The Best of S.D. Burman – Part 1

[This post originally appeared here.]

S.D. Burman was one of the few Hindi film composers who straddled multiple musical worlds across time and genre effortlessly. His open and inclusive approach to music, drawing from a range of influences, won him admirers across the spectrum, ranging from music aficionados to the masses. Dada Burman’s biggest strength was his beautiful melodies and how consistently he produced them. For a song-picking feature like this, artists like S.D. Burman pose a problem of plenty. So, to mark his death anniversary on October 31, I will list not his top 10, but top 20 film albums over two posts. This is the first part.

House No. 44 (1955)

After his first big break with Baazi (1955), S.D. Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi reigned supreme and churned out one hit after another. Many of them happened to be for the Anand brothers’ Navketan Films. “House No. 44” was one of them. My pick from the film is Hemant Kumar’s hauntingly beautiful “Tere Duniya Mein Jeene Se”.

Pyaasa (1957)

“Pyaasa” had S.D. Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi at the top of their game. Depending on the song or the listener’s point of view – one artist may have shone brighter than the other – but there was no denying that both played an important role in the success of “Pyaasa”. If the highlight of “Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye” was its lyrics, “Jaane Woh Kaise Log The Jinke Pyar Ko Pyar Mila” was all melody. Relying heavily on Hemant Kumar’s silky baritone, S.D. Burman used just a piano and a flute as embellishments to produce this Rabindra sangeet influenced heartbreak of a song. S.D. Burman and Sahir Ludhianv’s music vs. lyrics debate following “Pyaasa” was unfortunate and broke up one of the most talented partnerships in Hindi films.

Nau Do Gyarah (1957)

Navketan Films was committed to S.D. Burman and when he vowed not to work with Sahir again, for them it was simply a matter of pairing him with a different lyricist. The end of the S.D. Burman – Sahir run was the beginning of the S.D. Burman – Majrooh Sultanpuri run. “Nau Do Gyarah” was the first of their many hits that followed. I have many favorites in the film but I do have a soft corner for the breezy “Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke” with its whistles and a variety of wind instruments. I like to refer to it as the best song from “Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin” (1991) – the film had a wonderful sequence using this song.

Paying Guest (1957)

It was S.D. Burman who helped Kishore Kumar find his voice in Hindi films. If he had not moulded Kishore Kumar as Dev Anand’s voice, the singer may have remained ignored by major composers and relegated to singing in films he had an acting role in. After Kishore’s fantastic work for “Funtoosh” (1956) – an album I was unable to accommodate in the list – S.D. Burman repeated him in “Paying Guest” with as many as four songs. My pick from the film is “O Nigahen Mastana”. One of my favourite bits in the song is when Kishore lowers his voice singing “Basti ke diyon ko bujh jane de…” and the musical arrangement reduced before the song’s regular arrangement resumes. This is one of the many elements of S.D. Burman’s legacy that can be heard in R.D. Burman’s songs – “Saagar Jaisi Aankhon Wali” for example – years later. The other thing I like about this song is how lovely Asha Bhosle sounds although she has not a single word in it.

Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

In later years, Kishore Kumar would compose music for films he produced but with his first venture, “Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi”, he turned to the composer who helped him find his footing as a singer. At age 52, S.D. Burman delivered music befitting the madcap comedy that was “Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi”. My pick is the Kishore, Asha duet “Haal Kaisa Hai Janab Ka”. Majrooh’s flirtatious, conversational lyrics, Kishore Kumar’s yodeling and Kishore and Asha’s chemistry behind the microphone matching the onscreen chemistry of the real life couple make this song an evergreen classic.

