Television Serial: Subah (1987)
Lyrics: Mandeep Sodhi/Rahul Dev Burman
Singer: Rahul Dev Burman
It would be an understatement to refer to Rahul Dev Burman as the youth icon of Indian cinema music. As a matter of fact, one of the key aspects that continues to feed into the popularity of Pancham’s music is its easy identification and quick adoption by the youth − including the ones of the current age and generation.
Pancham’s penchant for experimentation kept his music fresh and at par (if not ahead) with the changing times. From the trendsetting albums of his initial days – Bhoot Bungla and Teesri Manzil –Pancham continued to deliver style-defining soundtracks and music almost every year/decade of his career. Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Jawani Diwani, Jawaani, Sanam Teri Kasam, Rocky, Love Story, Arjun – the list is endless. Even his swansong soundtrack – 1942 A Love Story – ended up as a definitive musical score that changed the style of Hindi film music and the taste/expectations of its audience.
Pancham was also the music composer of demand for many young and debutant movie makers. One such movie maker was director Bharat Runghachary. Bharat Runghachary had a very promising start as assistant to veteran movie maker Hrishikesh Mukherjee. He started with Mili, grew in ranks and as was usual with Hrishida’s camp, Bharat Runghachary got his first opportunity to direct for Hrishida’s assistants-turned-producers Film Group’s Zameen Asmaan in 1984.
In 1987, Bharat Runghachary decided to venture into making a television serial based on the popular novel by the noted Tamil social activist Sivasankari. Subah dealt with the realities and issues surrounding drug abuse – especially with the educated youth. Such an edgy/experimental vision most definitely demanded a rousing and memorable title track of merit. It took him quite some convincing to have Pancham take this assignment. Pancham was still focused on his Hindi film music career. Indian television serial in 1987 was still in its infancy – with most entertainment fashioned as social drama.
Suffice to say, Subah – the television serial and its soundtrack – turned out to be ground-breaking blockbusters. The Indian television audience had never witnessed anything like this before and the serial achieved instant popularity.
Pancham fashioned the title song as a power ballad utilizing his emotive and powerful vocals, an energetic choral, and a combination of guitars (electric and bass), drums, and dholaks. The track starts off with flutes that herald the rising sun and the guitars (bass and electric) akin to its spreading radiant rays. As is wont with Pancham’s rhythm, he employs a combination of the drums and tablas in a 6/8 beat pattern (Dhin-Ta-Taa, Dhin-Ta-Taa, Dhin-Ta-Taa Dhin Dhin). The use of chorals accentuates the presence or involvement of the energetic youth. And then Pancham himself steps in to provide the playback to this little-over-two-minutes title song. In one of those rare instances in Hindi songs, Pancham renders the mukhda in his normal voice with none of the deep-throated, guttural vocal modulations or James Brown-like histrionics. Pancham’s rendition starts off as a slow song that gathers steam and reaches its crescendo with the powerful backing of the chorals.
For anyone keeping track of the rhythm switches, it is always interesting to note the various beat patterns Pancham employs in many of his compositions. The pattern changes are timed and executed to the minutest detail – including syncing it with the other instruments. The resulting effect is that of a musical journey of exploring the details for its versatility, the possibilities and discovery of something new and innovative. In this song, I counted at least three distinct patterns – starting with the 6/8 addictive drums/tabla beat in the mukhda (“Ae zamane tere”), change for the main line (“subah ko kar salaam”) and yet another change in beats for the antara (“Maut aur zindagi”).
Interestingly, there is no official mention of authorship for the lyrics of this song. As with most television serials in India, the soundtrack is rarely published – and it is a miracle if the episodes are released on any video media. Thus the lyrics for the Subah title song has been varyingly attributed to the serial producer/actor Mandeep Sodhi.
The song does not follow the typical mukhda–antara structure of a Hindi film song. This song has a single mukhda and antara each – with the antara half in length (number of verses) compared to the mukhda (which is repeated twice).
This song also provides a fantastic insight to Pancham’s focus on emphasizing the sound of words to fit it to tune, point at its meaning, or to elicit/enhance the mood. For the mukhda, Pancham breaks the first two lines in half by adding the extra “hey-ey-ey” at the end of “Ae zamane tere” and “Aaj ke daur ke.” This essentially isolates the rhyming words “saamne aa gaye” and “naujawan aa gaye,” respectively, turning them into powerful action statements.
There is no obvious rhyme in the next two lines and thus “Dar pe tere ban ke sooraj” is broken into four words – ensuring that “Dar pe” sounds kosher (rhyming) with “ban ke.” And the subsequent words “leke subah aa gaye ab hum” are used as a link line for that high-voltage crescendo with the chorals. And thus “Subah ko kar salaam” becomes the powerful call to the youth (the punch of Pancham!).
By the time we listen to the antara of the song, we could be listening to any rock or blues ballad – a highly energetic ode to the youth. The lyrical punch summarizing the mood of the television serial:
“Maut aur zindagi
dono hairaan hain,
waqt ko mod de
hum woh toofaan hain…”
The Subah title song became extremely popular and so did the television series. However the subject content and the depicted/implied violence sent jitters around the state-controlled Doordarshan channel. Doubts were raised on the morality promoted by the serial. It was perceived as having the opposite effect – making drug abuse attractive to the youth. The TV serial was initially censored, story line modified to cater to censorship objections, and eventually withdrawn with an abrupt (and compromised/changed/rushed) climax.
For the initially hesitant Rahul Dev Burman, Subah simply went on to add another feather in his cap. The soundtrack received several critical awards. Alas, for the popular music award of 1987, Subah was narrowly beaten to the first place post by the Ramayan wave. On the bright side, however, in one of the rare instances, an equally popular sequel to this television serial was made (titled Chunauti).