Sheer Melody

A mole's eye-view of the Cosmos

28th of July

My friend TK has scribbled here about Garfield Sobers, and Sachin Dev Burman; two great people who had their birthday on the 28th of July. Since I am not much of a cricket aficionado to actually write something worthwhile about Sir Garfield Sobers, I shall stick to what I am arguably good at, that is music.

Be it Devdas, or the folksy tunes of Bandini, or the rollicking new-wave in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Sachin Dev Burman has done it all, and with each movie that he composed for, he let us know in a small way that though in years, he was older than us, at heart, he still had the same vitality, vigor and simplicity which has always defined his music. This soft-faced, bespectacled maestro always remained under-rated in Bollywood, like several other music composers who had oodles of talent but failed to cater to the loud pretentiousness of the film-industry. SD Burman was however, a late-bloomer, a person who made it big only after he reached his forties.

Burman was born in Tripura in 1906, and his childhood was interspersed with woodland treks and music lessons from his father. The influences of childhood show in his music, in the simple folk which he manages to infuse into his melodies. It was Ashok Kumar, who was instrumental in SD Burman getting his bigger breaks in Hindi movies, and by the fifties he was amply famous as a composer of lilting melodies and harmonies. It was however, SD Burman’s association with Dev Anand, which marked the most important, and arguably, the most musically-rich phase of his career. Though inherently Indian in his thoughts and music, the long association with the stylized and westernized Dev Anand, brought about the transformation in Burman’s music into a heady concoction of Indian tunes and western orchestration.

In spite of the fever of opulent and mostly garish orchestration which was raging through Indian music, propelled by the lavish songs of Shankar and Jaikishen, SD Burman continued to rely on minimalism. His songs remained vocal-oriented, and the music supported the song, rather than override it. Most importantly, he realized the importance of correct placement of a song in the movie. In a very interesting article about song-less Indian films, SD wrote that rather than place a song in an uncomfortable position in the movie and disgust the audience in the process, it is infinitely better to remove the song in its entirety.

For me, on a totally personal level, SD Burman ranks alongside Salil Chowdhury in my list of favorite music composers in Bollywood. I rave about Salil Chowdhury for his amazing knowledge and erudition, and I love SD Burman because of the inherent simplicity in his music. Both are greats in their own right, and both always had a distinctive style in their approach to melody and orchestration, which never ceases to amaze me in its variety.

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