How old must a grand old man of music be? The description suits Toto the grand old man of western classical music Pablo Casals; Or his Indian counterpart Ustaad Allahuddin Khan. The grand old man of Indian Film Music Kumar Sachin Dev Burman looked slightly deceptive age-wise. How old is he? I haven’t asked him. It wasn’t necessary. The honour goes with him for quite some time and must have been conferred on him when it must have been positively embarrassing and for this Sachin Dev Burman, or more appropriately Burman Dada, could only blame his precocious maturity as a musician. Sachin Dev’s and Ashok Kumar’s inestimable prestige as musician and film-actor has put into currency a new ‘dadaism’ in Bombay filmdom. Thus meeting Burmandada is like meeting an elder brother. Never once did he refer to me ‘apni’ – wise. In his manners as in his music Burmandada shows an open disregard for the myth of a “generation gap”. The much talked about “GG” is a scapegoat for people who either despise and old custom or refuse to fit into a new situation. Burmandada somehow adapts himself to his circumstances as normally as breathing. And that is precisely where the Burman mystique begins. For an interviewer to project this nexus he must begin where the maestro himself has begun
Q: Well Dada wouldn’t it be wise to begin at the beginning?
A: But in my case there is a jumble of beginnings rather than one. Being born into a family where music was very much admired but never considered as a profession I had a number of problems to begin with. Our social standing was conspicuously honourable and gave me a chance of being friendly with circles where one would frequently run into very fine classical musicians. I listened to them singing songs, discussing ideas or just babbling on music. Their ideas turned me on. Their performances refined my tastes and tuned my auditory imagination. My training in the diction of classical music too wasn’t very very negligible.
But then a simple man as I am, I soon took a special liking for folk music of the place where I lived. The simple sensuous spontaneity of folk music seduced my musical senses. I felt I was being drawn into a world not so cheerful by so many mundane considerations. But there was no stopping it. Amd that was the most noteworthy beginning so to say.
Q: What exactly was the nature of this beginning?
A: It was of the nature of a love affair. First I was charmed by it. Then I wanted to know more and see more of it. Soon I wanted to possess it. Consequently it took possession of my musical mind. My life in folk music is like a dream. The more I dream the more intricate and imaginative it becomes. Later when I started to compose for films I did not say good-bye to folk. Rather I gave it a dimension it had never conceived before. Our film music on the other hand underwent a change that was not so much in the offing. The folk element also drove out a whole gamut of philistinism that was eating into the vitals of compositional music in our films.
Q: Which section of our folk music appeals more to you?
A: Bengali folk music is a big thing, you know that perhaps. It is the Bhatiali aspect of the music that means something special to me. But then, you can never quite leave out one for the other. The Baul ang also has serious appeal. If you talk of shades then you may quite reasonably reach out for many different ‘angs’ or aspects within our folk music tradition. As for myself I have always tried to see this music from as many perspectives as I have found possible.
Q: Do you have any personal definition for your kind of bhatiali?
A: I would like to propose my definition. But I am sure it would not seriously alter the general definition. Bhatiali is an earthy music. It is rooted to the soil where it sprouts from. Thus Bhatiali of a particular area has it’s local gift and colours. Bhatiali is also the song of the rivers. The sound patterns of Bhatiali, its colour contrasts, its pathos and it’s mirth reminds you of the rivers of Bengal as many of the poems of Tagore do. Besides all these Bhatiali is also about love whether of the common peasants or of Radha and Krishna. Thus it’s mood can vary from light romanticisms to philosophic melancholy. But it never aspires to the philosophy of the Baul kind.
Q: How do you draw a line between Baul and Bhatiali?
A: Mainly by the theme. Ofcourse when the theme changes the mood and the expression are also altered. The Baul chiefly attempts to narrate a philosophy. The bhatiali attempts to depict a mood which may at times be philosophical. More often than not Bhatiali treats in so many ways a very human feeling, a wishful thinking, a simple and sensuous state of mind. Take for instance this Baul lyric: Ami Bandhu Premagune pora. Ami morle jalasne re tora…… or even better Chintaram darogababu korle jalatan….. Now the first lyric tells of a lover’s sorrows which can also be interpreted philosophically. The second lyric is out and out philosophical stated in terms of an allegory. Compared to this the teenaged bride’s yearning to the return to her father’s place in the bhatiali piece
Ke jas re bhati gang baiya
Amar bhaidhonre koiya
Naihor nite boya
Is positively simple and much more the folkish kind. It is the woes of a girl who is both and individual and a type. But her sorrows pertain to a particular parochial tradition, milieu and sentiment. Surely there is a universal element beneath it, but the form of experiencing has it’s native colour. In terms of melody and structure there are also some differences. But such differences are to be felt rather than intellectually anatomized.
Q: Burmandada you have been abroad many times. Have you made any personal research work on the folk music of other nations?
