Pancham: sinking into a melodic rabbit hole of madness

If there’s anything that this peekaboo of a pandemic has achieved, it’s to force our hands and face that one person whose demons we ran roughshod over with the steamroller of daily race and activities that blurred the cracked mirror that always stared back at that person: us. Now that spending time and passing time have melded into one stream of anarchy, external jaunts no longer available to cleanse the poison that brews in relationships, there’s a constant weight that reminds us of the gravity of our personas.

From his score for Ghungroo Ki Awaaz—a movie that’s nothing but a Vertigo-inducing mess—Rahul Dev Burman creates this sinking-into-despair beauty that’s tightly knit into a musical form: in another avatar, it could be a ghazal even. Here, the composer spins a hypnotic session that uses lyricist Vijay Anand‘s words to regress into self-realization that something’s wrong. The mind swivels between mist and breaking sunlight, gaining crystal clear vision only when the stream of tears lap against the shores of pain to show a horizon that’s strictly unending and hopeless.

Then, there’s only one thing left to do. Dig a rabbit hole to carve solace against the blinding hurt, then curl up into this number. Pancham paces the lonely venture with a snappy rhythm, the tablas trotting like an anxious heartbeat all through, the drumstick caressing the cymbal with the crashing assurance that nothing’s ever going to be set right. If the violins sweep the night into a blanket of a haunted specter, the stringed guitar twinkles like a mirage of hope, and the taar-shehnai a scythe to cut through the maze of lost feelings, only to go deeper inside.

Suresh Wadkar delivers a nuanced, understated vocal performance, one that’s so finely crafted it’s misleading in its quietude. But Pancham gives his singer a special boomerang note to play with for “pagla” (mad) at 1:54, steeping that twist like a knife that’s turned in a special performance for a final cut.

In this escape room from which there’s no relief, where the images of the past and the present blur to create a non-existent future, when there’s no distinction between friend and foe, the number turns to plead to that special one for hope and understanding. But R.D. Burman knows better. He uses the pluck of the bass to deliver a punch to your solar plexus every time, shattering any hope of hope. Plus, his melting violins at the end of the song deliver an immutable message: the journey of mental health wars is crowded with darkness, but is ultimately a lonely battlefield.