A Music composer who kept in tune with changing times from 1940s to mid-1970s and always came up with something new and refreshing for the listeners was none other than Sachin Dev Burman. He combined Indian classical music with folk music to create songs that had a lasting impact on audience.
Be it Sunder Sapna Beet Gaya (Do Bhai, 1947), Hai Apna Dil To Awara (Solva Saal, 1958), Tere Naina Talash (Talash, 1969), Badi Sooni Sooni Hai Zindagi (Mili, 1975), he knew how to strike a chord with the audience. Dada, as he was addressed by his friends, redefined the musical scene in Hindi film industry.
Burman belonged to the royal family of Tripura and could have lived a comfortable life had he decided to stay back in Calcutta (now Kolkata) after completing his Master’s degree, but music was a passion he could not ignore. His father Nabadwip Chandra Dev Burman, was his first music teacher from whom he learnt sitar. He got his formal training from musician KC Dey and Bhismadev Chattopadhyay, later from Khalifa Badal Khan, sarangi maestro, and Ustad Allauddin Khan, sarod maestro. He began his musical career as a singer on radio.
His first recording as a vocalist was a composition by Bengal’s revolutionary poet-musician Kazi Nazrul Islam. After that he worked as a music director and composed Bengali songs until 1944 in Calcutta. In 1944, he shifted to Bombay on the request of Sashadhar Mukherjee to give music for two of Ashok Kumar starrer films. He got his first break with Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya in 1947 and it took him some time to establish himself.
It was a coincidence that brought SD Burman and Dev Anand together, and that changed the music scenario of Bollywood. One day, Dev Anand along with Guru Dutt was visiting a friend, when Dev Anand told the friend that he was looking for a composer, and the friend said: “There is one person who lives nearby and has the potential to go far, why don’t you meet him?” Dev went straight to Burman’s house, spoke to him, and finalised him on the spot for the movie Asfar.
Their partnership lasted long and Burman crafted some magical songs for Navketan Films. In fact, Dev Anand once said that SD was his musical soul mate. Both wanted to try novel ideas and were open to criticism and change. Dev Anand had given him full freedom and Burman would openly criticise Dev Anand if he did not like anything about the presentation of a song in the movie.
Burman would compose the tune first and would generally sing using a couple of Bengali words matching with the tune, and, then decide which lyricist could fill in the lyrics. It provided space for conversational style of music for songs like Haal Kaisa Hai Janab Ka (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958).
He would call playback singers and make them rehearse the lyrics, and whoever matched the situation in the film was finalised for the song. He never fell prey to pressure of either producer or director to hire popular singers. His compositions have been sung by Geeta Dutt, Hemant Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohd Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Mukesh, Kishore Kumar, and Shamshad Begum, among others.
He himself sang several Hindi and Bengali songs. Two songs which he sang for the movie Guide in the year 1965 – Allah Megh De Paani De and Wahan Kaun Hai Tera are still a rage among music lovers. He used to do only a limited number of songs as he wanted each song to be different from the previous ones and have its own identity. Some of Burman’s hit songs were for Navketan Films — Taxi Driver, Funtoosh, Guide, Paying Guest, Jewel Thief, and Prem Pujari; Guru Dutt’s films Baazi, Jaal, Kaagaz Ke Phool, and Bimal Roy’s productions Devdas, Sujata, and Bandini.
Burman always kept in mind the common man while composing his tunes, he would say if I want to display my classical music prowess I would give stage performances… for the common man I want to weave songs which they can hum easily. “Shastriya sangeet mere ko bhi aata hai, par mein kiyo dikhaoon chaar anna wale aadmi ko,” Dada said once. But when films needed the use of classical music, he proved his mettle with Nache Mora Manwa, Kisne Chilman Se Maara, Saiyan Beiman, Jhan Jhan Payal Baaje and many others.
With music, he never compromised. If he needed anything special, it was a must. The recording of a song for Jewel Thief was held up until the arrival of drums from Sikkim. In the song Hai Apna Dil To Awara (Solva Saal, 1958) picturised on Dev Anand, SD played the harmonica.Dada was a hard taskmaster but he also expressed his joy if a singer, lyricist or an instrumentalist performed exceptionally well and would reward the person in some form or the other.
Burman received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1958 and Padma Shri in 1969 for his contribution to music. He died on October 31, 1975, but his music will remain alive in the hearts and minds of music lovers for generations to come.