A Rare Classic: Heart to Heart With RD Burman & Asha Bhosle 

A rare in depth chat with RD Burman and one of Asha Bhosle and Pancham’s last interviews. 

15 min read
A Rare Classic: Heart to Heart With RD Burman & Asha Bhosle 

I first met RD Burman in August 1993. Asha Bhosle’s son-in-law ( now estranged) Hemant Kenkre (a good friend) called me to give the good news that Asha was ready to give an interview on the eve of her 60th birthday.

During that shoot, I met RD Burman, who was working on the music of 1942: A Love Story. I did an interview with RD on Asha and her songs and on SD Burman.

Later in October 1993, I got time to do comprehensive interview with R D Burman in his studio. We started with his latest 1942: A Love Story and went back to his childhood in Calcutta. After two hours into the interview, Asha dropped in and I got a rare chance of catching RD and Asha together with no time limit.

These interviews were done for Newstrack (TV Today). I have tried to put down whatever I remember in a narrative form from my scratch notes.

SD Burman has RD Burman attentively listening.
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

RD Burman: It was Dada (SD Burman) who from start to finish shaped my music. I was living with my naani in Calcutta and my father Dada Burman and mother Meera Burman were in Bombay. My father was trying to make his music career. First he tried in the 50s but got frustrated and came back to Calcutta. Later, he went to play another baazi with Guru Dutt’s film Baazi and he won.

I was not good in studies, my hobbies were football and my mouth organ. Naani was pareshan with me, so when my parents came to Calcutta, she wailed – just take away your son, I can’t control him.

Dada called me - ‘What is it that you can do well Pancham?’ I said, I am a good cyclist... have won many prizes... cycle chalata hoon races bhi karta hoon. Dada responded - ‘I was a far better tennis player, yet I didn’t choose the career of a tennis player, be serious, what else can you do well ?’ I said, I can play the mouth organ, I make my own tunes. Dada asked - ‘Your tunes... what do you mean by your own tunes... let’s hear.’

I didn’t know how a big composer and singer my father was and I had a habit of pinching and mixing tunes so I started playing my tunes on the mouth organ. Dada heard me out and asked, ‘What are you playing? Be honest, are these tunes really yours? Remember, originality is something you cultivate here and now or never. We are going to Bombay, and we will be back in three months. Meanwhile, you will learn the tabla.’

I was taken aback...tabla? What’s there to learn in tabla? Dada said - ‘Plenty. To be a composer you must develop a sense of rhythm and while playing tabla, whatever comes to your mind, convert it into the tunes. Don’t bother about quality just learn and learn’.

Pandit Brijen Biswas was my first teacher and he taught me the intricacies of the tabla, later Pandit Samta Prasad who played the tabla in Dada’s Naache Mann Mora (Meri Surat Teri Aankhen) taught me. I learnt the sarod from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, sitar from Annapurna Devi, wife of Ravi Shankar.

Dada’s idea to put me in music ka mahaul and in live contact with these great artists, to ensure that I got the benefit of that kind of musical atmosphere before I step in to Bombay’s commercial music mahaul, really helped me. I was able to create pure classical notes as well as all that jazz and rock and roll.

Another lesson from my father was that - ‘you must compose 5-6 tunes every day, then you will find that you have at least one worthwhile tunes at the end of the day’.
A rare photograph of SD Burman with RD Burman.
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

RD Burman: So I was in Bombay assisting my father, my mother Meera Burman was also a great folk singer and used to assist my father.

MK Jha: Did you create any tune which was used by your father?

RD Burman: (smiles) I had gone to see Dev Anand’s Funtoosh and found that one of my tunes was used, Aye Meri Topi Palat Ke Aa..., so I asked my father, and he said - ‘Yes, I have used your tune, you should consider that an honour. It means you have really come up with something good. In any case, it was light comic one, let’s see how good you are in coming up with some serious compositions, that will be the day.’

What a tough father he was, uss waqt Dada Kala Pani ka ek gaane ke recording kar rahe thhe, I was just his junior. Rafi saheb was singing, Hum Bekhudi Mein Tumko Pukare Chale Gaye... and at the blend of the tune, Dekha Kiye Tumhe Hum Ban Ke Deewana... both Dev Anand and Raj Khosla were stunned. Dada told me, if you want to become a composer, you must learn blend tune into tune. That day, I realised as a would-be composer, I still had to learn a lot, sirf masti ke gaanon se kaam nahi chalega.

