Book Review: Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal’s ‘R.D. Burman: The Man, The Music’

People who know this blog focuses on pre-70s cinema would possibly be surprised to find a review here of a book about RD Burman—who, to most people, is more associated with Dum maaro dum and all those very peppy Rishi Kapoor songs of the 70s, than the music of the 60s. The fact, however, remains that RD Burman had actually made his debut as an independent composer (not merely as an assistant to his father, SD Burman) as far back as 1961, with the Mehmood production Chhote Nawab. And that he composed the chartbusting music for what is possibly my favourite Hindi suspense film (and one, too, which doesn’t have a single song I don’t like): Teesri Manzil.

This review, therefore, of a book about a man I knew little about except through his music—which has always appealed to me, not just because so much of it was there, all around me, playing on LPs in our house and blaring from radios wherever we went when I was growing up, but because it was so infectious, so full of life. (It was only later that an older, more informed me realized just how versatile RDB was, what softly melodious songs he could compose).

Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal's 'RD Burman: The Man, The Music'

But, on to the book. Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal’s R.D. Burman: The Man, The Music (Harper Collins Publishers India, ISBN: 978-93-5029-049-1, 366 pages, Rs 399) won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema for 2011, and is—as its title suggests—a biography of Rahul Dev Burman, RDB, Pancham, call him what you will: one of Hindi cinema music’s undisputed leading lights.

After a foreword and an introduction (by Javed Akhtar and Shammi Kapoor, respectively) Bhattacharjee and Vittal begin their biography of RDB with their own introduction, followed by the authors’ note; an impressive list of the musicians who formed RDB’s team (and some big names here, too, all the way from Manohari Singh to Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Kersi Lord, and Louis Banks); a short paragraph that Salil Choudhary wrote as tribute on RDB’s death—and then the prologue, set in 1994, when RDB died.

The real book follows the prologue and is divided into three sections (or books, as they’re called here): Ascendant in Leo, Moon in Libra, and Sun in Gemini. After a brief introduction to RDB’s ancestry—the royalty of Tripura, Sachin Dev Burman and his passion for music, which prompted him to move to Bombay, and RDB’s birth, in June 1939, the story focuses exclusively on RDB and his rise to fame in the music world of Hindi cinema. Not a smooth and meteoric rise; after the release of Chhote Nawab, RDB saw a lull in assignments—his next major hit score was the one for the 1966 Teesri Manzil—but after that, there was no looking back for the next decade and a half.

Helen and Shammi Kapoor in Teesri Manzil

R.D. Burman: The Man, The Music traces that journey thoroughly, meticulously. People who worked alongside RDB—singers, musicians, producers, directors, actors, etc—have been interviewed, old articles dug up from the media, much research done to come up with the stories behind just about every film and every memorable song that RDB was connected with. How the film came about; how RDB created its songs; what makes those songs what they are. Trivia. Lots of it.

In addition to that, there is information about the Durga Puja albums (non-filmi) which RDB created, as well as the Bengali films for which he composed. And the international album, Pantera, which he composed in the 80s.

What appealed to me the most from this almost encyclopedic book on RDB was the person he’s revealed as: the musician, of course (versatile, creative, forward-thinking, somewhat of a maverick), but also a man who seems very likeable. Down to earth, humble, kind (the anecdotes of how much consideration he gave to his musicians—encouraging them, supporting them, taking their advice, even paying them out of his own pocket when producers lagged behind on payments—all of that really brought a smile to my face). A man, too, who found it difficult to market himself, and ended up getting left behind in the rat race, deserted by all.

RD Burman

The other major highlight of this book for me was the delightful trivia it contained. A lot of it pertained to RDB’s utterly offbeat ways of producing sound for his music: ‘blowing air into half-filled beer bottles’, for example, to create the sound at the beginning of Mehbooba mehbooba (Sholay), or patting a shirtless musician’s bare back to create secondary percussion in Raat gayi baat gayi (Darling Darling)! Or trivia not strictly related to the composition of music, but still the sort of information that gives me a thrill: for example (and this one really blew me away), that the role which Amitabh Bachchan eventually played in Bombay to Goa had originally been offered to Rajiv Gandhi.

Amitabh Bachchan et al in Bombay to Goa

Now for what didn’t appeal to me. Like the authors’ Gaata Rahe Mera Dil, I found this book too technical for me in places (in fact, I’d say this one had even more technicalities than the other book)—which diluted my enjoyment of it somewhat.

