Mere Naina Sawan Bhadon

Film: Mehbooba (1976)

Producer: Mushir−Riaz

Director: Shakti Samanta

Lyricist: Anand Bakshi

Singer: Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar

Rahul Dev Burman and Shivranjani

It must have been difficult for Rahul Dev Burman, growing up as a child in Kolkata and then subsequently living his dream in Bombay, to escape from Raaga Shivranjani. It would be impossible to make a list of all the Shivranjanis that he heard in his journey before Mehbooba came into his life. But before we come to Shivranjani, let us talk about the film.

Mehbooba, a film released in 1976, was a story about reincarnation, with the reunion being brought about by a ghost and a song. Rajesh Khanna and Hema Malini have a tragic end in a previous life in which he was a court musician (Prakash) and she, a court dancer (Ratna). With love remaining unfulfilled, the lovers are reincarnated and reunited in the modern era in which he is a pop singer (Suraj) and she, a village belle (Jhumri). The link between the two sets of lovers of different eras is the ghost of the court dancer, who pretends to be a chowkidar’s daughter who leads the pop singer Suraj to the portrait of the court dancer Ratna in a deserted palace, which initiates a past-life regression and gives him a flashback of his previous life, in which he could play the sitar, sing in Manna Dey’s voice and wooed successfully the court dancer till destiny turned against them. Phew!!

Armed with this privileged information, our pop singer Suraj leads a life of utter confusion till he finds his soulmate (resembling the court dancer exactly and even singing in the same voice, Lata Mangeshkar’s!). Now all that remains for him to do is to get her to remember her past life and resume his romance. And he does this with great success, singing the song the court dancer once sang under emotional strain. It helps that he, in this life, is a pop singer, and can play the guitar, and can sing in Kishore Kumar’s voice. When he sings the song, the village belle Jhumri finds the calling of her own soul and the lovers are united, and after a few minor hiccups, have a happy and comfortable life thereafter.

The film was a disaster. Without being too judgemental about the reasons for it not doing well, let us just leave it at that, for it is not our agenda to hurt any sensibilities, nor is it relevant to us in this day and age. What is relevant is, this was the story that must have been narrated to our Panchamda by Shakti Samanta.

Rahul Dev Burman saw, in this story, yet another opportunity for him to give a classical score – most of the songs were based on classical raagas – and for the theme song he chose Raaga Shivranjani to tell HIS story in music.

We need to try to figure out why he chose Shivranjani for this song. Some key people and the raaga itself need to be considered so that we can get an idea of what might have been RD’s line of thought.

Shankar Jaikishan

RDB acknowledged them as one of his inspirations. They composed songs on Shivranjani frequently. The most famous of their Shivaranjanis was “Jaane kahan gaye woh din” from Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker (1970). This would have been the definitive Shivranjani and the one pointed out as Exhibit “A” whenever Shivranjani came up for discussion.

Some other songs of Shankar Jaikishan based on Shivranjani:

  • “Aawaz deke humen tum bulao” from Professor (1962), sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd. Rafi
  • “Baharon phool barsao” from Suraj (1966), sung by Mohd. Rafi. (There was an English song recorded by Mohd. Rafi in the same tune, not from any film – “Although we hail from different lands”).
  • “Dil ke jharokhe mein tujhko bithakar” from Brahmachari (1968), sung by Mohd. Rafi.
  • “O mere sanam, o mere sanam” from Sangam (1964), sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh.
  • “Dost dost na raha” from Sangam (1964), sung by Mukesh.

Apart from these film songs, Shankar Jaikishan, in 1968, recorded an album of Jazz using raagas of Indian classical music, featuring the immensely talented sitarist, Ustad Rais Khan. One of the tracks was based on Raaga Shivranjani.

Hemant Kumar

Calcutta’s Hemanta Mukherjee (Mukhopadhyay) became Bombay’s Hemant Kumar. As a singer, he immortalized many songs in his mesmerising voice. As a music director and composer, he had the uncanny ability to compose songs that haunted listeners and became favorites. He was one of S.D. Burman’s favorite male singers. They had similar musical backgrounds and influences, and they were close friends too. Hemant Kumar features in this list for his Shivranjani composition “Kahin deep jale kahin dil” from the film Bees Saal Baad (1962), sung by Lata Mangeshkar. In this mystery thriller, he used Raaga Shivaranjani in Lata Mangeshkar’s voice to create the eerie setting.

RDB must have thought of this song and the same combination (Shivranjani and Lata Mangeshkar) to conceive his theme song for Mehbooba.

