When RD Burman – whose 78th birth anniversary today will be celebrated with much musical fanfare by diehard fans (especially, radio channels: where would the RJs be without Pancham?) – first met Gulzar both were working as assistants, their best years still ahead of them. Gulzar was five years older than RD Burman, lovingly nicknamed ‘Pancham’ by thespian Ashok Kumar. While Gulzar was assisting Bimal Roy, Pancham was learning under the tutelage of his father, the great music director SD Burman. Like Guru Dutt and Dev Anand before them, the two young men made a pact – if Gulzar ever turned director he would work with Burman. It didn’t take long for Gulzar to fulfil that promise. For his first directorial film, Mere Apne, Gulzar enlisted the talent of Salil Chowdhury, one of the few music directors the sports-loving lyricist looked up to. One may recall that Pancham had declared Salil Chowdhury as one of his mentors. Soon, for Parichay, his second film, Gulzar picked Burman, a work association unparalleled in Hindi cinema.
According to senior music writer Raju Bharatan, Salil Chowdhury rated Burman “highly.” Bharatan writes in an online column that Chowdhury considered Burman as similar to him, “at all times innovative like me, at all times experimenting like me” and equated him with the all-time great composers of the past. Son of SD Burman, Pancham has been composing from an early age (reportedly, Senior Burman used his tune for Sar Jo Tera Chakraaye in Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa) but he had to wait until the 1960s for his breakout score, Shammi Kapoor-Vijay Anand’s musical thriller Teesri Manzil (1966). Although Pancham is noted for introducing Western and retro beats into his music, making his work rebellious for its time his corpus with Gulzar (largely from the 1970s and 80s) is both irreverent and classical and experimental and traditional at once. In the work they produced together, you see a certain effortlessness and easy camaraderie that could be attributed to their off-screen friendship. According to Gulzar, as quoted in a Doordarshan interview once, “We had a very offbeat style of working. We would go out for drives and Pancham would come up with tunes simply by drumming up on the car’s steering wheel.” The musician’s many admirers remember him as an eccentric who could pound music even out of ordinary, household objects like bottles, cups and saucers.
When Burman passed away in 1994, Gulzar lamented that a part of his soul, too, went away with his departed friend. Years later, the still-grieving Gulzar found a Pancham replacement – a second soul-mate so to speak. That was Vishal Bhardwaj. To celebrate RD Burman’s 78th birth anniversary, we round up five songs from the Gulzar-Pancham combo that continue to captivate Hindi film music listeners.