Pancham: A Special Guest Appearance

Rahul Dev Burman: any mike outing is special


In Hindi movie parlance, a “guest appearance” connotes an actor of repute who’s not in the parade of the main protagonists. However, she/he makes an appearance right at the time when you’ve had enough of the lead actors; or, just when you think the fun couldn’t get any wackier, the special appearance actor adds just that splatter of cinematic wackiness that just might make you go back to the cinema hall. Or, they could simply step in to lend heft to an already engaging project.

When Rahul Dev Burman stepped in front of the mike, it could be to add pizzazz to his madness with his grunt,  a hiss, or pyrotechnical breathing that only he could spin out with unassuming ease, causing other composers and singers to skedaddle at the very thought. Or, he could step in with the sophistry of an excellent singer that he truly was – no other composer could sing the way he did. All singers had to do was follow the vocal path that he paved for them, and there was magic.

For Dev Anand’s “Hare Rama Hare Krishna”, Pancham composed the song that is now a leitmotif for raksha-bandhan. And he did a tandem here, but Rahul Dev being the visual and compelling story teller he was, told the tandem stories using the same music plot, but different sub-plots. Arguably the more played version, the Kishore Kumar version has lots of drama, as Dev Anand’s Prashant is staring at his sister, Janice (Zeenat Aman), imploding into a miasma of self-destruction. Pancham uses some superb violins that convey the tension, Dev Anand’s pain, Dev-Zeenat’s parents’ angst, and the heady, enervating vortex of drugs – he gets in church bells, a haunting guitar piece, vibraphone, a flute that stirs your soul, and of course, Kishore’s voice to make you want to shake Janice out of the madness. RD also uses a beautiful keyboard piece to break the antara, and then glides in Kishore to sing “heyy” or “haa”, with a tune that breaks your heart even as you simultaneously fight tears and goosebumps….

The Kishore version here:

Flashback to when Prashant and Janice (then Jasbir) Jaiswal were children, and you have the other version that Pancham created. This one has Lata Mangeshkar playback singing for the child artist who ostensibly had the right genes to grow up into a dapper and suave Dev Anand.  Here, Pancham uses the same tune, the opening flutes, but the pacing is almost childlike precocious, not painful like in the other version. Note the rhythm and bounce that RD gets in the mukhda pieces – it’s playful and absolutely adorable. Nothing like Kishore’s mukhda that has the same tune but so much of gravitas and anxiety. Again, when the antara breaks, there’s no keyboard piece, but RD employs Lata’s playful pitch to up the brotherly love. The interludes has Pancham get the guitar strings get plucked with a sense of belonging and warmth, ensconced by the vibraphones and the sneak peek of flutes. And throughout this song, Rahul Dev kept his violins section out – there’s none of them anywhere, that’s how brave a composer he was.

The Lata (and an uncredited Rahul Dev) version here:

And as Lata completes her second antara, there’s a special, very special guest appearance in front of the mike. Rahul Dev Burman enters in a delightful twirl of events and begins for the childrens’ father, Kishore Sahu, “Daddy ka Mummy ka, sabka kehna hai, ek hazaaron mein teri behna hai”…and that’s it, he leaves it to Lata to pick up the rest. But what a beautiful special appearance this is – how Pancham sings “teri behna hai” – a lovely semi-voice skid for the “hai”, even while not forgetting the age group he’s singing for – his pitch, pace, word play is as one would speak to children – with love and a happy heartbeat.

How you wish Pancham would return to sing more after “…teri behna hai”, but that’s a coda that wasn’t to be. Rahul Dev Burman, in this song, as in our lives, thank you for a very, very special guest appearance that ended much too soon.