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan

If Sachin Dev Burman had had his way, Ustad Allauddin Khan, the court musician of Maihar, would have been his son’s music teacher. But the venerable ustad had his hands full, teaching his own son Ali Akbar Khan, his daughter Annapurna and his future son-in-law Ravi Shankar, and a host of other students. He was focusing especially on his son Ali Akbar, whom he had taught to play the sarod. Apart from training his son to be a good musician, he wanted to see his son become a good teacher. He got his opportunity now. He asked S.D. Burman to send his son Rahul to Ali Akbar, who was then starting to make a name for himself as a sarod player. Thus, Pancham started learning to learn classical music and to play the sarod from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, under the watchful eyes of Ustad Allauddin Khan, who monitored how his own son was progressing as a teacher, as well as how Rahul was shaping up as a sarodiya.

Whether Ustad Ali Akbar taught RDB to play Shivranjani on the sarod is not known. But he did record the raaga on at least two occasions – once for a 3-minute 78-rpm vinyl that is not easily available and would be worth a king’s ransom should anyone be able to find the recording. And second, when technology improved further and long playing records that played at a speed of 331/3 rpm were possible, he went back into the studios, in 1964, to record a 22-minute version of Shivranjani.

V. Balsara

Composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist V. Balsara’s career ran almost parallel to S.D. Burman’s. While SDB started out in Calcutta and shifted to Bombay, VB did the exact reverse. During his tenure in Bombay he became the Orchestra Director of HMV in 1947 and also joined RK Films and worked with Shankar Jaikishan and others. When he shifted to Calcutta in 1953, he became attached to the Hindustan Records Studio in Central Calcutta, and settled down in a house that was a few doors away in the same narrow lane (Akrur Dutta Lane) where Hindustan Records had its studio. It was in this studio that S.D. Burman recorded almost all of his early music. In a small room in this studio, S.D. Burman taught music to some students too, amongst them a talented singer named Mira, whom he eventually married and settled down with. The Dev Burmans and V. Balsara were part of the same Hindustan Records family. Indeed, even otherwise, they were associates and close friends bonded by music.

In 1964, V. Balsara composed a song “More naina sawan bhadon” for a film, Vidyapati, based on Shivranjani and sung by Lata Mangeshkar. The first couple of lines of the tune would give the rough direction of the song composed by RDB for Mehbooba.

Lata Mangeshkar

Rahul Dev Burman’s “Didi.” He compared her to the cricket legend Sir Don Bradman and her sister Asha Bhosle to the greatest all-rounder Sir Gary Sobers. Lata Mangeshkar sang almost all the female-version Shivranjanis that were recorded till Mehbooba, and even a few after that. Of them, four deserve special status. Hemant Kumar’s “Kahin deep jale kahin dil” from Bees Saal Baad, Shankar Jaikishan’s “Aawaz deke humen tum bulao” from Professor and “O mere sanam” from Sangam, and multi-instrumentalist V. Balsara’s “More naina sawan bhadon” from Vidyapati. Apart from lending her voice to create masterpieces of Shivranjani, there was something else that became a key element in RDB’s Mehbooba. Her one-line alaap in the higher notes of Shivranjani in Bees Saal Baad became a signature for the movie. Even in Professor and Sangam, the songs start with short but mesmerising one-line alaaps. It was an element that found its way into the songs she recorded for Mehbooba, used subtly by RDB to create an eerie atmosphere. It wasn’t a cut-and-paste job that he did. He introduced the alaap with a lingering play on the two Ga’s.

For Mehbooba, she recorded three versions of “Mere naina sawan bhadon.” In the chronology of the story, the first version is the one in which a dejected court dancer, hurt in love by the court musician, expresses her anguish and heart-break through music. This version wasn’t released on any format, and is available for hearing only in the movie itself. The court dancer does not even get to sing the full song, for the court musician, displaying a remarkable lack of musical sense, sensitivity and timing, interrupts the song midway and forges a reconciliation. One is lost for an answer as to why he could not wait a couple of minutes for the song to finish. One is also left groping for an answer as to why this version was never released by the audio company.
The second version recorded in Lata Mangeshkar’s voice appears in the film soon after a tanpura belonging to the court dancer of a bygone era is presented to Suraj at a party. This version is really too short to be called a version, being barely one verse long with alaaps on either side of the verse.