Kala Pani (1958)

Although Dev Anand considered Kishore Kumar as his singing voice, Dada Burman liked to mix things up and chose Rafi for “Kala Pani”. Rafi’s choice as Dev Anand’s voice started a trend that would last a few years. My most favorite song from the film is “Hum Bekhudi Mein Tumko Pukare Chale Gaye”, a tune S.D. Burman is said to have divined when he heard his assistant, Jaidev, humming a muezzin’s call. Before using the tune in “Kala Pani”, S.D. Burman recorded the song in Bengali in his voice. In fact, S.D. Burman did this with quite a few of Hindi film songs. Although I haven’t seen it documented anywhere, I believe this was a manifestation of a trait S.D. Burman was known for – his astute sense for the business of music. I believe this was S.D. Burman beta testing his tunes in a smaller market – Bengali private albums – before using them in his key market – Hindi films. This was another practice R.D. Burman inherited from his father. Many of his Hindi film hits were originally tested and proven in Bengali Pujo albums.

Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)

After the success of “Pyaasa”, when Guru Dutt decided to make his next movie, he called upon S.D. Burman again. Since S.D. Burman would not work with Sahir, Kaifi Azmi – another poet among lyricists like Sahir – was chosen. Like “Pyaasa”, “Kaagaz Ke Phool” was dark and brooding and dealt with similar themes – forbidden love and the struggles of an artist. This time, however, the film was closer home as his relationship with Waheeda Rehman and its effect on his marriage and career in real life played itself out on the silver screen. The film may enjoy the status of a classic today but when it bombed when it was released. In a case of commerce trumping art, Guru Dutt never directed a film again and S.D. Burman never worked in a Guru Dutt production again. Like the film, its music is now acknowledged as a classic. My pick from the film is superbly melancholic “Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Hasin Sitam”. As lovely as the song is, the irony of Geeta Dutt’s dulcet voice in the background in a magical sequence with Guru Dutt and Waheed Rehman is equally delicious.

Sujata (1959)

S.D. Burman was a genius, no doubt, but thankfully for music lovers, he was open to influences. The best song for me in “Sujata” – “Jalte Hain Jiske Liye” – is an example of this Burman trait. Although a wholly original composition in my view, one can hear shades of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Ekoda Tumi Priye” in the song. There was another influence at play in this song. S.D. Burman wanted Mohd. Rafi to sing the song but eventually recorded it Talat Mahmood’s voice on Bimal Roy’s insistence. “Jalte Hain Jiske Liye” is testament to the fact that S.D. Burman’s willingness to adapt made him better composer. Burman’s fabulous composition and Talat Mahmood’s quivering rendition makes “Jalte Hain…” one of the best “telephone songs” in Hindi films.

Kala Bazar (1960)

S.D. Burman had worked with Shailendra before but “Kala Bazar” was the first time they came together in a Navketan film. The Navketan magic worked and they produced their best work together till then. S.D. Burman continued with Rafi for Dev Anand and Rafi delivered brilliantly. Interestingly, the film’s best known song “Khoya Khoya Chand” was written by Shailendra while he was on a midnight drive with R.D. Burman. The “chand” and “taare” described in the song are ones they saw over Marine Drive! The song captured the public’s imagination again many years later when it was covered by Mikey McCleary and used in a thrilling sequence in the “Shaitan” (2011).

Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962)

During the recording of “Miss India” (1957), a misunderstanding developed between Lata Mangeshkar and S.D. Burman and for the next few years the senior Burman decided to make do without his favourite “Lota”. To a large extent, Asha Bhosle and Geeta Dutt filled the void left by Lata during this period. In “Baat Ek Raat Ki” he chose Suman Kalyanpur for a song that would have most certainly been Lata’s if they had not parted ways. Suman Kalyapur rose to the occasion and delivered “Na Tum Hamen Jaano” with a brilliance that made her a voice to be reckoned even though there was another beautiful version by Hemant Kumar. Her brief aalaap-harmony sections in Hemant Kumar’s version are very pleasing as well.

Bonus: S.D. Burman’s Bengali precursor to “Hum Bekhudi Mein” – “Ghum Bhulechhi Nijhum”. The sarod in the song’s opening was played by R.D. Burman.

Next week will feature Part 2 with another 10 S.D. Burman picks.