More than a composer

soulful R D Burman was not just a music director but a prolific singer too.

He was also a singer of merit, which was clearly overshadowed by his success as a music composer. Although he might not have had the depth and range of his father, S D Burman, R D Burman did usher in a new trend in music in the Hindi film industry as a singer.

R D Burman’s journey as a playback singer began with the track Meri Jaan Maine Kaha from The Train in 1970. He sang this song with Asha Bhonsle, giving a forceful yet musical effect to his voice. Eventually, the song proved to be a super hit. Hearing Meri Jaan Maine Kaha, both, S D Burman and Salil Chowdhury, instructed R D Burman to carry on singing, whenever he received a good opportunity.

Mass popularity

R D Burman, in association with Asha Bhonsle, rendered a number of sizzling hits in jazz, flamingo, rock and roll as well as disco genres of music during the 70s. Some of their memorable numbers include Piya Tu, Duniya Mein, Dil To Mane Na and Gulabi Aankhen. All these numbers garnered mass popularity, which encouraged R D Burman to experiment with his voice. And he did! He sang one line (Daddy Ka Mummy Ka) in the antara of the song Phoolon Ka Taro Ka (Hare Rama Hare Krishna) sung by Lata Mangeshkar. R D Burman knew that it would be wrong if he tried to emulate Lata Mangeshkar and her style of singing. Therefore, he rendered the line by lowering his tone, thereby making his voice sound melodious.

When S D Burman requested R D Burman to sing a song with himself and Lata Mangeshkar (the climax song of Yeh Gulistan Hamara), R D Burman was nervous at first. After his father rebuked him for not confident enough to sing along, R D Burman accepted the opportunity as a challenge.

As Lata rendered the track Raina Jagi Jagi sonorously, R D sang the antaras in Naga musical style with equal gusto. Of course, both were overshadowed by S D Burman’s performance in the song. In fact, R D Burman said that he was pleased to know that his performance was eclipsed by his father’s rendition as he had still a lot to learn from the musical legend.

R D Burman is also remembered for his renowned solo singing performances. What leads the pack is Mehbooba Mehbooba in Sholay, followed by songs in the films Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin and Shaan. Perhaps,  his most well-known solo is Dhanni Dhanni Aankhon Mein, written by Gulzar for Kitab. In this number, which had a conglomeration of Spanish interludes and Indian ragas in light mood, R D Burman exuded emotions not heard in any of his earlier numbers.

In the 80s, R D Burman introduced the vocoder in his compositions, especially while singing. He introduced this to give an additional effect in the background score of Sagar.

By the mid 80s, R D Burman was getting tired of redundant musical and singing styles in the Hindi film industry. He understood well that quality of music was no more as it used to be in the 50s and 60s.  Therefore, he experimented with English songs in his second western album, Panthera, recorded solely at the studio of Francis Ford Coppola in Los Angeles. It is believed that once Coppola attended one of the recordings and appreciated R D Burman’s music. Hearing his arrangement of music and bold delivery of English lyrics in his songs, Coppola told Burman that he was a highly gifted musician.

After R D Burman married Asha Bhonsle, he sang most of his songs with her. Once, he confessed that none of those duets were serene and will never be remembered.

Speaking about quality, R D Burman lamented that he never received deserving lyrics, which were suitable for his voice, except the haunting number from Kitab. Instead, singers like Mohammed Rafi, Manna De, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle were the ones who had the opportunity to sing songs with soulful lyrics while R D Burman composed music for the songs they sang.

By the 90s, R D Burman became increasingly frustrated as a musician. It is said that once he cried in front of Salil Chowdhury in Kolkata stating that he was losing his musical touch. Salil, who was also a family friend of the Burmans, consoled his beloved student and encouraged him. He told him that he still had lots of untapped potential as a musician.

And then came the gem of all R D Burman’s songs — Hum Na Samjhe The from Gardish. This track was undoubtedly his most touching and memorable performance after Dhanni Dhanni... Also, very few people know that R D Burman was in tears after recording the number.

R D Burman passed away 17 years ago on January 4. Throughout his career, he tried to regain his midas touch in the field of music. R D Burman was also fighting a lone battle against the gross commercialisation of Hindi playback songs. He might not be remembered as a legendary singer like Rai Chand Boral, Pankaj Mullick, S D Burman or Hemant Kumar, but the few numbers he sang still make us sit up and take notice. His voice and music is timeless.

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