The third version recorded by Lata Mangeshkar is the one that appears everywhere as the Lata version of “Mere naina sawan bhadon.” The ghost of the court dancer Ratna haunts the modern-day pop singer Suraj with Shivranjani and lures him into a deserted palace where he is shown the portrait of the court dancer. A flashback is triggered, and that is the end of the role of the ghost, the link between romance past and romance present. This also concludes the role of Lata Mangeshkar in the Mehbooba-Shivaranjani saga. With the pop singer fully aware of the events of his past life, and also the fully capable of singing the song his ladylove sang in a bygone era, the baton moves on to our next key person, Kishore Kumar.

Kishore Kumar

The ultimate talent of the film industry. Name it and he could do it. Serious actor, director, comedian, singer, composer, everything else. But most importantly for us, R.D. Burman’s favorite male voice. The two were inseparable musically.

In the context of the film Mehbooba, Kishore’s is the voice of the modern-day pop star Suraj. He sang the title song, and a duet too giving precise geographical location to the village where his village belle lived. He sings a couple of lines of “Mere naina” without accompaniment. And when the pop star has identified and found his reincarnated ladylove, he delivers his masterpiece, the male version of “Mere naina sawan bhadon,” and forces the village belle to discover her past life as the court dancer, and to fall in love with the modern-day pop singer.

The story is told often about RDB approaching Kishore Kumar to sing “Mere naina.” Shivranjani, difficult raaga, says RDB, or words to that effect. Unperturbed, Kishore delivers the immortal line “Shivranjani ki aisi ki taisi.” He asks RDB to record the song first in Lata Mangeshkar’s voice and then to give that recording to him. He rehearses the song in his own way for a week and records the song in a way only he could have. Taking nothing away from the three priceless versions sung by Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore’s is the version that will be featured in everybody’s list of favorites for generations to come.

The Tanpura

The tanpura had a vital role in the film. The modern-day pop star Suraj was presented with a tanpura belonging to the court dancer of a previous era, Ratna. It even had her name inscribed upon it “Ratna.” RDB had been using the drone of strings to create different effects in various movies. For instance, in Sholay, the jangling of detuned strings lent the air of menace to the persona of the villain Gabbar Singh. In Mehbooba, the drone of the perfectly tuned tanpura was used to create the eerie ambience of the presence of the ghost. For “Mere naina sawan bhadon,” Lata Mangeshkar’s second and third versions started off with the sound of the tanpura, both signifying the presence of the ghost.

Shivranjani Revisited

Much after Mehbooba came and went, RDB had an opportunity to compose music for another reincarnation saga. The film was Kudrat. The lead pair, coincidentally, was Rajesh Khanna and Hema Malini, the same as in Mehbooba. For Kudrat, RDB did the classical-to-modern conversion for the most memorable song of the film, “Humen tumse pyaar kitna.” The classical version was sung by Begum Parween Sultana and the male version with the modern arrangement was sung by Kishore Kumar.

However, RDB used Shivranjani again for Kudrat. Perhaps he felt that the raaga suited the reincarnation theme. Or, maybe, he just needed an excuse to revisit Shivranjani.

The song for Kudrat in Shivranjani was recorded in the voice of Chandrasekhar Gadgil and appeared in the soundtrack album as “Dukh sukh ki har ek maala.” However, in the movie, it appeared as a leitmotif, and was rerecorded, with a different arrangement, in the voice of Mohd. Rafi, and went tragically unnoticed. The song had a different flavor and mood from “Mere naina sawan bhadon,” though some elements of composition were common, especially the use of the major and minor chords for the play of the two Gandhars.
This song features frequently in the live concert song-list of Usha Uthup, and she sings it so beautifully that, whenever I had the good fortune to hear her sing this song, I wished that a Bengali version of this song should have been recorded in her album for RDB, Preme Pore Jai.

The Mystery of the Changed Interlude

The interlude I refer to here is in the one in Lata Mangeshkar’s version 3. The one in which the ghost of Ratna leads the pop singer to the sooni mahal and makes him remember their past life. The interlude is a flashback within a flashback − our Panchamda is telling a story within a story through this interlude. The ghost has led the pop star to the palace, and now she must tell him about his association with the palace in his past life. He has to be told of his life in the palace when he was a court singer, and she was a court dancer. She has to remind him of who she was, and who he was. What has been a story told in Shivranjani so far, is now told in a different raaga. The story within a story is told with sarangis, tablas, and ghungroos, the instruments that always accompany classical dance performances. This is the portion where RDB uses the music that accompanies classical dance to help the ghost of Ratna identify herself to the modern-day pop star. The raaga RDB has chosen for this vital portion is Madhuvanti.