There are some points that could be open to debate. For example, Aapke kamre mein koi rehta hai is described as having ‘introduced to Hindi cinema a concept commonly used in Hollywood musicals: songs woven into dialogues’. Anybody remember Aage bhi jaane na tu, from Waqt? There was plenty happening there between verses: fights, romance, bad news and good; plenty of conversation.

Aage bhi jaane na tu

And calling I love you (Hare Rama Hare Krishna) the first bilingual song in the chronicles of Hindi cinema may not be correct. Even if one doesn’t count the English-Hindi song Devika Rani is supposed to have sung in Karma, surely songs like Main Bangali chhokra (which is a hilarious mix of Bengali and Hindi, from Raagini), not to mention Jaiyo jaiyo sipahiyya baajaar (Nishaan) and Humne mohabbat ki duniya basaayi (Sansaar)—which are both actually multilingual, let alone bilingual—would count?

There are outright errors, too: the setting of Tere bina zindagi se koi is cited as Golconda (it’s actually Kashmir); Helen (and not Ragini) is listed as the ‘heroine’ of Shikari; and Simon and Garfunkel’s classic The Sound of Silence is repeatedly referred to as The Sounds of Silence.

But, taken in tandem with the vast amount of valuable information that there is in this book, that’s actually nitpicking on my part. If I hadn’t read this, I probably wouldn’t have realized just how many songs—all the way from SD Burman’s Thandi hawayein lehraake aayein to Roshan’s Tera dil kahaan hai (not to mention his Rahein na rahein hum) to RDB’s very own Humein raaston ki zaroorat nahin hai and Saagar kinaare—were inspired by a piece of music in Algiers (1938). Even though I’ve seen all the films in question, including Algiers.

Near the end of the book, the authors devote a couple of pages to the relevance of RD Burman in today’s music. The most remixed composer (though, as they point out, RDB’s music was so vivid and modern, it doesn’t need remixing). The composer whose music has actually inspired films—Jhankaar Beats and Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar. A composer who is, as they out it, ‘a brand’.

If you like RD Burman’s music (and would like to know more about the man behind it), do give this book a try—it makes for interesting, informative reading.

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45 thoughts on “Book Review: Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal’s ‘R.D. Burman: The Man, The Music’

  1. Lovely review, as usual. A couple of questions (about the book, not the review). One, does it discuss how and why RDB faded away in the ’80s? And secondly, I know I’m being intrusive here, but does it go into the details of his marriage? Opinions tend to be divergent on this point: some claim it was a warm, fulfilling relationship, others dismiss it as a sham. Would be interesting to see if the authors’ researches shed new light on this matter.

    • “One, does it discuss how and why RDB faded away in the ’80s?

      Yes, very much. That’s an important part of the book, and they got into it in fairly good detail.

      “And secondly, I know I’m being intrusive here, but does it go into the details of his marriage?

      Which one? The first (to Rita Patel, if I remember the name correctly – I don’t have time right now to go check the book), or what may or may not have been a legal wedding to Asha Bhonsle?

      They do talk about both these relationships, even touching on the fact that different sources say different things about the RDB-Asha relationship (whether or not it was a marriage)… but not in sordid detail. For me, as someone who hates to read gossip about the personal lives of celebrities, the level of detail they went into here was just right. Not salacious, not gossipy, but still acknowledging that he had those relationships.

    • You’ve written this on my blog several times already, and I’ve always replied with the reason why this out of my control (and is actually within your control, somewhat). Will just copy and paste from one of my previous comments, and hope you read this this time.

      “Regarding the font size, I replied to your comment on my Shashi Kapoor songs post, but it appears you missed that. Here it is, again:

      The font size is, unfortunately, part of WordPress’s theme, and cannot be customized. But you can change your browser settings to view it as a larger font. For instance, if you’re using Google Chrome, clicking on the ‘Customization and Controls’ button on the extreme right upper corner allows you to zoom in as much as you like.

  2. Thanks a lot for this review, I have been thinking last month if I need this book:) Now I think I need it despite all flaws that you have mentioned. By the way – I’m not so sure in my competence to differ by ear hindi and english in parody song, may be one of the first bilingual songs was Meri jaan meri jaan sunday ke sunday from Shehnai (1947)?

