“You enter a garden house with beautiful garden and congratulate the gardener. What about the master of the house?” Thus said Shri Ramakrishna. In our film world the same question is often asked, though in different words.However, let me assure you that as a director of film music, I do not envy the film stars or the playback singers, except when I am called a bundle (a word of unknown origin heard in Bombay which means a good-for-nothing fellow)
One day I had some business at Kardar studio. A fairly big crowd was waiting at the gates for a glimpse of the stars and I drove in, in my car. “Who is it?” they anxiously asked and peeped in. “Oh!” came the loud voice of a disappointed fan, and then, “Aarey he is a bundle.”
But I have my admirers, too. Once I was waiting at Bandra Station to catch a train for Malad. Suddenly, I discovered that the train had come, halted and left. I did not know. What was I doing? Well, I was lost in the enjoyment of my own tune of a song from Shabnam which a gang of labourers were singing to the rhythm of the movements of their hammers and shovels.
Talking of rhythm, I am tempted to repeat an old story. I had just joined Filmistan and at an informal gathering at Malad I was giving a recital of my songs before S. Mukherji, the Filmistan Chief, Ashok Kumar (Dadamani to all of us), Pradeep, the lyric poet, and others. In the midst of it I heard a jarring sound which was supposed to be a message of appreciation from an admiring listner. Who could it be? I looked in the direction of the sound and turned pale. The culprit was none other than my boss, Mr Mukherji, whom I knew to be a true lover of music and whose style of singing was like my own. – How could I satisfy his ears?
As days went by, I made further discoveries regarding his sense of rhythm and harmony. Everyday after lunch I had to carry my harmonium to his room. Lying comfortably on a sofa, he listened to my compositions, then closed his eyes, and presently snored! The snore was a signal that my composition was disapproved.
This ordeal continued for nearly two months and I came to the end of my patience. I also came to the conclusion that if I could not please my boss, there was no point in my staying on at Filmistan, just to sing lullabys to him. The next day I went prepared for a showdown.
As usual I started playing the harmonium and went on humming my new tune till my boss’s eyes closed. There was nothing more to do. I had only to wait for the inevitable snore. But suddenly the boss woke up and said, “Mr Burman, why don’t you get it recorded?”
“Record what?” I asked
“ I mean this tune. You may call the musicians and start rehearsing right now,” he said.
I was puzzled and wondered why of all the tunes I composed for him all this time he liked this one. I found out the same evening. As I was coming out of the rehearsal room the “room-boy” (door-keeper) was humming the tune and quite correctly too! This gave me an idea. From that day I made it a point to get my tunes “approved” by the “room boy”. It worked. In almost all cases the room-boy’s approval carried.
The secret of Mr Mukherji’s judgment was, as he told me one day, the formula of universal appeal. He said. “You see, Mr Burman, you have your own style of music, which I like. By all means keep it up but present it in such a way that film lovers may like it and feel at home with it —- not only in Bombay or Bengal but all over the country.”
With this and many other pieces of sound advice the man who had apparently no rhythm or harmony guided me over the difficult road to success for which I shall always remain grateful to him.
My present work is nothing but trying to weave patterns of universal appeal in my own style, and in this, I think, I am doing my duty to the film industry and no disservice to the country. For me no reward is bigger than the pleasure of hearing my tune from the lips of a stranger.
Fishing is one of my hobbies. Once, I was fishing at a village about twenty miles from Calcutta. It was an unlucky pond, and at the end of a fruitless day I had only my patience to flatter. Thoroughly disappointed, I was about to call it a day, when a boy of about ten jumped into the pond and started singing my Bazi song (Tadbeer sey bigrhee whui taqdeer banaley) not knowing that the man who composed it’s music was on the opposite bank with his fishing rod. It was the biggest catch of my life.
It is not the composition of music alone that makes a “hit” song. One is on tenterhooks for fear that a thousand and one calamities may spoil the song. For instance, imagine everything set ready for the final “take” but the singer nonchalantly enjoys ice chips before singing an important song. And who could it be but Dadamani? The idol of the Indian screen was to sing a song in Shikari and he had been ordered that he should have ice before singing my song to improve his voice! But, believe it or not, to my great amazement and unbounded relief, Dadamani’s voice did improve and become more and more steady as lumps of ice went down his throat.
I cannot explain the medical theory, but I would like to tell my friends the playback singers who sing my songs: “For heaven’s sake, don’t ever try Dadamani’s trick on me. I am already a “bundle” —– of nerves!”