Around the World with R.D. Burman

On R.D. Burman’s birth anniversary, here are six songs displaying his eclectic tastes and boundless quest for trying out new things in Hindi films.

Today is the 78th birth anniversary of the great Rahul Dev Burman or Pancham as he was called by one and all (and by his fans), one of the most innovative music directors in Hindi cinema. Though he often used to be derided during his life time for lifting songs, he is now enjoying a cult revival among younger listeners not just in India but all across the world. European DJs use his music to sample and there is new acknowledgement and appreciation of his genius in using influences from different cultures and composing songs that have become part of Indian film history.

Here are six songs, all inspired from foreign music, displaying his own eclectic tastes and boundless quest for trying out new things in Hindi films. He was always ahead of the curve in picking up the latest trends and effortlessly deploying them in his own music, with a sufficiently Indian twist.

Bhoot Bangla was one of Pancham’s earliest films and his songs reflect the exuberance of the younger generation as it goes about enjoying life. He used Chubby Checker’s famous “Let’s Twist”, which works perfectly in this sequence of a youth club.

Pancham really fell in love with Bossa Nova and used it in many songs. This was his first attempt at it and clearly it worked very well. Since then many music directors have composed songs on these lines.

The Trinidadian steel drum is a wonderful indigenous instrument which tells us a story of early slaves in the Caribbean. It has unfortunately not found favour with Indian musicians. Pancham, always ready to try out something new, used it to produce this marvelous song.

The film Woodstock was released in India in the early 1970s and became a rage with young Indians. Richie Havens’ song Freedom became a rallying cry for an entire generation and was swiftly absorbed into a song by Pancham in Apna Desh. The rest of the song is his own.

One of his best, with its memorable clinking glass opening. The tune has been cleverly lifted from “If its Tuesday it must be Belgium” but the end result is Pancham’s own. Young love was never so flirtatious and fun.

This is more or less a direct lift from Say you love me by the Greek Singer Demis Roussos, but it works and shows that Pancham was ready go to any corner of the world to get his fans good music.

Note: This article was originally published on June 27, 2015.

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