    • The flaws are few and far between, Anna – and not being able to understand the technical details is my shortcoming, so I can’t hold the authors responsible for that! So yes, do buy the book; it’s worth it.

      Aana meri jaan Sunday ke Sunday had occurred to me too. Yes, that does have some English in it, and not just the odd word here and there.

  3. Glad you enjoyed the book, Madhu, despite the technical analyses. :) And great review as well. (That should be said? *grin*)

    Re: songs woven into dialogues’
    I don’t think they are talking about dialogues between other characters, happening when the song is going on. In Aap ke kamre me… the character who is singing is part of the dialogue as well, and that dialogue is woven into the song – it is part of the song itself, not just happening elsewhere.

      • I *think* (and it’s only my own perception of it) that here, the dialogue is before the actual song begins, no? There are a couple of interjections but not a ‘dialogue’ actually during the song. In the Yaadon ke Baraat number – the medley has actual dialogues, asking Zeenat to come up on stage, for instance, asking her to sing, then later, getting Vijay Arora to join in, the latter asking Tariq for a note to start him off…

        I could be wrong, but I think that sort of a casual conversation in the middle of a song/songs hadn’t been seen before. It came up very organically – when you are singing four songs (or was it five?) one after the other, then you could feasibly have this interaction with the audience. Now, could we give the credit to RD or to Nasir Hussain who, after all, came up with the idea of the medley, or to both, I don’t know.

        As to the bilingual song, there were plenty of bilingual songs before I love you, anyway. Shamshad had a song – was it in Shehnai? I vaguely remember Dilip Kumar watching a performance – where she sings in four or five different languages, including Tamil. If I remember right, you posted this song in one of your lists.

        (I was wrong about the film – it’s from Nishaan.)

        • Hmm. Yes. Though I think a ‘dialogue’ can be interpreted in different ways. ““Yes?” “Yes.” would also, technically, be a dialogue. But let’s agree to disagree about how we interpret that particular style. By the way, before I posted my comment, I did listen to Chaahe koi khush ho again – and there did seem to me to be what could be construed as ‘dialogue’. Not to the extent of Aapke kamre mein, but then the extent (or not) wasn’t the question…

          “If I remember right, you posted this song in one of your lists.

          Yes. I’ve mentioned it and linked to it, in this post too, where I’ve talked about multilingual songs. ;-)

          • Serves me right for reading your post on the phone, and not referring back to it when I replied to your response! I’d completely forgotten you’d mentioned the song in your post. It was probably reading that earlier that even brought it to mind… apologies!

              • Ah, now I got it! It wasn’t the song from Nishaan after all; it was from Shabnam; the singer is Shamshad Begum, the music director is SD, and it is picturised on Kamini Kaushal. Also in multiple languages:

                  • There is a story about this song which I know from someone who was there. Has been told by Burman too. Anyway, but twin language song we meant alternate stanzas in Hindi and English.. something that was a novelty.

                    Madhu, I do have some points to make (not defend), but shall do when I am slightly free. Thank you for the review.

                    • “Anyway, but twin language song we meant alternate stanzas in Hindi and English.

                      Ah. Didn’t realize that, since I don’t think it was explained as such…

                      Looking forward to your comments whenever you have the time, Anirudha! Enjoyed this book.

        • Interesting discussion about dialogues in a song. I think I get the distinction you’re making Anu that “aap ke kamre mein” has the characters and the *singers* who are playbacking for them sing/speak the dialogue within the song. So, a “nainon wali ne haye mera dil loota” doesn’t meet the criteria because it’s Sadhana and Sunil Dutt who do the conversing, not Lata.

          I do think Madhu is right about “chaahe koi kush ho” since the in-song dialogues are rendered by Kishore for Dev and Johnny Walker for himself. Another pre-Yaadon Ki Baarat instance of dialogue in a song is “ek baar zara phir khedo” from Bin Badal Barsat where Hemant and Lata have the most adorable conversation at the end of the song. “Aap yahan aaye kis liye” from Kal Aaj aur Kal also pre-dates YKB and has Asha and Kishore “talking” for Babita and Randhir.