We will come to Raaga Madhuvanti later on. There are other matters to think about at the moment. The tabla−sarangi−ghungroo interlude in Madhuvanti that you hear while watching the film was probably changed as an afterthought. When the original track was recorded, the interlude had been composed in Madhuvanti, but with a different primary instrument − the sarod. The sarod piece still exists, having been recorded very early in the Mehbooba chronology, even before Kishore Kumar’s version of “Mere naina sawan bhadon” had been recorded. The Lata Mangeshkar version 3, which we hear in the released audio on LP, and subsequently on CDs, has the sarod interlude instead of the sarangi interlude. The presence of the sarod interlude there, and its subsequent disappearance, and finally the substitution with the sarangi offers us an insight into the mind of RDB, and gives us a vital clue in the context of the story he was telling us with his music.

Rahul Dev Burman was born and brought up in Calcutta, and lived with grandparents while his father was busy with his music career in Bombay. Throughout his childhood, his interactions with his father were very limited. But Dada Burman had dreams and aspirations for his son. He wanted his son to learn the music that was the core of own existence, the music for which he gave up the royal legacy of Tripura. While his young son was busy getting fragments of education in between expulsions, rustications and suspensions from schools, Dada Burman was preparing him for a life in music. Apart from everything Dada Burman taught his son, he ensured the very best of musical training for him. The choice of gurus he chose for teaching his son music speaks for itself.

  • Brajen Biswas, SDB’s constant companion and rhythm accompanist during the Calcutta part of SDB’s music career, taught him to play the tabla. Apart from teaching him to play an instrument, he would have been the link for the little boy to his father and his music in his father’s absence.
  • Pt. Samta Prasad, doyen of the Banaras Gharana of Tabla. A legend in his lifetime, his taiyyari and tonal quality was the peak any tabla player could aspire to.
  • Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. The greatest sarod player of his generation, the worthy son of Ustad Allaudin Khan, the court musician of Maihar, and founder of what we know today as the Maihar Gharana. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan was then a legend in the making, work-in-progress. But even then he was one of the finest sarod players of his times. From Ustad Ali Akbar Khan did young Pancham learn to play the sarod, the instrument on which was played the Madhuvanti interlude that disappeared and was substituted in the film soundtrack.

We know RD played a variety of instruments. Instances of tabla, mouth organ, and sarod are well known. He would be accompanied by the harmonium when he sang compositions for his musicians and singers, and even for producers and directors and lyricists. He had played the sarod in some of his father’s Bengali modern songs. It was HIS instrument, an instrument he loved. It is not surprising that he chose to record the important Madhuvanti interlude in the HIS own instrument.

It is quite possible that, when the story of Mehbooba was narrated to RDB, his imagination would have been fired up just from the location or setting of the story. At the beginning of the film, we know that a flight to Jaipur had been canceled. A road trip is undertaken to reach the destination. A storm and a fallen tree forces a night halt at a dak bungalow at Chandangarh. Chandangarh, where the reincarnation saga unfolds. The durbar hall, where the court musician and the court dancer once performed for the king.

In reality, in the princely state of Jodhpur, not too far from Jaipur, in a similar mahal, in a durbar hall not unlike the one at Chandangarh, a sarod player performed regularly. He was the court musician of Jodhpur state. His name? Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the sarod guru of Rahul Dev Burman.

So, did RDB think of his guru and a sarod performance at the court of Jodhpur when he was visualizing music for Mehbooba? I can’t say for sure, but this seems to be the most likely explanation. Prakash, the court musician, is shown, during the durbar performance in the film to be a singer and a sitar player. Nowhere in the song “Gori tori paijaniyan” is a sarod shown or heard. So it stands to reason, that, when RDB recorded the Madhuvanti interlude with the sarod, he was expecting or wanting the sarod to be part of the music of the court. Maybe, the cinematic demands of style and easy identification made Prakash a sitar player, not a sarod player.

So, when Ratna the Ghost leads the pop star into the durbar hall and tells him through musical imagery of their past life together in that court, the sarod has no part to play in that. Hence, the Madhuvanti interlude was substituted. The sarod piece was substituted by a naghma piece played on sarangi. Ratna the Ghost was telling the pop star who she was. She was a dancer, and dancers perform to the accompaniment of the sarangi, tabla and ghungroo.

The Madhuvanti interlude on sarod disappeared from the film. It remains in the audio soundtracks released by the music company. It also remained in some video releases and on some videos uploaded on YouTube. With its disappearance and substitution, it gave us as inkling as to the kind of thoughts that went through RDB’s mind during the making of the music of Mehbooba. It is for this reason that I feel that one of the inspirations for “Mere naina sawan bhadon” was the 1964 LP of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (Side B – Mishra Shivranjani, with Pt Chatur Lal on Tabla, ODEON EALP 1281).

