Tag Archives: book

MySwar References

One of the things we love on MySwar is the trivia – the story behind the music and the musicians. We source the trivia from books we read and from the World Wide Web. While we stored these source references, we didn’t have a way to show them to our users. Not anymore. We just rolled out the display of references from which we derive these trivia. Now, you will see a reference link next to trivia items (where applicable). Book references are listed together on one page and other references are listed right there on the song or album page.

Special mention must be made of the Hindi Film Geet Kosh compiled by Mr. Harmandir Singh ‘Hamraaz’. The Hindi Film Geet Kosh, a collection of 5 book volumes cataloguing Hindi films from 1931 to 1980, is not just the source of trivia for MySwar but also the foundation of our data from this period. It’s not a coincidence that it’s listed at the top in our list of references.

R.D. Burman – The Man, The Music – Book Review

I have a series of complaints about the book “R.D. Burman – The Man, The Music” by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal. For starters, it has a really confusing structure. It consists of three sections, each focusing on a decade of his life and career – the 60s, 70s and 80s, but within each section the chronology is disorienting. Within the sections, the authors try to focus on R.D. Burman’s associations with directors, lyricists, etc and in the process dilute both the chronology and the associations. Also, the authors may have deemed the chapter names clever (“Mango and Cadbury Uncle”, “Inexpensive Grass, Free Love”, etc.) but they only serve to frustrate readers trying to make sense of the book’s structure.

For people who are not trained in music (like me), the book gets too technical at times (“Also prominent was the use of Suddha notes and major scale, apart from touching upon the flat seventh note, Komal Ni…”). After the first few chapters, I became proficient at spotting these bits and skimming over them.

My last complaint is that while ambitiously tag-lined “The Man, The Music”, the book has a lot more of The Music than The Man. I was particularly disappointed with the sketchy treatment of Pancham’s relationship with Asha Bhonsle. Their eventual separation is described like an after-thought through a Vidhu Vinod Chopra quote that focuses not on their relationship but on Pancham’s slump in the mid-1980s – “Lack of confidence. People close to him, including Asha Bhonsle, left him.”. This is the first time in the book, their separation is mentioned!

Despite these flaws, this is a book to be loved and cherished.

The book’s biggest strength is it’s focus on R.D. Burman’s career. We find out about the 4-year gap between his first two movies and what he did during that time. We discover that we may have never known Pancham if an interview with Shammi Kapoor had gone awry. We get to appreciate that his success was as much due to the strength of his team, as his own musical genius. We trace the various ups and downs in his career, his troubled last days and his emphatic resurgence after death. The authors have clearly put in a lot of effort to amass a treasure trove of information on Pancham.

I also enjoyed the detailed analyses of all of R.D. Burman’s key songs and then some. Tip – To truly appreciate the authors’ analyses, you need to be plugged into the internet (in case you don’t have the songs) so you can listen to the songs while reading the analysis.

Apart from the serious stuff, the book has loads of delightfully quirky trivia. The authors do a nice job of not only informing but entertaining. Some of my favorite trivia from the book:

  1. Pancham coaxed Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma to play the tabla on “Mose Chhal Kiye Jaye” (Guide) even though he had given it up for santoor.
  2. “Dum Maro Dum” was originally meant to be sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Usha Uthup.
  3. Pancham was inspired by the cyclic noise from a faulty table fan to compose “Suno, kaho, kaha, suna” (Aap Ki Kasam).
  4. Pancham’s title music (starts at 0:40) for the movie Joshila was used in many movies, including movies that had other music directors.
  5. In “Zindagi Milke Bitayenge” (Satte Pe Satta), Pancham shuttled between the voice cubicle and the orchestra area because he had to sing and play the harmonica in the song.

For the most part, the authors appear objective but their deep admiration for Pancham is evident in their analysis of his music and shows through at times as petulance (“Not that Pancham needed the endorsement of any curvy statuettes” on Pancham not winning a Filmfare award till 1983) and defensiveness (over charges of plagiarism against Pancham). These elements transform the book from a dry research paper to a warm, vibrant homage.

This book is more than just a good read. It has a neat, 500-song index that will provide for many more hours of exploration any time you listen to your favorite Pancham songs or are in the mood to discover some new ones.


On Amazon.

On Flipkart.