Another thing that I learn from Dada is that you must be clear in your head about what you want best as a composer. I tell you, Dada was composing for Bombai Ka Babu, for one particular song, Chal Re Sajani Ab Kya Soche... I suggested Hemant Kumar but Dada flatly refused. He knew whom to get, Mukesh was his choice.

MK Jha: I heard that Lataji stopped singing for Dada?

Lata Mangeshkar with SD Burman and RD Burman.
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

RD Burman: There was a misunderstanding, but both were more than eager to work together. I got my first movie from Mehmood, who is a great friend (at that time Mehmood was alive). So Mehmood came to Dada and asked him if I could be spared for his film Chote Nawab. I asked Dada, can I ask Lataji to sing for my film. Dada readily agreed, in fact he wanted to me to get Lata. Darte darte main Lataji ke paas gaya... she immediately said yes. It was a classical song, Ghar Aaja... so Dada aur Lata ka patch up ho gaya.

MK Jha: So Chote Nawab was your debut film?

RD Burman: Yes, phir maine Mehmood ki do aur films ki. 1965 mein Bhoot Bangla aur Teesra Kaun.

MK Jha: Bhoot Bangla mein toh you did acting too...

RD Burman: It was laughter riot... with Mehmood you can’t remain serious.

MK Jha: So you were allowed to go on your way by Dada?

RD Burman: Not exactly, I was assisting him, that time there was a film, Talash, Dada was doing that film aur main assist kar raha tha. Bhoot Bangla mein bhi ek semi classical song tha... Lataji ne gaya tha, O Mere Pyaar Aa Ja... but my father was not impressed. See, in Bhoot Bangla all other songs like - Jago Sone Walon..., Aao Twist Karein... that inside bhoot bangle wala sequence, woh khel khel mein ho gaya.

RD Burman assisting SD Burman in a recording.
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

MK Jha: When you say the you were assisting Dada, what does it mean ? Arranging the orchestra or making tunes? I read somewhere that Sar Jo Tera Chakraye... was your tune?

RD Burman: I played mouth organ, rest was Dada and only Dada. The first interlude music I did for Dada was for the Pyaasa song, Jaane Kya Tune Kahi...

MK Jha: Toh woh kaun si film thi jis se aap ko laga ki now you arrived as an independent composer?

RD Burman: Teesri Manzil, the 1966 Nasir Hussain film Teesri Manzil, it was godsent for me.

MK Jha: What a movie, Shammi Kapoor...

RD Burman: Only I know how I managed to... shuru shuru mein Nasir sahib told me that Dev Anand is the hero but dates ka kuch chakkar tha... so Shammi Kapoor saheb ko sign kiya. Maine socha main toh gaya as Shammi’s favourite was Shankar Jaikishan. He was skeptical about me, but Nasir Hussain told Shammi - ‘pehle aap Pancham ko sun lo agar pasand nahin aaya toh SJ ko bula lenge’.

Shammi saheb listened my tunes and liked them and Dada ka lesson mujhe yaad aa gaya. Main everyday one tune banata thha, stock karta thha... specially western... it really helped me. Shammi saheb called SJ and told them this time I am working with Pancham, his songs going to be a trend setter.

MK Jha: But you never chose Kishore Kumar for Teesri Manzil?

RD Burman: You know, Rafi saheb was Shammi Kaooor’s on screen voice, plus he was number one and Nasir Hussain was a Rafi fan, even then I had to work hard to get Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyaar Tera... . Asha was also nervous, she used to practice Aah Aah Aaja in her car, uska driver sochta tha madam ka gala kharab hai. Rafi ka range kamaal ka thha... khas kar Shammi par toh bilkul fit hota tha. Rafi ka woh gana O Mere Sona Re... aur Deewana Mujh Sa Nahin... woh toh sirf Rafi hi kar sakta tha.

MK Jha: Tumne Mujhe Dekha...

