himalayan hills of the day with the smoky marijuana dens at night in downtown Kathmandu. Pancham also introduced the percussion Madal and the percussionist Ranjit Gazmer in this album.


Yaadon ki Baraat

Musical soirees in Hindi films, apart from quawwalis, would show the actor rendering a solitary number. In a breakthrough of sorts here is what Pancham and Nasir Husain did, in the medley Aap ke kamre me — a longish intro opening, a brief two-liner family song, the singer Monto doubling over with laughter as all the young gents fall over themselves in their chivalry towards a ravishing young girl in a blazing red miniskirt.… Monto makes her come on stage and gets the entire audience to join in as well; taking the evening to a delightful climax… precisely what the audience expects at a live music show. Live jamming was here and now with this medley. Yaadon kiBaraat’s music ranged from the harshness of metallic effects and the death scream of a man being garrotted to the delicate clinking of fragile wine glasses where the sequence demanded. The album was like a case study on sound engineering.



Be it James Bond, or Hollywood western, the background score is what lends colour to the narrative. Pancham’s background score in Sholay was the fifth dimension of the film along with Thakur, Gabbar, Jai and Veeru. Biographers and film aficionados have researched endlessly into each bar of the background score of Sholay. No Pancham live show is complete without the Sholay theme tune and musicians like Late Bhanu Gupta have been bombarded with requests repeatedly to play the ‘Jai harmonica’ tune and also to narrate the anecdote in which Bhanu Gupta had to play this tune on his harmonica to the Bombay traffic police to convince them to let him go as he was in a hurry.


All this happened 43 years ago. More importantly, Pancham had achieved all this when he was a mere 36.



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