          • Thank you for adding those songs to the list, Shalini (and for putting, more precisely, into words) what that bit about ‘songs with dialogues woven in’ could mean. :-)

  4. Very nice review Madhu didi! It was very balanced. It is surprising that he made his debut in 1961 because we always associate him with the 70’s. But his early movies weren’t very good for example Bhoot Bangla (barring aao twist karen of course) until Teesri Manzil as you mentioned.
    Does the book mention the fact that he was the composer of Mere Sapnon ki rani and roop tera mastana from Aradhana as is given on Wikipedia? SD Burman is credited with the overall music no?
    But over a period of time I’ve become addicted to your blog. I keep waiting for a new post. :)

    • There’s another song in Bhoot Bangla (which is almost a back-to-back song with Aao twist karein), which I like a lot. O mere pyaar aaja:

      But yes, Teesri Manzil was certainly RD Burman’s big hit – and what a score that was.

      “But over a period of time I’ve become addicted to your blog. I keep waiting for a new post. :)

      You have made my day! Thank you so much, Rahul!

            • That idea has occurred to me a few times over the past few years, but I’ve always dropped it – because, like Hindi film bhajans, Hindi film lullabies rarely appeal to me. Offhand, I can think of only maybe one lullaby which I really like. :-)

              • Wondering which one lullaby would that be? I had the same opinion about lullabies (and bhajans), but today when I started to list them in my head, I realized that there are actually quite a few good ones that I hadn’t necessarily thought of as lullabies. An example is “Aaj kal main dhal gaya” from Beti-Bete (1964 – Rafi/Shankar Jaikishan/Shailendra). I know Geeta Dutt had a few good ones too.

                • The lullaby I was referring to was the lovely Nanhi kali sone chali, from Sujata: I love that one. There are a couple of others which are nice (there’s one from Do Bigha Zameen, for example, picturised on Meena Kumari, and one from Ek Dil Sau Afsaane), but not enough that I could make a post out of them… I think. There are, of course, several kiddie songs that great fun. I had forgotten about Aaj kal mein dhal gaya – nice one.

                  Talking about bhajans, good ones outnumber good lullabies as far as I am concerned. Particular favourites of mine are Na main dhan chaahoon, Tu pyaar ka saagar hai, Man tadpat hari darshan ko aaj and Allah tero naam.

                  • Agreed, those are some of the bhajans I can listen to at any time.

                    Nanhi Kali Sone Chali is a favorite of mine too. The other ones I like are “Aa ri aa ja, Nindiya Tu Le Chal Kahin”, “Aao Tumhe Chand Pe Le Jaayen”, “So Ja Raaj kumari”, “Chanda o Chanda”, “Main Gaaoon tum so jao”, “Dheere se aaja ri”, “Surmayi Ankhiyon main”.. in no particular order..

    • Rahul

      I feel that the songs of Bhoot Bangla were quite nice actually. “Jago sone walon” is a classic in today’s parlance btw. Let me post a song that you might not have heard. This showcased the creeping in of certain styles in RD’s music – use of the reverb , the early thought process of twin track which he actually used two years later, the delightful jump from Chord 1 to 4 (I know I am getting techie here, but listen to the first interlude and how the tune changes), the use of synchronized clapping, the chorus adding more layers to the composition, the long interlude with multiple instruments and voices (listen to the second interlude), the occasional scats, all of which would be vital cogs in his composing wheel later..

      • Thank you so much sir for the song. But again it is a matter of personal opinion. Compared to his other albums like Padosan (just one example there are many of course!) I didn’t find the tracks so impressive. Appreciate your opinion though.

  5. Thanks for the review Madhu. Having read the same author’s second book (Gata Rahe Mera Dil) first (triggered from your review), I was waiting for a confirmation before I can order the new book. It seems like this would be a good one as well.

    It is interesting, for me because growing up he was my number one music director but as I matured and understood the works of his father (SD Burman) and others (Madan Mohan, Salil Chaudhary and Roshan), RDB was no longer my number one choice. In fact, I learned not to compare artists against each other. I loved his association with Kishore Kumar (Padosan) and Rajesh Khanna (Kati Patang, Amar Prem, Aap ki kasam, Mere Jeevan Saathi etc.) during late sixtees and early seventees. His music certainly was fresh (read exciting) and good for ears and there was plenty of improvisations. I remember reading somewhere (or may be on Geetmala) that RDB was very good with harmonica and it was him who played it in the song “Hai Apna Dil to Awara”.