A couple of other things, before we lay to rest the sarod saga:

First, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan had also recorded a 3-minute Madhuvanti on 78 rpm. This recording is not easily available, but it would have been interesting to compare this with the pithy and crisp sarod solo played (by Smt Zarine Daruwala, in all probability) in the Madhuvanti interlude.

Second, while the Madhuvanti interlude was rerecorded and the sarangi replaced the sarod in it eventually, there remained a single phrase of a fill-in played on the sarod in Raaga Shivranjani. Not in the Lata Mangeshkar version 3 that has the Madhuvanti interlude, but in the Lata Mangeshkar version 2 that never made it to the audio album. It comes toward the end of the song, and stands out for its sheer beauty of tonal quality and phrasing. Had the Madhuvanti interlude on the sarod not been released in the audio album, this solitary phrase would have been all that remained of RDB’s intended tribute to his guru, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.


Before I go into this, I have to take time out and explain what a murchhana is as simply as possible. Let us take as an example, another song from Mehbooba – “Chalo ri chalo ri” − the song the modern-day village belle sings with her friends.

The song is based on Raaga Bhoop, or Bhopali.

The notes for this raaga are:

SA RE GA PA DHA SA. All natural notes, no flats or sharps. Only five notes used in the raaga (CDEGA). The notes MA and NI (F and B) are not used in this raaga.

Raaga Bhoop +2 seminotes +2 +3 +2 +3 +2
Raaga Megh (1st Murchhana) SA RE MA PA Ni (komal) SA
Raaga Malkanuns (2nd Murchhana) Ni (komal) SA Ga (komal) Ma Dha (komal) Ni (komal)
Raaga Durga (3rd Murchhana) PA DHA SA RE MA Pa


…. and so on….

The prelude of the song is an ad-lib flute piece played in Raaga Malkauns, which is the 2nd murchhana of the Raaga Bhoop. The Gandhar of Bhoop becomes the Tonic Sa of Malkauns. Effectively, the same notes are being played, but since the root chord changes from Sa to Ga it becomes two different raagas. In “Chalo ri,” once the song mukhda is in Raaga Bhoop, the flute continues to play Malkauns phrases throughout, because the notes two raagas are the same, thought the root chords are different as I have pointed out above.

I bring up “Chalo ri” and the murchhana for a reason. And that is, murchhanas were playing heavily in RD’s thought process during the making of the music of Mehbooba. We will leave “Chalo ri” with this thought. It has served its purpose in this discussion. Having said that, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to remember that the mukhda of “Chalo ri” is in Raaga Bhoop.

Coming back to the reincarnation saga, we find that the lovers have finally reunited. Shivranjani has played its part well. Shivranjani was there when Ratna found to her utter dismay that Prakash was a married man, having being married off as a child. Shivranjani was there when the ghost of Ratna returns to haunt the pop star Suraj. Shivranjani was there too when the ghost of Ratna lures Suraj into Chandangarh palace and makes him remember his past life there as the court musician Prakash. Shivranjani was there too, when Suraj tries to make Jhumri aware of her past-life connection with him.

The reincarnated lovers Suraj and Jhumri have finally reunited. As far as Shivranjani is concerned, its role in the saga is over. Or maybe not. Does RD have any plans for Shivranjani thereafter? Well, there is a reunion song left to be sung, but why should that be in Shivranjani? That part of the story is over. The reincarnation saga was told in Shivranjani. How can Shivranjani be forgotten, since it played the biggest role in getting the lovers back together. Obviously another song in Shivranjani is out of the question, and that would be overkill. Maybe just a small thank-you note, an acknowledgment that the lovers are eternally grateful?

Yes. It comes in the reunion song, “Parbat ke peeche,” which doesn’t sound like Shivranjani at all though. That’s because it is not in Shivranjani. But if one tries to sing it without any musical accompaniment, the first few line will sound like Shivranjani. For this song, RD has used the 1st murchhana of Shivranjani, shifting the Tonic Sa to Re. Just a line of Shivranjani sung to different chords to make it sound different. Just a small thank-you note to Shivranjani for bringing the lovers back together.

Ang : The Purv Ang and Uttar Ang

A brief explanation about Purv Ang and Uttar Ang. The octave of musical notes, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa, is divided into two parts. Each part is known as an Ang. The first part that comprises Sa Re Ga Ma is known as Purv Ang. The second part Pa Dha Ni Sa is called the Uttar Ang.

