On Lata Mangeshkar’s Birthday, Here’s A Look Back At The Singer And SD Burman’s Music Sessions

By Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal

Note: On the 89th birthday of Lata Mangeshkar, here is an excerpt from S. D. Burman: The Prince-Musician, where we see Mangeshkar fondly remembering her practice sessions with Burman.

The book gives you a glimpse of yesteryears Bollywood as it chronicles the rise of S.D. Burman in the film industry. Burman, when he first arrived in Bombay, was an outsider who didn’t speak much of Hindi or Urdu, but the music director — as we all know — soon won over the Indian audiences. He was also instrumental in the rise of Sahir Ludhianvi, and Kishore Kumar and gave us many beautiful songs with Lata Mangeshkar.

Now that Sachin Dev Burman had finally decided to live in Bombay, he deftly adapted himself to the ways of the industry, or so he thought. He signed many films during this period and the most publicised amongst them was Saz, the muhurat for which was held in Bombay Talkies on 21 January 1951.

The cast boasted of Nigar Sultana, Nasir Khan, Yakub, and two new finds, Arti Kamat and Kamal, who was Madhubala’s sister. However, the project was shelved eight months later and Burman’s songs languished in the cans, including one by Lata Mangeshkar and a duet by Kishore Kumar and Geeta Dutt.

Baba was yet another film which remained incomplete. Finally, Ek Nazar (January 1951), which was a love triangle starring Rehman, Nalini Jaywant and Karan Dewan, became Burman’s first release that year. Alas, it tanked at the box office and in any case, Burman’s music in the film sounded jaded, almost as if he was forced to compose the so-called ornate pieces. With the possible exception of Ja dekh liya tera pyaar o sajan bedardi by Lata Mangeshkar and a Kishore Kumar song featured on comedian Gope, Naye zamane ki mohobaat nirali, there was little to take away from the album.

However, in a few days, 1951 started looking better. It all began around September 1950 when Abdul Rashid Kardar, the maker of box office hits like Dard (1947) and Dulari (1949), agreed to finance a project by Mahesh Kaul called, Naujawan. The film took time to be made but was well received when it released in mid-1951. The rustic image of Premnath, post Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat (1949), helped steer Naujawan as he looked convincing playing a motor mechanic in the film. But Kishore Kumar as the voice of Premnath in the song, Kahan le jaiyo Ram, wasn’t convincing. For those interested in film trivia, Kishore Kumar probably yodelled for the first time under S.D. Burman’s direction in this film, lip-synched by choreographer Krishan Kumar in the song, O pi pi piya. Burman used Rafi and Geeta for two sequential duets in the film. One was, Panghat pe dekho, cast in a kirtan-folk mix, the first line of which was later moulded to, Gazab chamkayi bindiya tori aadhi raat in Sagina (1974).

Lata Mangeshkar sang exclusively for the heroine of the film, Nalini Jaywant. While Dil ka dard na janey duniya was moderately popular, Thandi hawayein came like a gale and blew everything away. Nalini Jaywant’s graph which had dipped post Ek Nazar, climbed back on with this song.

The song became one of Lata Mangeshkar’s three significant hits for Burman in 1951. The other being Tum na janey kis jahan mein kho gaye from Sazaa (1951). It had a lovely slide guitar obligato by Van Shipley and was composed in Rabindra Sangeet style, starting on low notes and rising to a crescendo in the antara. (One may notice a similarity with the first line of Tagore’s Mone ki dwidha rekhe gele chole.) The waning notes in the antara — Tum kahan, was a throw back to Tumi kothaye, from Himangshu Dutta’s composition, Rater o moyur choralo je. Years later in 1974, Lata Mangeshkar would sing both Thandi hawayein and Tum na janey during her first concert at the Royal Albert Hall, in London.

While reminiscing about S.D. Burman, Lata once narrated how he would coach her and sing in his typical folksy style with the customary voice-breaks and reiterate the parts that she felt uncomfortable rendering. At times, he would pat her back affectionately and when satisfied with her performance, offer her a paan in appreciation.

Gopaldas Parmanand Sipahimalani (popularly known as G.P Sippy), who began his career as a dealer in carpets and real estate was the producer of Sazaa. While the film was still under production, he announced two more films with Burman, both to be directed by Fali Mistry, including Sazaa. One was an untitled costume drama starring Madhubala and Nimmi, based on a Hasrat Lucknavi story. The second was a social drama, tentatively titled Dao, starring Dev Anand and Shyama.

Going by the immense popularity of Tum na janey kis jahan mein kho gaye, one would imagine that Sazaa must have been a successful album. On the contrary, as was the trend in the industry, Burman had to force-fit songs and frankly, many sounded like intrusions in the narrative. But even this had a silver lining, because Burman used some of the snippets for popular melodies later. For instance, the prelude of O roop nagar ke saudagar sung by Lata, became the refrain for Jahan bhi gaye hum (Naughty Boy, 1962); an interlude in Yeh baat koi samjhaye re sung by Sandhya Mukherjee may have been an inspiration for the antara of Oonche sur mein gaye ja (House Number 44, 1955) and subsequently, even Babu samjho ishare (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1959). Well, almost.

Sandhya Mukherjee was an upcoming singer from Calcutta who got to sing two numbers for Sachin Dev Burman, thanks to Sachin Ganguly’s recommendation. In a deviation from her original style, which was instantly identifiable by the vibrato, she began imitating Geeta Dutt, thereby offering nothing new to Hindi film music. Her career in Bombay did not progress beyond a few songs; however, she became the top singer in Bengal and remained so for over two decades.

Meanwhile, Burman was thoroughly enjoying himself while composing. Sample this—the dummy, nonsensical lyrics which he inserted, Tangoli o tangoli, nake mukhe chunkali as the prelude to the romantic duet, Aao gup chup gup chup pyaar karen. This song happened to be Hemanta Mukherjee’s first Hindi song for Burman and actor Dev Anand, as it was for Sandhya. The other voice that Burman used for Dev was that of Talat Mahmood. Although both Hemanta and Talat were accomplished singers in their own right, it was as if Burman was still searching for the right voice to do justice to Dev Anand’s on-screen persona.

Meanwhile, even as it was evident that the composer of Sazaa had interjected a romantic ballad with crazy-sounding words, there was a great deal of ambiguity about the intense lines in another — Maut bhi aati nahin, aas bhi jati nahin…. Tum na janey kis jahan mein kho gaye…. Although it was Sahir, somehow his name got omitted in the end credits, while it mentioned Rajendra Krishan, who had written all the other songs in the film.

But if there was one thing about which there was no debate and an overall admiration bordering on reverence, then it was about Burman’s decision to use Lata Mangeshkar’s voice for the leading lady of the film, as also for other films before Sazaa, particularly when the tune demanded vocal callisthenics. As in the classical dance-based number featuring Cuckoo in Shaheed Latif’s acclaimed Buzdil (1951), Jhan jhan jhan payal baaje, which was a revised version of Burman’s own, Jhan jhan monjir baaje. This film with Kishore Sahu in the title role received a raving review even from someone as fastidious as Baburao Patel, and performed fairly well at the box office.

That done, Burman would now move down South before scaling several other heights in what had now become his beloved city—Bombay.

(The following excerpt has been published with permission from Westland Books. Written by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal, the hardcover of S. D. Burman: The Prince-Musician costs Rs 799)

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