    From your review it appears that this book goes in great details about how generous and down-to-earth he was, as a human; would love to read all about it. Besides, I am always game for trivia. I think it is safe to consider me sold on this book. I checked it out on Amazon and it seems to be available on kindle so I think I am all set.

    • “In fact, I learned not to compare artists against each other.

      Ashish, I wish others would learn from you! Over the years I’ve been blogging, I’ve lost track of the number of people who are such die-hard fans of a particular artist (it could be a singer, a composer, an actor – whatever) that they even take pleasure in pulling other competing artists down, and cannot bear to hear or read a word of criticism against their idols.

      Yes, I knew about RD Burman having played the harmonica for Hai apna dil toh awara, though I had first read that he was 11 years old when he did that. This book set that record straight – he did play it, but at an older age. In his late teens, but certainly not that young! Incidentally, did you know that Ae meri topi palat ke aa from Funtoosh is RDB’s composition?

      Do read the book, Ashish. I think you’ll like it.

      • That’s interesting. I have always thought of fantoosh as classic kishore SD Burman combination.

        Fantoosh came in 1956 which makes RDB a 17 year old at that time, if he composed this song, no?

          • I had heard from someone (don’t know how reliable the source was, so I want to confirm) about something that RD Burman said about Rafi which puzzled me. I don’t even know if it actually happened but RDB had purportedly said that the reason (in late seventees) why he was not chosing Rafi because Rafi was not able to get the nuiances in his songs like Kishore Did. Again, I DO NOT want to start a Rafi vs. Kishore debate (and I don’t even know for sure if this is indeed what RDB said) because I love them both and it’s unfair to compare them.

            I don’t want to believe it because how can someone who composed songs of Teesri Manzil where Rafi did more than justice to those lovely tunes? In fact there were many more movies/songs where RDB/Rafi combo worked very well. Agreed that RDB’s reliance on Kishore was much more than Rafi.

            I am wondering if the book addresses this point.

            • No, I don’t remember reading anything like that in the book (and I would remember something like that, because not only am I a huge Rafi fan, I also got the impression from the book that RD Burman wasn’t one of those nasty people who thought no end of himself – so a remark like that doesn’t seem very characteristic of him).

              Perhaps Anirudha can comment on this.

              • Maybe we should take this offline. There are technical reasons which I can state. But I fear fanatics jumping in, making asinine comments, and dragging the discussion to a direction which is beyond me. This happens in most forums, I just was forced into something that i detest in a fb forum and excused myself from the discussion and the forum both :).

                I can be contacted over fb (anirudha.bhattacharjee at the rate facebook dot com or mail anibhat at the rate gmail dot com). Or if you are in India and outside Calcutta, do call me if you wish. I love discussing music with people. It you are in Calcutta, meet up :)

              • Rd never badmouthed Rafi or for that matter anyone – at least not in public domain.I with my very limited knowledge do not know. I know of some hilarious anecdotes about one or two singers, but that was within his personal space. He had a great sense of humour. Was extremely witty too. Played a lot of practical jokes.

                We (Balaji and me) did not cover his life as much we would have liked to in the book. Most of the things weren’t very pleasant, and we felt these need not be part of a book. Some untold stories (which can actually be told without us getting sued, but you never know how fanatics would react, so we always run the risk) will be there in the S D Burman book which follows soon..

                But the romance story with Rita was in quite some detail. Can check it out..

  6. I lived and grew up in a filmy neighbourhood , S.D.Burman was one of our neighbours, though we did not see much of R.D until he burst on the music scene. I remember hearing the elders discussing that he was not interested in studies, he was passionate about music. Can one blame him being S.D. Burman’s son what else do you expect besides his mum was a good singer too.
    Here is an anecdote I would like to share, I heard someone narrating this incident to my father. S.D. was in hospital, he was quite ill but that did not stop him thinking about music, he called his son and told himPancham there is music everywhere, listen to my beating heart, there is music and rhythm there too. No wonder the son was so passionate about music.

  7. nice review, as always!!

    Another bilingual song I came across

    yeh tho kaho kaun ho thum—– yes my darling- Meena Kumari and Rajendra Kumar in Akeli Mat Jaio. Rafi sings only yes my darling in the whole song!!

    Girish Vaidya

    • Thank you, Girish – glad you liked the review! I should’ve remembered this song, since I’ve seen the film, but perhaps my excuse is that while the songs were good, the film was so utterly idiotic, my mind tends to blank it out. ;-)

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