For the pentatonic Raaga Shivranjani, the scale is Sa, Re, Komal Ga, Pa Dha Sa. The Madhyam and Nishaad are not used in the raaga, although in the Mishra variety they can be used. Shuddh Gandhar is added to Shivranjani in the lighter forms of music.
The Purv Ang for Shivranjani is Sa Re and Komal Ga. The Uttar Ang is Pa Dha Sa.

We know that a minor chord (Sa KomalGa Pa) is used when there is a Komal Ga in the tune. Then we should expect “Mere naina” to be played on a minor chord. One of the most amazing aspect of “Mere naina saawan bhadon” is the use of minor and major chords in the melody. At one level, the melody line is playing with the two Gandhars, shuddh and komal, while at another level, a similar play on the two Gandhars is being achieved by playing the major and minor chords of the tonic scale.
This is difficult to explain with words, but I shall try to explain how the major chord came into RD’s “Mere naina saawan bhadon.”

Let’s take a look at the Purv Ang of Shivranjani again. Sa Re and Komal Ga. Since RD has stuck to the pure form of Shivranjani in the mukhda (except a grace note Komal Ni), there is no Shuddh Gandhar at all in the main melody. Thus, when the melody line is in the Purv Ang, the minor chord is used to justify the Komal Ga in the melody line. But when the melody plays in the Uttar Ang, RD uses the major chord. This is the reason RD’s Shivranjani sounds different from all other Shivranjanis, and for me it is the highlight of the song. Here’s my explanation and interpretation.

Let us check the Uttar Ang for Shivranjani again. This is where the magic is. Pa Dha Sa. RD has found a second raaga that uses exactly the same notes as the Uttar Ang of Shivranjani,but has a Shuddh Gandhar in the Purv Ang. The raaga that has the same Uttar Ang as Shivranjani is Raaga Bhoop.

RD’s scale for Shivranjani remains the same: Sa Re KomalGa Pa Dha Sa. But since he has matched and substituted the Uttar Ang Pa Dha Sa with the same notes of Bhoop, his melody line remains in Shivranjani, but the chords change from minor when the melody is in the Purv Ang to major when the melody is in the Uttar Ang.
The mukhda starts in the Uttar Ang. The melody line is, therefore, played in the major chord right through “Mere naina sawan bhadon, phir bhi.” At “mera-aa” in the extended “aa” vowel, RD hits the KomalGa for the first time, and the song shifts from the Bhoop Uttar Ang (major chord) to the Shivranjani Purv Ang from here (supported by the minor chord) till the end of the mukhda.

If I use all uppercase for Bhoop and lowercase for Shivranjani, then the mukhda will look like this:

PHIR BHI MEra man pyaasa, phir bhi mera man pyaasa”

So much for the mukhda. Nothing more to add here, except that we need to backtrack a little and recall which raaga the song was based on, the one that introduced Jhumri. The song that she sings with her friends while fetching water from the river, “Chalo ri, chalo ri,” was based on which raaga? Raaga Bhoop, was it? Hmmm, so that’s the musical connection between Ratna and Jhumri. Is RD taking us, through his music, into the zone of parapsychology, where there is a theory that the subconscious mind retains information from previous incarnations of the soul’s journey? Is this Bhoop connection RD’s way of telling us musically, (without any visual aids) that Ratna has been reborn as Jhumri?

We will wipe the knowing smile from our faces, leave these questions unanswered, and move on to the antara of “Mere naina sawan bhadon.” There are things to say there too.

In one of the segments of a radio program Sangeet Sarita, RD, in conversation with Gulzar and Asha Bhosle, talked about using pure raagas and mixing them to come up with tunes that could be new raagas too. He didn’t give examples, but we could take a look at some of the ways in which he was mixing raagas to create new melodies.

The very first song he recorded with Lata Mangeshkar (“Ghar aaja ghir aayee” from Chhote Nawab) in his independent capacity was based on Raaga Malgunji, a traditional and orthodox raaga that combines Raaga Raageshree in the arohan (ascent) and Raaga Baageshree in the avrohan (descent). With it he mixed just one line (four notes actually) of Miya Ki Malhar from a different tonic Ma. In his last film 1942 A Love Story, he was mixing and changing raagas seamlessly like a Raagamala – for example, he mixed Nand, Des and Kedar in “Pyar hua chupke se.” In between “Ghar aaja” and “Pyar hua,” RD mixed raagas at will. Some of my favorites are “Pal do pal ka saath” from The Burning Train (phrases from Kamod, Chandni Kedar, Raagashree, Tilang and Nand in the mukhda); “Beeti na beetai raina” (Bihag with a delectable touch of Basant in one of the antaras: you will find it in the film, not in the released audio soundtrack); “Raina beeti jaaye” (Miya Ki Todi and Khamaaj); “Yun neend se woh jaanechaman” from Dard Ka Rishta (Nand and Shyam Kalyan); the list goes on and on.

