Pancham: Flashback to the Future

[I wrote a mildly modified version of this piece in the Pancham group on Facebook as part of the Aaina Wahi Rehta Hai: Flashback with Pancham theme. This group is truly the most vibrant and informative one on Pancham on Facebook. Thanks to ever-vigilant and enthusiastic admins, blame and flame throwers are reined in quickly, allowing a friendly, warm banter that involves swapping stories, ideas, POVs, enabling a thriving ecosystem of a wide-spectrum of folks – from Pancham-can-never-do-no-wrong (your truly included!) to nitpicking Pancham fans and all the saner voices in between.)

Aasif Sheikh
Aasif Sheikh paves the way for Sunil Shetty’s future expression

Two brothers. Separated by a cruel director, writer, and fate. One grows up to be a nice sort of chap, and very wealthy. The other a regular, poor, gold-hearted fella. The goldman is bowled over by the sachs appeal of the heroine (Kimi Katkar), woos her and they fall in love. As directors Mirza brothers would (not) have it, the elder, wealthier brother gets a chance to rescue the heroine (same girl) and instantly falls for her. He’s doubly convinced after singing a Pancham ghazal, buys off the girl’s poor family, and convinces them that he’s the ideal son-in-law. Girl’s papa, D’Souza agrees – after all, Pran jaaye par Black Label na jaaye. And, at the betrothal party, where the younger heart-of-gold-now-turned-mold arrives to announce his distress in the form of a song, guess what song does he sing?

Raj babbar
Raj Babbar realizes that Pancham strikes again

It’s difficult to fathom this now, but in 1988, Rama O Rama had two redeeming factors – one, the movie was mercifully short and was not as bad as it sounds; and two, of course, Rahul Dev Burman’s score. A visit and revisit to this album brings out such lovely surprises, it’s an overdue album review – but for now, the party and Goldman (Heart) sags’ song – Pancham makes you skip a heartbeat or two with the opening stab of drums and the snazzy guitars, all bouncing like musical buoys on the waves of the impeccably laid bass. And then, the insistent flute, a leitmotif of a call to a painful past, but not just…for, Pancham ushers the softly paced vocals of Amit Kumar – to me, this number is to the singer what Kisi Gareeb Ke Dil Se (Sitamgar) was to Shailendra Singh – and the protest of “Rama O Rama”, the flurry of swift, breathtaking moves of the drummers’ stick on the octapad, and the actual mukhda – a truly melodic, heartbreaking tune, an anachronism even, for this project – while the violins sweep in and go back, the flute keeps up the leitmotif, and when Kumar sings “Rama O Rama”, the violins are braced by the almost invisible brass section, and then come crashing down in a wave of spent force. And how Pancham uses the echo to envelope your senses – even as the bass picks up the song for the repeat mukhda.

Pran is dying to get out of his D’Sozzled wig

The first interlude has the swinging brass section that’s absolutely marvelous  – I still remember being irritated when, in the T-Series sponsored program on Vividh Bharati, the announcer interrupted this piece to announce the movie name, for that meant losing this piece – a fuzzy, warm, flashback. The violins and the brass serenade each other, the guitar leads the way to the chorus that sighs in seductive empathy, leading to the lovely antara – such a heartfelt and heartbreaking tune by Pancham!

aasif sheikh kimi katkar
Aasif Sheikh makes a bloody point to Kimi Katkar

The brass leads the way to the bongos and conga, the chorus hiss, and then again that haunting antara, propelled by the guitars, to another antara…that leads to the next interlude. And how beautifully Pancham gets in the trumpets to play the piece that the flutes were playing earlier… this time the orchestra’s hushed, awaiting the impending flashback, but not before the flutes come in to replace the trumpets, and then, even as the bass plucks away, the beat changes – the madal, the guitar, the reso reso, and Jayashree Shivram’s vocals an echo of the painful past – the lyrics don’t bother with any niceties, and Anand Bakshi stops short of describing the begging bowl size and circumference, but what else do you do in a situation like this one? – and you know that this isn’t a flashback for the family album, but yet, with Pancham, it’s all good. And while the dholak and others do their bit, the drummer rubs his aching wrist to prevent PSI (Pancham-induced Stress Injury), and that’s a wise choice, for, as Shivram’s voice completes the mirroring of the past, Pancham announces a return to present with the octapad’s crashing back into the song’s gate – and the guitars and the bass return to pace, but this time, there’s no choral empathy – just Amit Kumar’s sob-swallowing sound, and then to the next antara. And once again, the tune rises, kicked into the sky by the violins, brass, and the beats. And as the song climaxes, the brass comes in, befitting Pancham’s big-band vision, trembling like Kumar’s vocals and then sobbing to a stop.

Rahul Dev Burman combines a plucky bass and snazzy guitars to create a superb title song for “Rama O Rama”

If I was the elder brother (Raj Babbar), I’d have told the younger brother (Aasif Sheikh), “Gao chote, ruk kyon gaye?” (Sing, younger one, why did you stop?) Instead, I’ll just go back into flashback and play this song again, and wonder how Pancham’s work was never a flash-in-the-pan, Rama (o rama) qasam.

The Rama O Rama number (audio only) is here:

And here’s the video wonder: