Be it Bimal Roy’s Devdas, Sujata and Bandini, Guru Dutt’s Baazi, Pyaasa and Kagaz Ke Phool; Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana, Satyen Bose’s Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi or Vijay Anand’s Guide, S D Burman has scored the music for an inordinately vast number of classics.
The soft-faced, bespectacled maestro remained popular with both discerning filmmakers and the general public for decades because his melody-soaked compositions, while rewardingly rooted in Indian folk and light classical music, always remained easy to hum.
Sachin Dev Burman was, however, a bit of a late bloomer, achieving success in Hindi films only when he was well into his forties. Born in a princely family in Tripura in 1906, he trained under his singer father Nabadwipchandra Dev Burman. Burman roamed the North East and its influences are often evident in his music. He spent the early days of the 1930s and 1940s struggling as a singer, most notably with the dulcet Dheere se jaana bagiyan mein, and as a music director in Bengali films.
|S D Burman’s Landmark Songs [1940-50]|
| Mera sundar sapna
|Do Bhai||Geeta Dutt|
| Tadbeer se bigdi hui
taqdeer bana le
|Thandi hawayein||Naujawan||Lata Mangeshkar|
|Yeh raat yeh chaandni||Jaal||Hemant Kumar|
| Jaayen toh jaaye
|Taxi Driver||Talat Mehmood|
| Jeevan ke safar
| Jaane woh kaise
| Hum bekhudi
|Kaala Paani||Mohammed Rafi|
| Haal kaisa hai
|Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi|| Kishore Kumar,
|Kaali ghata chhaye||Sujata||Asha Bhosle|
|Waqt ne kiya||Kagaz Ke Phool||Geeta Dutt|
Ashok Kumar played a significant role in S D Burman’s early history in Hindi films. Burman got his big break as a composer for Hindi films in 1946 with Filmistan’s Ashok Kumar starrers Shikari and Eight Days. But success was not a natural corollary. A disillusioned S D was all set to return to Kolkata when Ashok Kumar, who had shifted to Bombay Talkies, persuaded Burman score the music for Bombay Talkies’ Mashaal.
Meanwhile, Filmistan’s Do Bhai (1947) proved a sleeper hit (propelled by Burman-Geeta Dutt beauties like Mera sundar sapna beet gaya and Yaad karoge yaad karoge). It was followed by Dilip Kumar hit Shabnam (1949).
By the fifties, S D Burman was established as a spinner of sweet harmonies. He was also responsible for the early hits of several major singers. Geeta Dutt’s career took off after her Do Bhai hits. Manna Dey’s career flowered after after he sang Upar gagan vishal for Burman in Mashaal.
Hemant Kumar’s earliest Hindi success is Yeh raat yeh chaandni from Jaal. And Kishore Kumar had his first hit courtesy Burman’s dotty ditty Qusoor aapka, huzoor aapka in AVM’s Vyjayanthimala vehicle Bahaar.
|S D Burman’s Landmark Songs [1960s]|
|Khoya khoya chaand||Kaala Bazaar||Mohammed Rafi|
Poocho na kaise maine raen bitayi
Meri Surat Teri Aankhen
O jaanewale ho sake to laut
|Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai||Guide||Lata Mangeshkar|
|Hothon pe aisi baat||Jewel Thief||Lata Mangeshkar|
|Mere sapnon ki rani||Aradhana||Kishore Kumar|
Dev Anand’s debut production Afsar (1950) failed, but it marked the beginning of Burman’s association with Dev’s banner Navketan. The association spanned a good quarter of a century.
Burman was essentially Indian in his music but his long association with the Westernised Dev Anand necessitated a transfusion of pop into Burman’s music. Burman deftly composed some racy club songs like Baazi’s Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le (Dev says the audience repeatedly thronged the theatres to hear the song and see Geeta Bali); Taxi Driver’s sublime seduction number Dil jale toh jale; or Nau Do Gyarah’s less heard Asha-Geeta beauty Kya ho phir jo din rangeela ho without compromising his talent or the depth of Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics.
Burmandada to friends, SD was well-known for his white kurtas, fondness for paan and his quaint Hindi pronunciations (most notably ‘moosafir‘ in the Guide song Wahan kaun hai tera.
But he consistently worked with lyricists of calibre: Sahir in the early days, and later with Majrooh Sultanpuri (with whom there was an efflorescence of breezy romantic duets); Shailendra (Bandini and Guide); and Neeraj (in 1970 films like Prem Pujari and Tere Mere Sapne).
|S D Burman’s Landmark Songs [1970s]|
|Rangeela re||Prem Pujari||Lata Mangeshkar|
| Megha chhaye
|Hey maine kasam li||Tere Mere Sapne|| Lata Mangeshkar,
| Tere mere milan ki
|Abhimaan|| Lata Mangeshkar,
|Chupke chupke chal re||Chupke Chupke||Lata Mangeshkar|
Undoubtedly, Burman’s career benefitted through his association with topnotch directors. He could compose a pathos-laden Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye in Pyaasa as well as spin off a madcap Paanch rupaiya barah anna.
In 1959, after Burman sang Sujata’s Sun mere bandhu re, the trademark boatman song with highly philosophical lyrics became a fixture in many of his movies.
In the late 1950s, Burman had a temporary fall-out with Lata Mangeshkar, which benefitted Asha Bhosle tremendously. The composer now lavished his best on her (Kaali ghata chhaye, Achchaji main haari). Even after he made up with Lata, Burman chose to turn expectations around and bequeathed Bandini‘s (1963) light romantic songs (Mora gora ang lai le) to Lata while the heavily emotional numbers went to Asha (Ab ke baras).
Failing health in the sixties resulted in his assistant Jaidev taking over Navketan’s Hum Dono, but Burman came back with Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (1963). Dev waited for months for SD to be well enough to compose for Guide (1965). The result was a benchmark in film music.
Not one to meekly follow trends, Burman did only six films between 1965 and 1969. Even when the orchestration fever raged in the sixties, Burman stuck soft songs that relied on vocals like Mehbooba teri tasveer or Raat akeli hai.
As notable as his minimalism was his ability to pick the right musical instrument to elevate a song. Like the mouth organ in Hai apna dil toh awara (Solva Saal, 1958) and Mere sapno ki rani (Aradhana, 1969). Aradhana was a through-the-roof blockbuster that pushed S D Burman, Kishore Kumar and, of course, Rajesh Khanna firmly into the limelight.
Son R D Burman (who along with his mother Meera Burman had assisted SD) was now an independent successful music director. And so was SD. He had an astounding string of hits in the early 1970s like Sharmilee, Naya Zamana, Anuraag, Abhimaan, Jugnu and Prem Nagar.
In 1975, the musician slipped into a coma which led to his death.
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