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Which Was the True Voice of Pancham?

January 4, 2017 | By

It will be 23 years since Pancham (R D Burman) on this day in 1994 left us music lovers with an awful feeling of loss just when we were about to celebrate his huge comeback. Today, I wish to recall the many voices that he sang to us in, trying to really understand which his true voice was. All songs picked in this list had music by R D Burman himself.

Pancham songs RD Burman sings in his own voiceIn Bhoot Bungla (1965) we had first heard RD Burman, fondly called Pancham, sing Main bhookha hoon tujhe khaaoonga, with Mehmood and Suresh.  But this did not leave an impression.

In Kati Patang (1970) he came on with heavy breath sounds in Asha’s Mera naam hai Shabnum. Then the call of Monica, o my darling! in Caravan (1971) with Asha’s Piya tu ab to aaja. In the same year in Dev Anand’s Hare Ram Hare Krishna he added a one liner for Kishore Sahu to lip on screen, Daddy ka mummy ka sab ka kehna hai, in Lata’s Phoolon ka taaron ka.

Ramesh Behl’s thriller The Train (1970), directed by Ravee Nagaich, starring the super star of that era, Rajesh Khanna brought us a fair dose of RD vocals in the title music as well in his duet with Asha. Did we take the voice seriously? Well, it was a filler that he tried, it could well have been an Asha-only song, but he left lasting impression. His voice control, modulation and range coupled with breath control left us amazed.

O meri jaan maine kaha (The Train, 1970) Anand Bakshi / Asha Bhosle and RD Burman

A different type of impact was visible in Apna Desh (1972). The palpating Duniya mein logon ko hokha kabhi ho jaata hai  drove the fans crazy in the theatres when the song sequence came on. The amazing dexterity of Pancham’s voice control was evident in the manner he sang in a gruff voice but with words that were clearly pronounced. Moreover, despite making his voice husky he did not ever lose control on sur or taal or missed a single note or beat. Wow, the fans were really impressed.

Duniya mein logon ko dhokha kabhi (Apna Desh, 1972) Anand Bakshi / Asha Bhosle – RD Burman

In Mere Jeevan Saathi, the same year, Pancham lent his voice to the title song. But although the song was a hit, it faded out of the limelight as the film flopped.

Gradually, his voice had come to be become a performer of side vocals, pepping up songs with a papapapa or tararara. In Raja Rani (1973), again he let his vocals to the title music.

Next time he made us sit up watch his voice in a film was in Madhosh (1974). This was a different voice from what we had heard earlier in Apna Desh. Pairing yet again with Asha who sang for Helen, RD gave voice to Rakesh Roshan.

Sharabee ankhen gulabee chehra kaisa lagey mera dilruba (Madhosh, 1974) Majrooh Sultanpuri / Asha Bhosle and RD Burman

In distant Bengal, things were taking a different turn. Pancham had started to release Bangla language, non-film songs called adhunik gaan or Puja releases (brought out before the Durga Puja) that were in his natural voice. The voice had become known as a distinct and melodious one which had that ‘ras’ that was so typical of him. Mone poRe Ruby Roy (later reused as Meri bheegi bheegi si in Anamika) and Jete jete pathe holo deri (which had a Hindi reincarnation as the iconic Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa to nahin in Aandhi) became chart-toppers in the Bengali non-film songs category.

In Kala Sona in 1975 he sang with Asha again in Koi aaya, aaane bhi de. But it was with Khel Khel Mein this year that we again got to hear him again in a different voice, singing for Rakesh Roshan in a duet with Asha – with full confidence and elan of an accomplished singer.

Sapna mera toot gaya, too na raha kuchh na raha (Khel Khel Mein, 1975) Gulshan Bawra / Asha Bhosle and RD Burman

Then came Sholay (1975) and took the nation by storm. Pancham’s Mehbooba Mehbooba became a rage. In some interviews we have heard how scared Asha was to sing this number in a voice modulation that RD wanted. And not able to convince her, the song changed from being on Helen to one for Helen but by Jalal Agha. Rarely has a song ruled the masses like this one did for years after years. Yet again, it was a different RD voice from whatever we had heard earlier. How could this one man sing in so many voices?

Mehbooba mehbooba (Sholay, 1975) Anand Bakshi / R D Burman

In Balika Badhu (1976) he lent support to Amit in Bade ache lagte hain.

Next year, in Hum Kisis Se Kum Nahin, Pancham had a tougher challenge – to start the medley with the redoubtable Rafi in Chand mera dil, for the song would set the mood with soft melody and romance and that came in the final part of the film with all sorts of voice modulations in main song and its extension.

Singing with Rafi, Kishore, Asha he stood out his on his own, leaving his stamp with his distinct style. Let us enjoy this evergreen medley:

Chand mera dil (Hum Kisise Kum Nahin, 1977) R D Burman / Majrooh Sultanpuri / RD-Rafi-Kishore-Asha

In the same year we got doubly rewarded when that real surprise came in Gulzar’s Kitaab. Oh what a delivery! In the 40 years that have passed since, the music world has not stopped being mesmerized.

Gulzar took a risk in including this song in the film. It was filmed on Ram Mohan, the senior character actor, but it did wonders. The flange instrument, the train sound effect, and RD’s vocals, the impact was unparalleled.

