When a song has lyrics that go Lapa Changa Mein Naache, the last vocals you’d expect to hear on the track’d be Lata Mangeshkar‘s. But didi (elder sister) it is, though not headlining this zany, outrageous number. That is a role that composer Rahul Dev Burman (Pancham) reserves for himself, reviving his 70s classic for-the-children-by-the-children equivalent of The Sound of Music‘s Do Re Mi, but no less effectively woven in terms of lyrical texture or musical notations and denotations.
For this Ek Se Bhale Do number, Pancham uses it as curtain raiser, to add an escalating rhythm, and then never to look back on this song’s Parichay (Introduction). His violins gallop, only to be interrupted by the ticking of an imminent madness, sound of triangles, and an all-out calypso piece. But that ticking is also a precursor to his mukhda and the lyrics that go “Bole ghadi ghadi dil ye mera tick tick“. Nothing here is supposed to make sense of course, but the layers that Pancham adds to every line—in his singing (the “naache” in the mukhda line gets mildly high variations), in his orchestration (a hurriedly urgent violin piece with the “naache”), and his interlude pieces that are all phrased to tell a party story with varied character interests.
And as RD approaches the antara, first-time listeners would be forgiven for expecting more of his vocals, but he’s only the precursor to a different mood. The interlude piece slows down, goes punctuated-beats bass dreamy, and when Kishore Kumar comes in, the pace picks up again, but the tune’s still la la land; and for Lata, the scale’s high, passionate, the violins sweeping in with a flourish just the once, she leaves the antara gracefully, leaving Kishore and a growling “bwa bwa bwa” to ride the music to glide across guitars and bass to the mukhda.
With Pancham there’s so much happening at every turn—there’s the suspenseful synth and donkey-jaw before the next antara for Lata and Kishore, by the now melody slowly growing on you, while Pancham uses his growling voice; and then the sounds of a party (how he’d have mixed all of it together!) preceded by an extract from the Baby Elephant Walk piece from Hatari!. And it is then that you know why Pancham chose Lata Mangeshkar for this zinger—her “la la la la” (a distant cousin to that in her RD number of Aisa Sama Na Hota from Zameen Aasman) that takes off from the fading chorus settles it—as his notes and her vocals embrace the sky, nothing else matters in the world at that moment. It’s a slow dissolve of melody and aural shivers. It’s Pancham and Lata.