A.R. Rahman – The Spirit Of Music – Book Review

Conversations, Not Biography

“The Spirit of Music” sets the readers’ expectation right on the cover by declaring “Conversations with Nasreen Munni Kabir”. Unfortunately, a lot of people have been referring to it as ARR’s biography. It is not. It is just a very long interview. It makes for a light and entertaining read but it is constrained by two things – a) ARR’s ability to communicate with words (not nearly as good as his ability to communicate with music), b) His willingness to share information.

Nevertheless, the book is a great read because Ms. Kabir does manage to get ARR to open up like never before. There are some very personal insights that could have come only directly from ARR. Examples:

  • When ARR hits a composer’s block, he writes tunes to Bulleh Shah’s and Amir Khusrau’s poetry. Guru’s “Ae Hairathe Ashiqui” was composed on Amir Khusrau’s “Ae sharbat-e ashiqui”
  • He deals with pressure at work by heading out of Chennai to visit a Sufi dargah near Mahabalipuram

ARR’s Struggles

The one thing that struck me the most in the book is the description of the years of struggle ARR went through. His rise after “Roja” may have been meteoric but here is what his career looked like before it:

  • 1978 – 1979 – Started working as a roadie when he was 11 years.
  • 1980 – Played keyboards on Doordarshan program, Wonder Balloon
  • 1981 – Played in school band
  • 1985 – 1986 – Played in band, Magic. They had two gigs. To quote ARR – “And that was it – finito.”
  • 1987 – Composed Album called “Disco Disco” for Malaysia Vasudevan
  • 1988 – Played in band, Roots. Gave one performance.
  • 1989 – Setup Panchathan Studio, a recording studio, in the backyard of his house. His mother had to sell her jewellery to finance the studio.
  • 1979 – 1989 – Sessions musician. Played keyboard for Illayaraja, Raj-Koti, Vijay Anand
  • 1990 – Released English-language album called “Set Me Free” with Malgudi Shubha
  • 1989 – 1991 – Composed ad jingles.
  • 1990 – 1991 – Played in band, Nemesis Avenue. Played one gig.
  • 1992 – Played keyboard on Zakir Hussain and Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan’s album “Colours”. Credited as Dileep.

Sure ARR has loads of talent but even he had to work his ass off (and meet the 10,000-hour rule somewhere along the way) to achieve success.

Nice Guy

ARR has endeared himself to his fans not just because of his music but also because he comes across as a nice guy – humble, honest and spiritual. This comes across several times throughout the book. My favorites:

  • The first page of the book has this written in Tamil script – “Ella pukazhum iraivanukke” meaning “All praises to God”. He used this phrase while accepting the Oscar Awards for Slumdog Millionnaire
  • This Q&A

NMK: What do people say about your voice?

ARR: What do people say about my voice? It sounds like me of course. [laughs] I suppose they find character in the voice.

Collector’s Item

The book also happens to pretty cool collector’s item with the score sheet for “The Bombay Theme” and a CD of Rahman compositions that you will not find anywhere else.


A good read for any music lover and a must-buy for ARR fans.



High Fidelity – A Movie/Book Review

You are probably not a music geek if you haven’t seen (the movie) or read (the book) High Fidelity. You are definitely not a music geek if you have seen or read High Fidelity and not enjoyed it.

High Fidelity is the story of a single, insecure and rather pathetic man in his mid-30s who finds true love after many failed attempts, loses it and eventually regains it. The music connection? He owns a record store, has a massive record collection, makes all kinds of song lists (The Top 5 Death Songs) and spends hours making compilation tapes. He has two equally geeky employees (one of them brilliantly played by Jack Black in the movie). The three of them are music snobs and look down on anyone who does not have good taste in music. In fact, they drive out potential customers because they have bad taste in music:

Barry’s Customer: Hi, do you have the song “I Just Called To Say I Love You?” It’s for my daughter’s birthday.

Barry: Yea we have it.

Barry’s Customer: Great, Great, can I have it?

Barry: No, no, you can’t.

Barry’s Customer: Why not?

Barry: Well, it’s sentimental tacky crap. Do we look like the kind of store that sells I Just Called to Say I Love You? Go to the mall.

Pick up the movie/book if you are looking for something funny, relaxing and entertaining.