Pancham and the right notes!


By Hindustan Times

Shammi Kapoor was the swinging star of the ’60s... Nasir Hussain the melody maker... And Teesri Manzil was Vijay Anand’s first musical. The obvious choice for the music director was Shankar-Jaikishen or OP Nayyar. But Vijay Anand, or Goldie as he was fondly called, surprised everyone by
suggesting RD Burman whom he had seen grow up playing every musical instrument from the harmonium and mouth organ to the sitar and tabla.

“Who is Pancham? So what if he is Dada’s son, SD Burman is Dev Anand's music director not mine,” Shammi hollered and convinced his composers, Shankar-Jaikishen, to slash their fee by half. It had to be S-J, but the superstar eventually agreed to one sitting with Goldie’s boy wonder, who had to his credit only one film score, Chotte Nawab!

At 7 pm on the appointed evening, the trio gathered for Pancham’s audition. Shammi having already vetoed him mentally was lolling on the sofa. Pancham struck his first note. He had a bank of about 35 compositions ready, a mix of rock ’n’ roll and twist, jazz and folk. As the music played on, Shammi sat up and started inching closer. By the end of the evening, he was on! Soon after, Goldie also signed him for Baharon Ke Sapne and Dada Burman was ecstatic! “Pancham finally nikal pada tha (he made it)!”

My growing up years are intrinsically linked with ‘Dum maro dum..’, ‘Kuch to log kahenge…’, ‘Mehbooba mehbooba…’ and ‘Bade achche lagte hain…’ that resounds at 10.30 pm as Ram Kapoor’s soap story comes on. Amit Kumar was excited and his ‘baba’ baffled when he landed his big break, wondering why Pancham preferred his son to him. “I need a younger, fresher voice,” his composer-friend explained to Kishore Kumar.

Age catches up with everyone… It did with Panchamda too. After the swinging ’70s, he surrendered to Bappi Lahiri’s disco, even Nasir Hussain opted for Anand Milind in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak after three flops, Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai, Manzil Manzil and Zabardast and Subhash Ghai’s Ram Lakhan going to Laxmikant-Pyarelal. A heart-broken Panchamda underwent an open-heart bypass and his surgeon, Dr Mukesh Hariawala, recalls him mumbling, ‘Chal nahin rahi hai (it’s not going right)’. Later he told the doctor that if the heart does not have a synchronised beat and rhythm, it is impossible to create good music.

He was back with Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 1942: A Love Story. Vinod remembers that he came up with a really ‘ghatiya’ first tune for ‘Ek ladki ko dekha to aisa laga…’ but begged for another chance and returned with pure melody. The film won him awards but he was not around to accept them, having left the world before the film’s release on January 4, 1994, at the age of 54.

In 2002, Ananth directed Bollywood’s first retro musical, Dil Vil Pyar Vyar, with 13 of Pancham’s compositions rearranged by his arranger Babloo Chakravorty. “Bablooda brought the resho resho, a comb like instrument you brush against your teeth to produce a distinctive sound, from the Padosan days and recalled Panchamda telling them that the first line of ‘Chura liya hai tumne jo dilko…’ was from ‘Bojoura, if it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium…’,” smiles Ananth. “Before every recording at Empire Studio, Bablooda would place a picture of Panchamda on the console and perform a pooja, believing his guru was watching over us. I wish I’d got a chance to meet Panchamda.”

I wish I had too. Had he lived, he’d have turned 73 this Wednesday. If the monsoon arrives this week, I know on that day, I’ll be splashing through the puddles singing, ‘Rim jhim rim jhim, rum jhum rum jhum…’ Panchamda still makes my heart go pitter patter!