RD Burman: Wahi toh keh ra ha hoon, it depends on the heroes also, kis hero par kaun singer fit baithega. Rajesh Khanna par Kishore was perfect.

MK Jha: Aap ne Shaan mein Rafi ke saath gaya tha - Yamma Yamma...

RD Burman: Rafi saheb toh ek hi tha... maine unke saath 100 gana banaya... and he was the best... God gifted.

RD Burman with Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle.
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

MK Jha: But Kishore was your favourite...

RD Burman: Yes, Kishore dost tha lekin Rafi saheb toh guru thhe. I have been seeing him singing when I was a kid. Dada ke liye, pehle Dev Anand ke liye Rafi saheb gaate thhe.

MK Jha: But you never used Kishore in Caravan.

RD Burman: Again it was a Nasir Hussain film. Jeetendra thha, but I used Rafi and Kishore in Pyar Ka Mausam for the same song - Tum Bin Jaun Kahan... you judge yourself.

MK Jha: You were assisting your father till Aradhana? When did your father decide - ok, Pancham go on your way now, you have become a composer...

RD Burman: Kati Patang... uske pehle bhi Rajesh Khanna ka ek picture kiya thha, Baharon Ke Sapne, Chunri Sambhal Gori... Manna De ne gaya thha, usi waqt Padosan bhi kiya thha.

MK Jha: Yes, I was told Mehmood was offered the role which Kishore Kumar did.

RD Burman: Nahin, Bhoot Bangla was fun but Padosan was a seriously made comedy film. Kishore was the best choice for the movie and dekho Kishore aur Manna De ne how perfect they were.

MK Jha: Your father was happy?

RD Burman: Not exactly, for him I was his assistant and had to learn a lot...

RD Burman with Rajesh Khanna at a recording.
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

MK Jha: When did he say -Wah!

RD Burman: Amar Prem, Dada really felt proud. I got him to sing one song also, Doli Mein Bithai Ke Kahan.... When he heard the song, Chingari Koi Bhadke... he was impressed, in fact he was present during the recordings of all songs of Amar Prem. My mother was very happy, when she asked my father about the music, Dada said - after all he is my son.

MK Jha: You did another movie Jawani Diwani.

RD Burman: Yes, after Aradhana, I started working on Jawani Diwani, kaam toh karna thha, but yes gaane khoob chale.

MK Jha: Yes, still popular. My favourite Jaane Jaan Dhoondta... Asha was mesmerising.

RD Burman: It was Asha’s... neeche sur mein gaana is very difficult.

MK Jha: There is an instant chemistry between you and Ashaji, one can feel it. Was that the time you both decided...

RD Burman: No, no... it was much later.

MK Jha: When?

RD Burman: Much later...

MK Jha: You both got married in 1979, right ?

RD Burman: Haan.

MK Jha: So how did it happen?

RD Burman: One thing is there, we are musically inclined to each other. Asha is coming today, ask her.
( I was thrilled, Asha was also coming here, I would try my luck to see if I could interview them together)

RD Burman brainstorming with lyricist Anand Bakshi.
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

MK Jha: Ok, let’s get back to Rajesh Khanna. Most of the songs were penned by Anand Bakshi, very few by Majrooh Sultanpuri.

RD Burman: Anand Bakshi is great, he can write on any situation, soulful wordings. His words, aisa lagata hai ki wof sirf aap ke liye likh raha hai. Majrooh saheb ne bhi mere liye bahut likha... Caravan, Yaadon Ki Barat, Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin, bahut likha, Mehbooba, Kudrat - both were on punarjanam, needed haunting tunes yet not horror, both movies starring Rajesh Khanna and Hemaji... Anand Bakshi ke saath toh kitne films kiye, Apna Desh, Sholay, Aap Ki Kasam. Uska range dekho gaana likhne ka... very passionate... situations ko samjhta hai, tune ko jaanta hai pakdta hai.

MK Jha: How do you get your tunes? Any inspiration?

RD Burman: It comes naturally. I don’t sit with orchestra, bas aa jaata hai. Woh Rajesh Khanna ki film thhi Mere Jeevan Saathi, that song - O Mere Dil Ke Chain... I was in the shower humming something, suddenly in a flash I got the tune, bahar aa kar tape recorder par record kiya, there are many songs which came as a flash.

