RD Burman Lives On as the ‘Boss’ of Bollywood Music

The life and times of RD Burman and why the legend will always be the BOSS of Bollywood.

4 min read
Hindi Female

There are many stories about RD Burman being nicknamed Pancham. Some suggest that whenever he cried as a child, he hit the Pa,  the fifth sur of music notation. The word Pancham means five/fifth in his native language Bengali, and rumour has it that the very first note he sang was the one’s he was named after. It is also commonly known that when the veteran Indian actor Ashok Kumar saw a newborn Rahul uttering the syllable Pa repeatedly, he nicknamed the boy Pancham. But what’s in a name? Pancham’s tunes revolutionised Bollywood with his inimitable style of music. No wonder he’s still the ‘Boss’ of Bollywood music.


From electronic rock to Jazz, Burman’s music had multicultural influences. His compositions had a mix of Western, Latin, Oriental, Arabic & Bengali Folk music. Pancham introduced the twin track effect in the song Baharon Ke Sapne, which he later also used to create the mesmerising Qatra Qatra Miltee Hai, and a few more songs. He also pioneered the use of the electronic organ in Indian films with the song O Mere Sona Re  from Teesri Manzil.

The X Factor !

Burman was truly innovative. His ingenuity in creating the right sound effects can make the best of foley artists envious. He experimented with different natural sounds like the ones produced by rubbing sand paper and knocking bamboo sticks together. The opening beats of the song Mehbooba Mehbooba came from beer bottles, while cups and saucers were used to create the tinkling sound for the song Churaliya Hai from the film Yaadon Ki Baaraat. For Satte Pe Satta, it is said that he made the singer Annette Pinto gargle to produce a background sound. The whooshing sound in the song Meri Samne Wali Khidki Main came from rubbing a comb on a rough surface. It is said that in order to get the sound of raindrops, RD spent a whole rainy night in his balcony recording the sound he wanted.

RD Dreamt of Music

It is said that Pancham composed music even in his dreams. When he revealed this to his father SD Burman, a legendary music director himself, he asked RD to hum the tunes he dreamt of into a tape recorder, or jot down its notations immediately after waking up the next morning, and them improvise on them later. Legend has it that the tunes of Kanchi Re Kanchi Re (Hare Rama Hare Krishna), Tum Bin Jaoon Kahan (Pyar Ka Mausam) and Duniya Mein Logon Ko (Apna Desh), all sprang out out Pancham’s dreams.

RD’s Musical Journey

Pancham da’s precocious musical talent was on display when he composed his first song at the age of 9. The song was Aye Meri Topi Palat Ke Aa, which was used by his father SD Burman in the film Funtoosh. The song Sar Jo Tera Chakraye was also composed by Pancham at a very young age. RD Burman’s first release as an independent music director was for the film Chhote Nawab in 1961. Mehmood had initially approached SD Burman for the film, but he didn’t have any free dates. At this meeting, Mehmood saw Rahul playing the tabla and decided to get him onboard as the music director for his film. Burman’s first hit movie as a film music director was Teesri Manzil, which was released in 1966.

Passion For Music... Passion For Cooking

After his first big hit RD’s demand as a music director shot up. Producers, directors, actors, singers and musicians came to him for deliberations over their projects. RD didn’t feel he could serve simple dishes like dhokla to guests like Nasir Hussain, Shakti Samanta, Mehmood and Rajesh Khanna etc. Hard drinks too had to be served. And so, both alcohol and non-vegetarian delights were introduced in the house. RD himself was the cook. Mohammed Rafi used to come and cook Mughlai food for the Burmans and RD took cooking lessons from him too. A total foodie himself, Pancham da’s love for music and feats went hand in hand.


The Glorious 70s

The 70s was Pancham’s decade. He won the film industry and music lovers over with his compositions in Kati Patang, Hare Ram Hare Krishna, Seeta Aur Geeta, Bombay to Goa, Parichay, Yaadon Ki Baarat, Sholay, Aandhi, Gol Maal and many more films.

Movies starring Rajesh Khanna brought him a ton of fame. Yeh Shaam Mastani and Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai sung by Kishore Kumar became instant hits. RD Burman went on to win the Filmfare honour for 3 films: Sanam Teri Kasam, Masoom & 1942-A Love Story.

Love, Marriage and Pancham

Rita Patel, a fan of Pancham’s, had bet with her friends that she’d be able to get a movie-date with the man himself. They met in Darjeeling and got married in 1966, but it didn’t last long and they got a divorce in 1971. Rumour has it that the song Musafir Hoon Yaaron from Parichay was composed by him, when he was at a hotel after the separation. RD married Asha Bhosle in 1980. Their close association started in 1966 with Teesri Manzil, which culminated in their marriage in 1980. Asha in an interview said that they shared a passion for music and food. They lived more like friends, as partners in their musical journey than as husband and wife. They recorded several songs together.  Although, towards the end of his life, they did not live together.


In an illustrious career spanning about four decades, he worked with the crème de la crème of lyricists, from Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri and Gulzaar, to Gulshan Bawra, Anand Bakshi and Javed Akhtar. All acclaimed singers of the era, Kishore, Lata, Asha, Rafi and Mukesh, sang for him. As we remember the legend on his birth anniversary, his tunes continue to evoke an era brimming with romance, pain, anger, despair, heartbreak, masti, flirting and breakthrough dancing.

(Courtesy Sa Re Ga Ma)

(This article is from The Quint’s archives and is being republished to mark the occasion of RD Burman’s birth anniversary.)

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Topics:  asha bhosle   RD Burman   Pancham 

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