A: It is true I’ve come to know the folk music of other countries rather closely. But that would not amount to research work When you wish to go deep into something you’ve got to stay with it for a length of time. In different parts of India the folk patterns vary though having an underlying unity in the thought current. That is why I have gone places in India to supplement my learning in Bengali Folk music. Something of the kind wasn’t possible with foreign folk music because my stay abroad has been sporadic and not for a considerable length of time. Still the least I have seen of folk music aborad confirms my faith in the basic similiarity of folk attitudes of all nations. In Russia, I remember, I was constantly reminded of our folk songs and classical ragas like Bhairivi and Jogiya or Todi whenever I listened to their folk music. In Spain too I had similiair experiences. These cases cases give verity to the idea that the folk music of the continent was an importation from Asia. The nomads or gypsies took with them certain folk disciplines whenever they migrated from one region to another. As history has it, much of our folk excellences traveled with the gypsies when the moors raced up to the south-west of Europe. Spains music imbibed some of our folk character in this way. To tell you frankly, to listen to folk music abroad is to be constantly reminded of India.
Q: Folk music, as you said is a spontaneous affair. Does training in folk music share an equally spontaneous discipline?
A: Very much so. Folk music can be best learnt through an association with the natural world. The more you see the folk pockets and the more commitments you make to it the better you train yourself. It has nothing to do with the gharana sort of training as in classical music. Purity is the life blood of classical music. So the more grooved you are in the atmosphere of the gharana and the more you suffer the rewazi routine the better classical musician you become. No such course can apply to folk music. Folk, as opposed to the purity of classical music is the more natural sort. Training for folk has something of a religious eccentricity. When I took to learning folk music, I was very much a bohemian. I would go to all the folk joints and spend lots of time listening to performances and collecting parchments. I used to see a lot of places with which my music is related. In other words I was losing much of my urban character to become a folk lover. And I think I have a right to assert that learning folk music needs a lot of sacrifice. But then it is definitely worth it.
Q: Having given yourself to folk music how could you land up with music direction?
A: That too was guided by my urge propagate our folk music. It is not wise to give a folk musician up for social being. Moreover one has to be very creative to keep his folk repertory alive for audiences. My training in raga music added to my understanding of the compositional merits of a piece .I chanced to hear. After having valued a piece for it’s classical base I could see if it had any folk filigree anywhere. But unfortunately my research on compositional music in our country revleaed a sorry neglect for the folk element. That is why I decided upon composing music with a definite folk accent. And that’s what I have been doing for so long.
Q: Did you receive good response for this effort?
A: More than hundred percent. Some of the best songs that I have composed for films are actually based on folk. And wow! The kind of popularity they have achieved only too well proves my theory that none but the deaf can reject folk melodies. You have heard my famous song in Aradhana Safal hogi teri aradhana, kahe ko roye. It is composed on a simply Baul melody. Then there is the famous Guide song Wahan Kaun Hai Tera Musafir Jayega Kahan That too is done on Bhatiali lines. What’s more surprising is that the rather jazzy sort of hit song Roop Tera Mastana sung by Kishore Kumar is but a beautiful folk melody that I happened to have heard a long time ago. I remembered the tune because of it’s peculiar effect. It merely uses two notes and has a very special influence on the senses.
Q: Do you always search for a folk opening in your composition for film music?
A: Oh no. One can’t really do that. I have to keep a watch for the appropriate situation. I wouldn’t surely like to impose folk tunes on a song for a cabaret sequence. Ofcourse when the situation has a folk dimension I do my best to give folk it’s due. Besides I make use of folk in songs that are romantic, tender and susceptible to a refined serenity. Actually the basic virtue of folk music — its tendency to mingle joy and sorrow in the same tone – makes it an asset par excellence to a composer. I don’t know how much I owe to folk music for my achievements as a composer.
Q: Besides folk you make other experiments in your compositions. Do you like experiments?
A: Yes I do. I am more for the experimental kind. It gives me great pleasure to know that I can propose in my songs musical ideas that suit the mood of the time. Secondly I have a more tender feeling towards songs which speak of my creative thinking. Yet that does not mean I do not like compositions on conventional lines. I am equally interested in raga projection in songs for films. It helps to popularize our classical music. Considered this way Naushadji is a great composer, Madan Mohan’s use of raga music in Dastak is an experience. It is one of the high water marks of Indian Film Music like Ravi Shankar’s music in ‘Pather Panchali’ or Vilayat Khan’s in Jalsaghar.
Q: Do you have any favourites in Bombay’s film music?
A: It is very difficult to say. If to mention one is to write off another I’d better say nothing. If you talk of styles I can name Madan Mohan and Khaiyyam amongst composers who mean much to me.
Q: What about your son Rahul?
A: I shouldn’t say much about him. It could smack of nepotism. He is imaginative and very creative. He is much bent on experiments. I believe he has a great future.
Q: Burmanda my questions are finished. Would you say something without being questioned?
A: I would like you to report me saying that “Burman Dada wants more people to listen to our folk music and keep it alive?