MK Jha: Aap RK Studios kaise pahunch gaye?

RD Burman: Dabboo (Randhir Kapoor), usne Raj Kapoor saheb ko mera naam suggest kiya. Raj saheb ne bula liya.

MK Jha: Were you nervous?

RD Burman:

Raj saheb ne poora situation outline kar diya thha. My mother was also nervous, knowing very well how tough it is to please Raj Kapoor. So I worked on six tunes and started the first tune in front of Raj Kapoor and Raj Kapoor burst out, bilkul perfect hai situation ke liye. I said listen to the other tunes, he said ho gaya, no more other tunes, bottle kholo. It was written by Majrooh saheb - Ek Din Bik Jayega Maati Ke Mol, Raj saheb said - ‘hit gaana hai bete, done’.

MK Jha: How did you and Gulzar come together?

RD Burman: I had met Gulzar during Dada’s Bandini days, he wrote one song, later in 1972 in Parichay, usne ek mukhada diya, Musafir Hoon Yaaro Na Ghar Hai Na Thikana... Maine kaha go home, I’ll get the tune. Raat ko 1 baje maine phone kiya, gaadi lekar aa... let’s go for a drive and hum Bandra mein ghoomte rahe, dashboard par thak thak karte raha aur tune aa gaya.

Gulzar, Bhupendra, Lata Mangeshkar and RD Burman.
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

MK Jha: Parichay mein Kishore and Bhupendra?

RD Burman: Yes, Bhupendra is an awesome singer specially if it’s written by Gulzar. He understands the nuances of Gulzar’s poetry, bahut badhiya gaata hai lekin utna chala nahin and he is a great guitar player so he knows the tune. He played the guitar in Yaadon Ki Baarat.

MK Jha: Which is your favourite song from Parichay?

RD Burman: I like all the songs but Kishore’s Musafir Hoon Yaaron... and Lata and Bhupendra’s duet Beeti Na Bitaye Raina... bahut unique hai. Phir Gulzar ke saath kiya - Aandhi, Khushboo. Ab Aandhi ke saath politics hua, I don’t know but it was a great experience working with Gulzar. Ab dekho, Dancing Jack (Jeetendra) ko kitna serious bana diya, gaane bhi chale aur film bhi.

MK Jha: What about Aandhi songs, were they very difficult for you?

RD Burman: I was recording Bengali pujo songs, Gulzar liked one song. There only he put it in Hindi words and bola, yeh gaana mera ho gaya - Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi Shikwa Nahin...

MK Jha: Your music for Jeetendra movies like Caravan, Jaise Ko Taisa were different but for Gulzar’s movies they are on another level..

RD Burman:

Gulzar is amazing, carefully compose karna padta hai. Most of the time, I compose and tune his poetries. Normally hum log tune pehle banate hai phir song likhte hai, lekin Gulzar ke saath aisa nahin hai, woh jab poetry lekar aata hai, main toh mana kar deta hoon - kya ‘Times of India’ utha kar le aaya hai, ab iss par music kaise banaunga, nahin karna. Woh mujhe kauwa bolta hai... phir banata hoon. Kinara ka ek song hai, song kya hai sirf poetry hai Bhupendra ne gaya thha. Lekin Gulzar ke saath ek baat hai, every song has to be in a classical base, otherwise it’s very difficult to compose.

MK Jha: You call Gulzar ‘Safed Kauwa’?

RD Burman: Yes, he wears only white colours and he calls me ‘Lal Kauwa’ because I love red colours.

RD Burman, Asha Bhosle and Gulzar.
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

MK Jha: I heard you were not happy with the Gulzar’s Ijaazat song - Mera Kuch Samaan...

RD Burman: Gulzar came to me with Mera Kuch Samaan... I got frustrated and told him that the only thing left for you to do now is get The Times of India to me to
set to music. Ironically, both Asha and Gulzar got the National Award for the song.

MK Jha: You were out of demand for a few years though you can do a better job on western music than any one else..

