A discussion on Hindi film music is incomplete without the mention of R D Burman. Fondly called as Pancham Da, the legendary music composer rose the popularity in the second half of 1960s and the whole of 1970s with films like Teesri Manzil (1966), Pyar Ka Mausam (1969), Kati Patang (1970), Amar Prem (1971), Bombay To Goa (1972), Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973), Sholay (1975), Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977) etc. Sadly, in the 80s, his career declined. He passed away on January 4, 1994 at the age of 54. Singer Lata Mangeshkar had said that he died too young and unhappy.
However, just before his demise, R D Burman managed to work for two films, both of which were directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Both worked first in Parinda (1989). And then they created history with the music of 1942 – A Love Story (1994). Vidhu Vinod Chopra narrates his experiences of working with the music genius in the book ‘Unscripted’ written by Abhijat Joshi.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra reveals that initially, Anil Kapoor had declined to work in Parinda due to some issue. R D Burman, meanwhile, was already on board and he was all set to record the song ‘Pyar Ke Mod Pe’. Fearing the film might get stalled, Vidhu told Burman to cancel the recording. However, R D Burman insisted that he’ll still do the song recording and that he’ll pay for it from his own pocket. He also told Vidhu, “Tu kal aa jaana Film Center (at the recording). Tu aayega toh maza aayega.” Vidhu obviously was touched and said in the book, “That’s R D Burman for you.”
This was a time when R D Burman’s music was not working and yet, Vidhu decided to rope him for 1942 – A Love Story as well. The music company, HMV, had in fact told Vidhu Vinod Chopra that they will pay him if they hire a new guy but if he opts for R D Burman, they might not buy the music.
Today, 1942 – A Love Story‘s songs are considered as one of the best in the history of Indian cinema. The song ‘Kuch Na Kaho’ still holds a special place in our hearts and interestingly, R D Burman had composed a different tune for it. Vidhu Vinod Chopra didn’t like it and in hindsight, he reveals that he should have told the composer that he could do better. However, Vidhu ended up telling him that it’s bullshit!
A hurt R D Burman asked if he even wanted him to do 1942 – A Love Story at all. To which Vidhu Vinod Chopra told him that he of course wants him to compose but he wants a music like that of his father, S D Burman. R D Burman argued that the ‘old music’ doesn’t sell anymore. Vidhu assured him to leave the selling part to him as he’s also the producer.
R D Burman then asked for a week, and had tears in his eyes. Even Vidhu got emotional and both hugged. Vidhu says in the book, “Just imagine how insecure he must have felt. Life had become difficult for him in his last years. R D created some of the best music in Indian cinema and here, he doubted whether his music would sell. I mean he was R D Burman!”
R D Burman took two weeks but finally cracked the tune of ‘Kuch Na Kaho’. And Vidhu knew he had a winner in his hands.
The singer who infused life into ‘Kuch Na Kaho’ was Kumar Sanu. Vidhu Vinod Chopra reveals that he was the prominent singer then and hence, quite busy as well. On the day of recording, he walked in quite late. And moreover, Vidhu says that ‘he sang terribly’! Vidhu naturally was angry as those were the days when musicians played live and were paid for four-hour shifts. The shift was about to end and Vidhu was agitated as he feared his money would go waste.
R D Burman went into the recording cabin and asked him to sing well. To which Kumar Sanu said that he was busy recording in another part of the city and that he has just half an hour. At this, Vidhu Vinod Chopra lost his temper. He saw Kumar Sanu had appeared unshaven and seemed sleep-deprived. Vidhu told him to go home and rest as he ‘looks like a mess’. He also told him that they’ll record the song when he has a whole day. And in case that’s not possible, they’ll look for some other singer. R D Burman tried to control the situation but Vidhu told him that he’ll have to pay for this shift, which is fine with him, but he doesn’t want the song to be recorded in a ‘broken and tired voice’.
Kumar Sanu, however, didn’t feel bad and understood Vidhu’s point. Three days later, he was back at the studio and was well-rested and clean shaven. He also gifted a fountain pen to Vidhu Vinod Chopra. He then recorded ‘Kuch Na Kaho’ and the rest is history.
Unfortunately, R D Burman was not alive to see the immediate excitement generated by the songs of 1942 – A Love Story. In fact, he passed away before the release of the film. On New Year’s Eve 1993, Vidhu Vinod Chopra threw a party on the sets of the film. They wanted the bash to be a celebration of R D Burman’s music. Hence, at 11 PM, as soon as Pancham da entered the set, the song ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha’ was played on the loudspeakers and fireworks lit up the sky. Vidhu Vinod Chopra states, “He was wearing a white shirt, his usual red muffler around his neck and a little cap on his head. He looked very handsome. So he did hear his music with thousands of partygoers clapping for him.”
5 days later, on January 4, 1994, R D Burman passed away, at 3:45 AM, due to a heart attack.