Sachin Dev Burman was acknowledged as much for what he did not do as for what he did. He never bothered to keep dozens of assignments on hand at a time to be in the top bracket. He couldn’t care less to keep his songs in the ‘hit-parade’ though the modern ‘art’ of manipulations. His lack of ‘tact’ almost made him look a misfit to be a music director.
Judging by filmi standards, the late Sachin Dev Burman — ‘Dada’ to people who knew him well – was no music director. He never had nor acquired the traits that go with music directors these days. He did not know how much publicity and promotion contributed to a music director’s popularity and market price. No wonder he never employed a publicist or a PRO to blow his trumpet. He did not plaigarise western tunes and palm them off as his own. He did not the value of keeping two dozen or more assignments in hand to be in the ‘top bracket’. He never bothered to keep his songs on the ‘hit parade’ through the modern art of manipulation and maneuvers.
He always set store by the wrong awards and ignored the commercial awards that have to be won even at a price to boost one’s market value and popular image. Such disqualifications made Dada Burman a misfit as a music director.
But come to think of it. What a glorious misfit he was! And whoever saw or heard him regret the things he never did – never could — to fall in tune with his contemporaries?
Burman was different from others for many reasons. Music was in his veins like aristocracy. Even as a child he could grasp and hum a good tune on the first hearing. Later he mastered folklore by mixing freely with its natural exponents. Nature had been his inspiration as a little boy, he had no qualms hobnobbing with the commoners, learning and singing their songs despite his royal bearings.
Thus, Sachin, son of Maharajkumar Nabadeep Chandra Dev Burman had the advantage of listening to some of the noted ustaads of the era to be familiar with classical music. His wanderlust and free association with folk singers across the hills enabled him to gain a grounding in folk and popular music, something that was to stand him in good stead later in his career as a composer. .
A memorable outcome of this early phase of Dada Burman’s life was the first song Dheere se jaana bagiyan mein .. which is believed to have been inspired producer S Mukherjee to give him his first break as a music director at Filmistan.
Take any number from the golden string of burman songs spread over three decades, one factor stands out. A universality of appeal.. It is this quality that made it possible for the maestro to capture the musical fancy of three generations even at 70.
As a man ‘Dada’ was often child-like in his simplicity and innocence. Once he was to be the principal attraction at the benefit night in the memory of a dead confrere. This writer who was one of the key organizers reminded Dada for a second time that he should not forget to come in time. “If you remind me a third time I will take it that you do not trust me and I may not come at all!!” he’d snapped. He was there in good time and sang more songs than he had promised.
Burman was an unsparing critic of his own work and could, at times be very outspoken too. Once he wasn’t too happy about the music he had scored for a certain film. He was ill and in the hospital when the picture was released. The reviewers had however been kind to the composer and had praised his work. A couple of days after he had gone home he telephoned to express his desire to meet the critic. “I didn’t like that para in your review where you praised my work which according to me in rather poor. You should have not done that my friend. It’s not good for a critic…”
On the eve of the release of Guide a popular Bombay weekly published a review of the film by it’s film critic(now no more) without a word about Burman’s music. Dada was upset. “I don’t mind a critic tearing my work to pieces”, he told this writer. “if he does not like it. But I want to know is the music in Guide so bad as to be completely ignored?”
Most reviewers the following week-end acclaimed Burman’s work in Guide in glowing terms. The reviewers for once had acclaimed what was easily one of the most outstanding musical score of Dada’s career. What more it appealed to both the masses and the classes.
Guide had led to another interesting episode. A local filmland publicist-cum agent approached Dada with a proposal that shocked and enraged him. “Give me so much and”, the man said, “and you will get the award”. He had come in connection with a popular award hoping that the old man would fall for the offer readily. He was in for a surprise.
“Now look young man”, Dada told him, “I will be honest and tell you that I am interested in getting this award though I never knew it could be manipulated or bought. I can afford the money that you are asking for. And I also know that compared to the gains the award might yield the money you ask is nothing. But I would rather give it away to those who had acclaimed my music that buy the award….”
It is said that Dada Burman cut his musical teeth on his father’s sitar. He grew up in an atmosphere of classical music. To the knowledge and love of music thus acquired were added flashes from folklore and Rabindra Sangeet. It was no wonder that sprang from this unique combination carried the vitality and exuberance of ever-lasting appeal. His music bore a lilt and rhythm unique for it’s originality. No wonder his tunes are untouched by the ravages of time.
Even a creative and versatile composer like Dada Burman needs a certain rapport with the film-maker, a certain understanding on the latter’s part of the amount of scope, freedom and right situations that would inspire him to give of his best. Dada found this in ample measure while working with directors like the late Bimal Roy (Devdas, Sujata, Bandini) and Guru Dutt (Pyaasa, Kagaz Ke Phool), Dev Anand (Baazi, Taxi Driver, House No 44, Guide, Prem Pujari, Tere Mere Sapne etc.) and Shakti Samanta (Insaan Jaag Utha, Aradhana). Naturally the music that resulted from such harmony and concord had and edge above the songs he composed for others.
As he once told this writer, even the most gifted music director was bound to feel helpless and turn out sub-standard stuff if the lyric he was provided with humdrum or the situation was too commonplace to inspire. I can’t give a classical tune for a cabaret dance sequence can I?”, He asked pointedly.
With the passing of Dada Burman Indian film music had lost it’s most gifted, dedicated and venerable composer, a true wizard of rhythm, a man of whom it can be justly be said that he breathed music. In his own way Dada was a romantic and could invoke pathos or mirth by dint of his wide range, depth and prowess. That is why his name ought to be written in letters of gold whenever the history of film music is written.
Let us not mourn him. For while he lived he knew how to draw happiness and satisfaction from his pursuit of his first and perhaps only love. It was no mean happiness and satisfaction because it carried a realization of the fact that he had given abundant happiness and satisfaction to millions of listeners through his matchless compositions.
As Sydney Smith has said: “All musical people seem to be happy; it is to them the engrossing pursuit; almost the only innocent and unpunished passion.