RD Burman: Yes, ab main demand mein nahin hoon, log synthesizers par music banate hain. I can’t do that, I need a full music arranger. I can’t cheat people, also I can’t sell myself. Sab ko pata hai main kya hoon, kaisa music banata hoon, ab toh woh singers bhi kahan hain.

MK Jha: What about 1942: A Love Story ? The last time you were recording a few songs. Later, Vidhu (Vinod Chopra) also played Ek Ladki Ko Dekha... did you use orchestra?

RD Burman: We are still working on the songs. Kuch gaana hua hai, kuch dubbing baaki hai.

MK Jha: What kind of music? Are you coming back with a musical bang?

RD Burman: No, no, Vidhu had come with the idea for sentimental music. He wanted to create the musical aura of that era. I am trying to create it using folk, Rabindra sangeet etc.

MK Jha: Like your father ?

RD Burman: It will remind listeners of the golden era of music, this I promise...

MK Jha: Can there be another Amar Prem?

RD Burman: Only if I get Anand Bakshi to capture it in his words, moods, emotions that I want...

And thats the time Asha Bhosle enters, I had met her few months back, she had done her first TV interview at Gautam Rajyadakha’s house on the eve of her 60th birthday. Newstrack’s story was titled ‘Sexy At Sixty’. So I asked her if we could get her interview with RD together, she had just landed, finally both agreed.

Asha Bhosle: Hamari shaadi... ab hum toh 20-22 wale nahin thhe... hum dono mature thhe... music ka hamara rishta hai aur hote hote shaadi main badal gaya. Pancham jaante hain ki main kya hoon aur main jaanti hoon ki Pancham kya hain. Sur ka naata hai hamara.

Asha Bhosle and RD Burman on the cover of ‘Madhuri’ magazine.
(Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

MK Jha: Yeh rishta shuru kaise hua?

Asha Bhosle: Pancham se puchhiye, bataao...
RD Burman: I used to send flowers anonymously. Ek baar recording kar rahe thhe. Main, Asha aur Majrooh saheb thhe, tabhi phoolwala bouquet de gaya aur inhone phool phenk diya, kaun bhejta hai yeh phool daily - I kept quiet, then Majrooh saheb told her - this is the culprit.
Asha Bhosle: Yeh mere peechhe pade thhe, Asha tumhara sur bahut achha hai, main tumhari awaaz par fida hoon. Finally, kya karti? Ok, kar diya.
MK Jha: What were the reactions from your sister, family?
Asha Bhosle: Didi ne aaj tak iss baare mein kabhi kuch nahin bola, na mujh se, na Pancham se.

MK Jha: What are your favourite songs with Pancham Da?

Asha Bhosle: Bahut hain, Pancham mere liye jazzier zyada karte thhe, very complicated. Ek tha The Burning Train, Parveen Babi ka - Teri Nazar Hai Mujh Pe... Caravan ka Daiyyan Ye Main Kahan Aa Phasi..., Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja... The Train ka O Meri Jaan Maine Kaha. But, my all time favourite is Do Lafzon Ki Hai Dil Ki Kahani....
Ek baar hum car mein jaa rahe thhe Khandala, ya pata nahin kahan. Pancham dono pair seat par rakh kar baithe thhe aur car ki chhat par fingers se baja rahe thhe, wahi se tune mili - Khullam Khulla Pyaar Karenge Hum Dono..., yeh shaadi se pehle ki baat hai.

Pancham ka dimaag bada clear hai. Kaunsa gaana Lata didi ke liye hai aur kaun sa mere liye. Jahan classical ya semi-classical hai wahan didi auri jahan fun, westernised woh mere liye.

RD Burman: Dono ka comparison nahin ho sakta. Dono supreme singers hain. Ab ek family se hain, sisters hain, toh log kuch bhi bolte hain. Ab dekho, Monica O My Darling... is still popular aur Naam Gum Jaayega... is equally popular. Both sisters have their distinctive qualities and I use them in my music.

MK Jha: Dada, when stars started launching their sons, you were their favourite composer, be it Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt or Kumar Gaurav...

RD Burman: Everyone wanted contemporary trendy music...

MK Jha: Did you get your due? For years you were not giving music...

RD Burman: Kaam dena bandh kar diya thha, but I don’t have regrets, let people judge.

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