While composing for Mehbooba, RD was mixing raagas beautifully, using different methods to fuse raaga structures. We have seen the Purv Ang Shivranjani mixed with Uttar Ang Bhoop in the mukhda of “Mere naina.” He used the same method to create “Gori tori paijaniya,” using Vrindavani Sarang in the Purv Ang and Miya Malhar in the Uttar Ang, creating a “raaga” that could fit in comfortably between Miya Malhar and Surdasi Malhar in the process. Had he been so inclined, he could have given it a name of its own − GoriTori Malhar??? or Panchamda ka Malhar???. For “Chalo ri” he mixed Bhoop and Malkauns using murchhanas. Though “Jamuna kinare” never featured in the film, it was a beautiful composition in Maru Bihag and Yaman. This was the kind of form and mood RD was in, while composing for Mehbooba. Keeping that in mind, we will move on to the antara of “Mere naina.” Something special waits for us there.

The antara starts in the Purv Ang of Shivranjani. Minor scale. Lowercase for minor scale:

“Barson beet gaye, humko mile bichhade”

Then it shifts to the major scale, but this time in Raaga Kalavati, not in Bhoop. There is a distinct Kalavati movement here, and a very prominent Komal Ni.


The Komal Ni is in the words “bankar” and “chamki.” The “kha” of “REkha” has the Komal Ga, and the transition to the Shuddh Gandhar, the most haunting part of the song. I do not have words to describe the beauty of this moment. This is the same Komal Ga−to−Shuddh Ga transition that is featured in the haunting Lata Mangeshkar alaaps for Ratna’s ghost.

The last two lines of the antara have the same tune as the mukhda. So, back to Bhoop−Shivranjani of the mukhda from Shivranjani−Kalavati of the antara.

Phir bhi mera man pyaasa”

Nothing more to say about the melody. We’ll go through the different versions of the song in the movie now, and see how they are interconnected.

Mere Naina: The Different Versions

Version 1: Sung by Lata Mangeshkar for Ratna. Location: Chandangarh Palace gardens.

This is the version that comes first in the timeline, and third in the movie. This is Ratna’s song, in which the only agenda is to express her anguish. Prakash hears her singing this song in the garden of the Chandangarh Palace and, after hearing her sing an alaap, a mukhda and one antara, stops her singing and reconciles with her. To give this version the sound of a bygone era, RD used only traditional acoustic instruments such as the flute, santoor, sitar, sarod and violins. The fillers between the lines of singing are gems, played by master musicians like Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma (santoor), Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia (bansuri/flute) and Smt. Zarine Daruwala (sarod). In the interlude, the sitar and sarod have played the same notes in unison, to create a sound like a surshringar or veena. Lata Mangeshkar’s alaap for this version is different from the “haunting” alaaps of the other versions.

The rhythm instruments played are the naal and the tabla, to get a sound close to that of the pakhawaj. The choice of rhythm instruments and the rhythm pattern itself too give the song a feel of old times. This was the era referred to in the subsequent versions, in “barson beet gaye” and “baat purani hai.” The pakhawaj, a rhythm instrument that is played with dhrupad and dhamar, could not have been used as it would have drowned out the delicate vocals of Lata Mangeshkar. The rhythm pattern required by RD for this version would not have sounded good on the pakhawaj. The naal, an instrument that is slightly less in volume to a pakhawaj, was chosen to provide for the age-old dhrupad−dhamar feel.

The other fascinating aspect to this version is the minimal use of chords. Just a few chords are played to give direction to the tune, and that too on a xylophone or vibes and violins.

RD has given a “period costume” to his “Mere naina” version 1, with acoustic traditional instruments, with the pakhawaj-effect of the rhythm section, and with the minimal use of chords. Naturally, Lata’s alaap for this version does not have the high-pitched transition on the two Gandhars that was used to signify the presence of the ghost.

The YouTube link for this version :

Version 2: Sung by Lata Mangeshkar for Ratna’s ghost. Location and setting: Suraj’s house; windy, stormy night.
Earlier in the evening, Suraj is presented with the tanpura that belonged to the court dancer Ratna. When he sleeps at night, he is awakened suddenly and he hears this song. He gets up to investigate.

