Article Hindi

The Pancham Manzil: An excerpt from RD Burman: The Man, The Music

Rahul Dev Burman didn’t have an easy path to success. He had to live up to his father, Sachin Dev Burman’s musical legacy. But that was trivial matter, as the music RD composed took him even further than most people in the industry expected. A trailblazer and an influencer, RD Burman (aka Pancham) was truly one of a kind. Authors Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal detail in their National Award-winning best book on cinema how RD shook the Hindi film establishment with his startling different compositions for Vijay Anand’s Teesri Manzil (1966).

Our Correspondent

Pancham was designing his personal blend of rock, jazz, Latino and twist to create a sound, the likes of which was unheard of in the then thirty-five-year history of Hindi films. Teesri Manzil, according to musicians, was an instrumentalist’s dream. From the violin to the cello, from the vibraphone to the chime, from the sax to the trumpet, from the drums to the conga, and percussion like the triangle and castanet, it had everything, arranged with a perfection that other musicians would only strive to achieve in the years to come.

Immediately after he passed the audition, Pancham had received a call from Jaikishan. ‘You must make it terrific,’ the gracious composer had said, ‘so that people can say, “Haan bhai, baap ka beta hai.” According to Pancham, SD too felt that if his son continued to assist him, he would follow his style. Father encouraged son to do things differently. As Pancham put it, ‘Kuch hat ke karne ki zaroorat hai.’ This was the sentiment that drove him while designing the music for Teesri Manzil.

In those days, the usual pattern was to play sixteen bars on the violin, then the flute, following which the antara would start on cue. Inspired in part by Henry Mancini, Pancham decided to break from tradition in Teesri Manzil. In his interview to the Sunday Observer on 31 May 1992, he said, ‘In the endeavour to do something different, I was helped by people like Kersi Lord and Manohari Singh. They felt that my father had adapted folk music and I should do something different. We decided that we should bring upfront the brass section of the orchestra.’

Those were the days when songs were recorded live, with musicians playing alongside, unlike the tracking system used today. In ‘O haseena’, around eighty musicians were used; of whom close to forty were violinists. The task of managing the crew itself would have been very difficult, not to speak of the challenges of arrangement and orchestration, given the rapid change of notes and beats in the song. This was no one-dimensional lullaby with a hundred-piece orchestra.

The second Rafi-Asha duet, ‘Aja aja main hun pyar tera’, was Pancham’s favourite song in the film. Its highlight is a fourteen-second guitar lead, played thrice at a frenetic pace in the seventy-seven-second prelude. Guitarist Soumitra Chatterjee, who played with Pancham during the second half of the 1980s, remarked: So intense and characteristically different was the guitar lead, played by Dilip Naik, that the piece was used by Asha Bhosle to audition new guitarists who dreamt of playing with her.’ Even today, seasoned guitarists find it difficult to reproduce the lead properly during stage shows.

Apart from the ear-catching guitar, the infectious rhythm, the feverish chants of ‘Aja aa aa aja’, the sporadic touch of the bossa nova, the staccato use of the vibraphone and the piccolo, and the infectious coda designed on alto sax infused with a chorus, it is the tune which leaves you gasping, asking for more, an effect fashioned by Pancham by using the flat seventh note, Komal Ni, as the last note in the antara. There have been discussions galore about how Salil Chowdhury’s use of the seventh chord created wonders in ‘Aja re pardesi’ (Madhumati, 1958). ‘Aja aja’, by the same token, was no less an experiment; but given that the tune was fast paced, it failed to catch the attention of musiccritics for whom any melody which is not solemn and sombre is tantamount to noise.

In the third stage number, the Rafi solo ‘Tumne mujhe dekha’, the antara starts on the fourth note (Ma), thus creating a shift-in-scale experience. To get the mood right, Pancham used the notes of the first line of the antara as the prelude of the song.

The Nepali folk-based Rafi solo ‘Deewana mujhsa nahin’ was shot in Mahabaleshwar masquerading as Mussorie. The other outdoor song, the Asha-Rafi duet ‘O mere sona re’ was a Pahadi tune that Pancham married with a jazz-cum-bossa-nova piece, ‘Song for my father’, by Horace Silver. Pancham used the tune as a guide to fashion the first line of ‘O mere sona re’, and did away with the bossa beat, giving it a folksy rhythm instead. This was one of the first songs to use the electric organ, played by Kersi Lord. The tempo was maintained on the cabashe by Devichand Chauhan, the master of rhythm, especially the tabla.

Dekhiye sahibon’, another Asha-Rafi duet, featured the leading pair on a giant wheel with the hero trying to negotiate with a crowd in an attempt to win the girl. The rhythm in this vintage Pancham creation keeps varying between stanzas; 4/4, bossa nova, pizzicato, and even offbeat. A chorus chips in with a ‘Hah hah’, Asha teases with additional inflexions ‘Aye haye haye’ in the stanzas, and Rafi hurries up to the end of the antara much like the free fall of the giant wheel. Bhanu Gupta, playing for Pancham for the first time in this song, went on to become his chief rhythm guitarist. Their bond went beyond the confines of recording studios.

The title score is a critical component in any suspense or action thriller and Pancham made the most of the opportunity in Teesri Manzil. The opening scene shows an attractive young woman drive up to a hotel in the dead of night, walk up three floors and fall to her death. Murder or suicide? Why does Helen warn Shammi against rushing to the dead body while shocked onlookers watch blood seep from the victim’s smashed skull? What secret is she hiding? And who is the man, peeping through a window above, quietly watching the scene unfold? All this with the film’s credits in the foreground and R.D. Burman’s pulsating score in the background. One thing was obvious: Pancham had made his mark in the movie even before the song tracks began.

This excerpt is reproduced with permission from Harper-Collins India.