Every evening, vintage film songs purr non-stop from hidden speakers at Rishi Kapoor’s new home in Bandra. Occasionally, he sings along, the lyrics firmly embedded in his memory. And when an RD Burman chart-smasher thumps in with a strong bass beat, the actor’s eyes light up.
So when I ask him to talk RD aka Pancham, on the occasion of his death anniversary, he responds, “Sure! But where do we begin?” Over to a few excerpts from our nostalgic conversation.
Why Pancham Never Composed for Raj Kapoor, Who Had a Legendary Ear for Music
Pancham did compose the music of R K banner’s Biwi-O-Biwi directed by Rahul Rawail, and Dharam Karam directed by Dabboo (Randhir Kapoor). I suspect Raj Kapoor and Pancham wouldn’t have vibed, although he did compose the quintessential Raj Kapoor song Ek Din Bik Jaayega Maati Ke Mol picturised on my dad in Dharam Karam.
Pancham was more into the western groove. Dad was more rooted in the Indian soil and had developed a comfort zone with Shankar-Jaikishan, and then with Laxmikant Pyarelal and Ravindra Jain. Still, who knows? Pancham could be very Indian too. His scores for Amar Prem, Aandhi and Ghar are proof of that.
Hypothetically, Raj Kapoor and Pancham could have come up with great music. If dad had lived longer, AR Rahman and he could have also been a deadly combination.
Pancham’s Youthful Spirit
Pancham did the music for my second film as a hero, Zehreela Insaan, which isn’t remembered but its songs are, particularly O Hansini. He gave outstanding music for the films of Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna, Sanjeev Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan, yet his youthful numbers kicked off with me. Followed Kumar Gaurav, Sanjay Dutt, Sunny Deol. Down the years, his music was in sync with newcomers as well as the senior heroes.
Gurudev was the last of the 17 films Pancham and I did together. Frequently, I’d be at the music sitting sessions. Once, I reached a bit late to check out a tune which had the refrain ‘ruk ruk ruk’. Dev Anand had dropped by earlier at the sitting room, he wanted the tune. Pancham couldn’t say no. That number was eventually used by Dev saab – Ruk Jaana O Jaana in the film Warrant. It happens.
Laxmikant-Pyarelal were possessive of me after Bobby. Pancham had a killer instinct, and came up with the qawwali track for the title number of Hum Kisise Kum Nahin. Not to be outdone, during the same year L-P composed Parda Hai Parda for me in Amar Akbar Anthony. I could detect a simmering rivalry, which I guess worked to my advantage.
Rishi Kapoor’s Favourite Pancham Chartbusters?
Oof, don’t subject me to this. Pancham gifted me an infinite number of spectacular songs. Top of the head favourites? Since you’re insisting, I can immediately think of Dil Lena Khel Hai Dildar Ka and Hoga Tumse Pyaara Kaun (Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai), Ek Main Aur Ek Tu (Khel Khel Mein), Saagar Kinare and Saagar Jaisi Aankhonwali (Saagar), Chalo Kahin Aur Chalte Hain (Naya Daur) and Kal Yahan Aayee Thi Woh (Raja).
As a singer he was outstanding, especially while scatting and incorporating jazz and rock elements. As a composer, he was way ahead of his time. The glass bottle sound effects he used for Paani Ke Badle Peekar Sharab (Naya Daur) were used with perfection by him for Mehbooba Mehbooba (Sholay).
What Pancham Was Like in the After Hours
He enjoyed his evening drinks, loved to rustle up shrimps and could go over the moon over well-cooked paayas. Asha Bhosle, producer Ramesh Behl, lyricist Gulshan Bawra, Neetu (Singh Kapoor) and I would hang out together, he loved company.
Even if it was late at night, he would come and see me shoot for a dance sequence, clapping and whistling. And I would beg him, “Go away Pancham, you’re distracting me.”
Just three months before he passed away, Pancham was going through a purple patch. Subhash Ghai had dropped him from Ram Lakhan. I was going through a green patch, then, since Nagina, Chandni and Deewana had clicked. That’s when he asked me, “Chintu why aren’t we working together any more? Paison ki kami nahin hai, kaam ki kami hai. Get me work.”
But every film production company had its own set-up. I found myself at a loss to recommend Pancham. Bappi Lahiri couldn’t ever quite compare to him. But a new phalanx of composers had arrived ranging from Anand-Milind and Nadeem-Shravan to Jatin-Lalit. Pancham only had a couple of films on hand. 1942 A Love Story was his brilliant swan song.
Pancham was just 55 years old when he went. There was so much music inside him, that has gone unheard and unrecorded. It’s only after he went away that Pancham has been accorded a cult status. But what use is posthumous fame? So, when I remember him saying, “kaam ki kami hai,” it’s so, so heartbreaking.
(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and a weekend painter)
(This article was first published on 27 June, 2016 and is being republished to mark RD Burman’s death anniversary.)