The 4th of January 1994 was a dark day for music – especially the Bollywood music industry. An era came to an end when Pancham took his last breath just before the release of `1942: A Love Story`.
The life of RD Burman or Pancham da was music. Pancham enthusiasts all over the world swear by his work and his compositions. Whether it was a soulful collaborations with Gulzar, folk tunes modernised with western rhythm instruments, his experimentation with western music or pure Hindustani classical compositions – Pancham da has done it all.
Growing up in a Bengali family meant that you were listening to RD Burman in Bengali as well as in Hindi. However, the love for Pancham turned into passion only when I turned 20. You fall in love at that age for the first time and hear – `Tere Bina Jiya Jaye Na` and `Aapki Aankhon Mein Kuch..`. Twenty is when the heartbreaks happen – you discover `Ijaazat` and the song `Mera Kuchh Saaman...` — probably written for all the broken hearts looking for words to describe how they feel. You also realise how `Jaanejaa, dhundhta phir raha..` was composed way back in 1972 is still a youth cult classic.
And the love continued to grow from there – the journey of discovering Pancham is an experience that no one should miss. Discussing his discography is a thesis subject, and talking about his best songs would fill encyclopedias. One has to go from one decade to the next, or one genre to another.
With the internet and especially Youtube it became somewhat easier. You could connect with other Pancham lovers on websites and Facebook pages specially dedicated to him.
He was nine when he composed `Aye Meri Topi Palat Ke Aa` which SD Burman used in the film `Funtoosh`. His eclectic nature was made plain in his initial ventures - `Chhotey Nawab` and `Bhoot Bangla`. There was the popular twist number `Aao Twist Karein` (which was later remixed) and the lesser known completely classical `Ghar Aaja Ghir Aayi`. He was famous for having music sessions in his studio with various artists across the country. There one could find Santoor player Shiv Kumar Sharma, flautist Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Louis Banks, Kersy Lord and many others jamming together. He also freely took advice from them for his various compositions.
On the first day of college, my seniors decided to get `Introduced` to us. I remember being told to sing my favourite song – in front of 200 people. I chose to sing `Dum Maaro Dum` at the top of my lungs – it was a good choice it seemed because for the next few weeks, my `introductions` were limited to that song and some other Pancham favourites to someone strumming a guitar.
No matter how much of other music is played, RD Burman is brought back to life in every college campus every year – `Pyaar Humein Kis Mod Pe` and `Yeh Dosti Hum Nahi Todenge` is sung at every late night bachelor party. No matter how many item numbers are made `Piya Tu Ab To Aaja` and `Mehbooba Mehbooba` are numbers people would never forget.
His genius is not only in finding the perfect mix of instruments in his recordings. It is not only in making Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle do a scale changing `Main Chali Main Chali`, or making crazy songs like `Daiyya Yeh Main Kahan Aa Phasi` – it was in making you feel the emotions that the song was made for. He would make a cabaret number and make sure you picture the dancer in glittery clothes dancing sensuously. You don`t need to see the video to know that there was a train involved in the song `Pal Do Pal Ka`, you can just close your eyes to hear the waves splashing in `O Majhi Re` and you will miss your love if you just listen to the introduction to `Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi`.
Only recently I discovered his Latin rock album `Pantera`. If there is an album that exemplifies `World Music` it is this. `Pantera` was Pancham`s collaboration with Jose Flores. It was a huge success in Latin America. It has some upbeat 80s English and Spanish tracks... although rarely heard in India it is a must have album for all RD fans.
He suffered in his last years as his movie songs failed to make a mark in the charts and film directors turned to more commercially successful composers. It literally broke his heart to see even his close friends leaving as he fell to hard times. But he had probably saved his best for last.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra signed him on for `1942: A Love Story`. He composed some of his most soulful romantic numbers for this movie. `Ek Ladki Ko Dekha to..`, `Kuch Na Kaho..`, `Ruth Na Jaana`; every song an epitome of romance. The album defined Pancham`s musical journey.
His death came as a shock to many of his fans and every music lover still wonders if only he had lived ten more years what other classics would he have made for us to hum for every emotion that we can ever imagine!