Dhanno ki aankhon mien hai raat ka surma (Kitaab, 1977) R D Burman / Gulzar

Kasme Vaade, the Ramesh Behl hit of 1978 had a fun song picturised as late night naughty group excursion of a band of college boys led by Randhir Kapoor. The song has no real format or structure.

Only RD could have done the wonder that he has done to this song. Multi voice modulation, verbal paraphrasing and vocal sounds, all form part of this song. The Bhanumati ne kunba joda, eent yahan ki wahan ka roda, bit only adds colours to the rendition. And of course, the added glory of giving playback to Bhagwan Dada.

Kal kya hoga kisko pata, abhi zindagi ka le lo maza (Kasme Vaade, 1978) R D Burman / Gulshan Bawra

By now we were well aware of the RD voice. We now knew only he could do what he did. To illustrate, let me recall two excellent deliveries. First the natural voice of R D Burman (or which was his natural voice?) in Romance (1983) which makes one wonder if he had any equals at all. So superb is this delivery, with the right amount of ‘ras’ ‘dard’ and feeling with melody remaining at top. He could render mood songs with so much feeling.

Yeh zindagi kuchh bhi sahi par ye mere kis kaam ki (Romance, 1980) Anand Bakshi / R D Burman

Another surprise that came to haunt our listening ears was in Rocky (1981). Directed by Sunil Dutt who had planned the film as his son Sunjay Dutt’s launch vehicle, the film had an electrifying dance competition as was in vogue in many films, especially after the success of Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin. In the song well manoeuvred by Kishore and Asha, RD suddenly burst in with his multiple voice modulations. He started as the voice of Shakti Kapoor and quickly switched to playback for hero Sunjay as well. It squarely proved that in no faculty did RD lag behind any seasoned and popular singer. In my humble opinion, he just stole the show (purely unintentionally) from right under the nose of Kishore and Asha.

Aa dekhen zara kis mein kitna hai dum (Rocky, 1981) Anand Bakshi / Kishore-Asha-RD Burman

Raj N Sippy’s Satte Pe Satta (1981) with Amitabh Bachchan in a double role was a fun film that became a craze with youngsters, especially for its music. Each one of the eight songs in the film was hit.

All songs had multiple singers as after all it was the Hindi remake of the Hollywood romantic comedy Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and all the brothers in Satte Pe Satta sang!

Apart from the star-studded cast, the team of singers was no less star-packed. In the songs Zindagi mil ke bitayenge and Pariyon ka mela hai, RD stuck only to the higher pitch while Kishore Kumar, Bhupinder Singh and other singers sang a mix of the low and high notes.

Zindagi mil ke bitayenge (Satta Pe Satta, 1981) Gulshan Bawra / Kishore-Bhupinder-Sapan Chakraborty-Gulshan Bawra-R D Burman

But the song that took the cake was Pyar humein kis mod pe le aaya, ke dil kare hai, hai, koi yeh bataye kya hoga. Kishore Kumar was given the lowest octave (Mandra saptak) to sing, undoubtedly a very difficult execution. Asha, in one of her stage shows had mentioned that the “kharaj” Kishore da could sing is out of reach for most of the singers. To lay out a proper contrast RD rendered all the high octave notes in Taar saptak – delivering a high-pitched faultless rendition that matched Kishore note to note and brought unheard of beauty and masti to the song. Over the years the song has gained a cult position in the music world. That was quintessential RD or Pancham for us.

Pyar humein kis mod pe le aaya (Satta Pe Satta, 1981) Gulshan Bawra / Kishore-Bhupinder-Sapan Chakraborty-Gulshan Bawra-R D Burman

Finally, I just wish to use a Bangla song only to really reveal RD’s talent and his mastery over the delivery, by comparing it with the Hindi version. The Bangla version in RD’s voce was released earlier, lyrics by Sapan Chakraborty. For all those who do not understand the language, please bear with me. Listen to the Bangla version to get the feel of RD’s voice modulation, range and effect. Then listen to the Hindi version.

Bolo ki ache go tomaari aankhi te (non-film Bengali song) RD Burman

The Hindi version was used in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Jurmaana (1979) in the accomplished voices of Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey as Hey sakhi radhike baawree ho gai. Maybe it is only me, and you may not agree, but I find RD’s rendition more melodious, with greater ‘ras’ and ‘bhav’. To each his own.

The Pathbreaking Non-conformist – The Music of RD Burman

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4 thoughts on “Which Was the True Voice of Pancham?

  • Silhouette Magazine

    Some comments on this article received on Facebook:

    Anand Desai: Woweeee, trust Peeyush Sharmaji to come up with this beauty…….

    Debasish Bhattacharya: Fantastic post! Sharing……. :)

    Naveen Anand: Superbly informative and engrossing!

    Jyoti Sharma: RD Burman at his very own BEST – and of course he was known for exploring all options and versatility.

    Dharma Kirthi: Excellent compilation of all the songs by Pancham. He was basically not a singer, but music flowed in his veins..And he would chip in whenever he realised that mainstream singers would not be as effective as his voice.

    I recall a radio programme after Mohd Rafi’s death, where Pancham told Rafi Sahab about his duet from Shaan. Rafi was almost shocked out of his daylights and almost refused to sing. But Pancham managed to convince him, by explaining the situation. Such was his style and rendition.

    He was a naturally talented artist capable of any surprise.

    Peeyush Sharma: Great comments, friends, thanks. What the world of music would have missed on had he not sang, i wonder. But how could he not sing, he had such a large variety to offer and so many shades. There is no parallel.

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