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Last Updated 16.10.2019 | 10:17 PM IST
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Book Review: R.D. Burman The Man, The Music


Though the music of R.D. Burman is playing even years after his death, it is surprising that India hasn’t quite woken up to paying a worthy enough tribute to the man and his music. In the times when Gulzar, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan pretty much hold the record for maximum literature available around them on the stands, R.D. Burman hasn’t found similar attention coming his way. And that too when the major part of the ‘remix industry’ continues to be dependant on dozens of his chartbusters.

Yes, there has been a book or two written about Pancham but nothing as elaborate, descriptive, informative and insightful as ‘R.D. Burman The Man, The Music’. This is where authors Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal deserve a pat on their back. They have not just managed to come up with something that would be challenging enough for any other writer to now even dream of penning something newer on Pancham, they have also given readers a lot to relish, given the kind of detailing that has gone into this 350 odd page book.

It is this approach towards the book being written that makes it special. It is not a ‘desktop creation’ by any means. Instead, Anirudha and Balaji have actually gone quite a few extra miles and spoken to at least a couple of dozen people closely attached to Pancham who knew in and out of how Pancham’s musical years shaped up. Whether it’s the core musical team of Pancham, his arrangers, producers, directors, actors, close friends, associates, acquaintances, there are quite a few people have shared more than just a byte or two as they bring back the memories from the past and talk about what made Pancham special.

This is where one should nod in appreciation for the authors as they have taken the pain of not just reaching out to these people over an extended period of time but also sat down, sorted out the available information, filtered as per the need of the write up and then arranged and rearranged it all so as to make the book a cohesive read. Now for a piece of literature where the demand of the situation was to stand up on it’s own rather than getting any help whatsoever from it being a picture book affair, this indeed was a task in hand for the authors who have managed to crack it all in just the right way.

In a way, the lack of any space being made available to include any frills in the book would only have turned into a blessing in disguise for the authors since this way they could afford to pack in much more than what they would have expected to begin with. Having said that, with so much material being gathered based on an extensive research, it must indeed have been a mighty challenging task for them to pick the right information and negate the kind that may have seemed doubtful or outright wrong.

For a reader though this results in a cumbersome write up, at least in the beginning portions, as ‘R.D. Burman The Man, The Music’ turns out to be more informative rather than entertaining. This means that if one was looking for some facts being presented in a juicy manner so that they could invoke a sense of utter shock or surprise then this isn’t a book for that purpose. Instead it reads like a textbook which means that while for a true blue Pancham fan, a historian, a film buff or someone who wants to plain and simple study about one of the most popular composers of all times, it is a box full of goodies in the lap. However, for a regular reader who wants to quickly turn over those 300 odd pages and wrap up the book in 3-4 hours flat, ‘R.D. Burman The Man, The Music’ makes for not just an overtly exhaustive but also a tiresome read.

This issue also arises from the fact that layout, design and overall styling of the book is way below expectations. It seems to have been hurriedly done with no attention paid whatsoever on working upon the cover design or the book binding. For a book which is so voluminous, one would have expected the overall design to be such that it can be held comfortably and lend one an ease of reading as the pages are flipped. Ok, so it is understandable for a book to be priced so low, it couldn’t have been launched in a ‘coffee table book’ version. However, some more consideration towards the overall layout and ‘R.D. Burman The Man, The Music’ would have made for a book which is worthy enough to be preserved. Here it just seems like a book which has been forced upon as a text book material as a result of which some readers can be expected to be put off during the first few pages.

Another factor that makes one skip through certain portions of the book rather hurriedly are the ones where the authors get into the details of the classical music being the origin point for many a Pancham composition. Ok, so this means that they have good knowledge about classical music but after a point the entire ‘referencing’ becomes a little too much for a regular reader. Moreover, in the quest to make it a complete book, the authors have also included quite some literature on the Bengali music composed by Pancham. Again, this is strictly for a select segment of readers.

Having said that, one has to give it to Anirudha and Balaji for sharing facts about Pancham or his films which haven’t been unearthed before. Did you know that Rajiv Gandhi was the original choice for Mehmood’s Bombay To Goa before the role went to Amitabh Bachchan? Or Kishore Kumar was hesitant to sing ‘Mera Naina Saawan Bhadon‘ as he found it quite difficult and thought that ‘it was beyond him’? Or that Lakshmikant Pyaarelal had clearly told Subhash Ghai that if ever he worked with R.D. Burman, they would never compose for him again, as a result of which Pancham was out of Ram Lakhan? Or that Pancham was constantly criticising his music and wasn’t always sure about a song of his working or not?

Over the years one has heard about how Pancham started off on a slow note, taking his own time to emerge out of the shadow of his father (S.D. Burman), his rise to fame, his association with Rajesh Khanna and Kishore Kumar, his troubled marriage, his relationship with Asha Bhonsle, his constant endeavour to bring on a new sound, his fight against mediocrity, tryst with some of his own forgettable music, his fall in the times when music had lost it’s vigour in Bollywood, his depressing days and then finally the swansong (1942 – A Love Story) that he never lived to see with his own eyes.

Well, all of this features in this book as well. However the difference that Anirudha and Balaji bring about is that while others have ‘mentioned’ this all correctly in the past, the duo has gone in depth to find out ‘how did it all happen’. That’s the beauty of ‘R.D. Burman The Man, The Music’ – it delves deeper into whether Pancham indeed had issues with his illustrious father, whether he indeed reserved his best with Rajesh Khanna and Kishore Kumar, whether things could have been better in his troubled marriage, was he actually ever married to Asha Bhonsle, whether she herself was also forever concerned about his career, fortune and health, whether he was ever depressed because not many were receptive to his new sound, whether he had ever seriously considered fighting against the poor music of the down and dusted 80s and last but the least, was he really under immense pressure when he composed the music for 1942 – A Love Story.

Go, read it if you want to know all of this and more in a rare book that makes an earnest attempt to explore the music and the man – R.D. Burman.

Price: Rs. 399/=

Rating: ****

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