This is a very short version. It starts with the tanpura drones, which signifies the presence of the ghost. In the prelude, the string section plays the reverse transition of the two Gandhars to create suspense, followed immediately by Lata’s high-pitched alaap with the two-Gandhar transition, also signifying the presence of the ghost. The bass guitar in this version keeps playing a reverse glide from the root note of the chord, which is my favorite pick from this version. Even though it is a very short version, chords are played prominently on acoustic guitars. Modern instruments are used, chords are played prominently, and the rhythm is played on the tabla – the music has shifted to the modern era.

The YouTube link for this version is In the 13-minute clip, this version plays from 1:18 to 2:30.

Version 3: Sung by Lata Mangeshkar for Ratna’s ghost. Location and setting: From Chandangarh dak bungalow to Chandangarh Palace; daytime.
This is the richest version of them all. It had to be, in the context of the story.

It is sung by a ghost, the ghost of Ratna. Eerie effect of the presence of the ghost is created by using tanpuras. And – that high-pitched alaap by Lata Mangeshkar with the straight transition between Komal Gandhar and Shuddh Gandhar, mixed with heavy reverb and echo for effect.

The most unique aspect of this version is that the singer is a ghost, but the setting is in the modern era. Two eras come together in this version. The ghost is from a past era, but is singing to the modern-era pop star. The instruments chosen for this song accompaniment reflects this.

The rhythm is played on the tabla. This version has the richest chords, played in a unique pattern on acoustic guitars. In the rhythm cycle of 8 beats, beats 1 to 4 are played devoid of chords, and beats 5 and 6 are completely silent, as if to convey the passage of time and to create an effect of suspended animation. The beats 7, 8 (and the 1st beat of the next cycle) are played on the tabla too, and the rhythm guitar joins in for just these beats in the cycle. With just these 3 beats in the cycle (beats 7 and 8, and the 1st beat of the next cycle) playing guitar chords, RD still manages to use chords to mesmerizing effect. In a 4/4 beat of a cycle of 8 beats, it is usual for chords to be changed when required on beats 1 and 5. But since beat 5 is the 1st beat of a 2-beat silence or vacuum, RD sacrifices many chord-change opportunities in order to accommodate the 2-beat vacuum in the cycle, because it is necessary for him to show the passage of time. If he was not telling a story through his music, these compulsions would not have been there.

Even then, the chords are marvelous. The guitar chords shifts from the major to the minor depending on whether it is the Raaga Bhoop Uttar Ang or the Raaga Shivranjani Purv Ang, as I have explained earlier. Even when there is no Gandhar in the melody line (in the Uttar Ang), the major chord plays the Shuddh Gandhar.

This dual layer of Gandhar transitions, on melody and on chords, is best heard in this version.

It takes one alaap, one mukhda, one interlude and one antara for Ratna’s ghost to lead Suraj from the Chandangarh dak bungalow to the gates of the Palace of Chandangarh. The interlude during the walk and the boat ride is the one I call the “crossover interlude.” An acoustic guitar leads the way, indicating the presence of Suraj from the modern era. He was a guitarist. The guitar notes alternate with instruments we have heard in the “traditional-instruments interlude” of version 2 (Ratna’s version). RD signs off this interlude with a few notes from the combination of the sitar and sarod, (which I have mentioned earlier as the surshringar or veena effect). With these last notes of the interlude, RD has musically initiated the flashback. Anand Bakshi’s words follow in Lata Mangeshkar’s voice just after that – “Baat puraani hai….”

Suraj’s arrival at the gates of the palace is Ratna’s ghost’s first achievement, because, unless Suraj is brought to the palace, he will never be able to remember his past life, and they will never be reunited. It is an important moment in RD’s story-telling through music. Lata’s plaintiff alaap of the two-Gandhar transition sounds out as Suraj gets his first glimpse of Chandangarh Palace. And then his arrival at the palace is heralded by a grand interlude music, with symphonic violins crystal-clear guitar strumming leading the way.

I’ll pause the song here with Suraj at the gates of the palace and reflect for a moment on a particular recording of Pandit Omkarnath Thakur singing the bandish “Pag ghunghroo baandh meera naachi thi” in Raaga Malkauns, a raaga steeped in the veer (bravery and courage) rasa. The lyrics of the bandish is about Meera dancing in frenzy while singing songs in praise of her Lord Krishna. But if one thinks that the lyrics describes the grace and beauty of Meera’s dance movements, one would be gravely mistaken. Meerabai broke all the shackles of society so that she could spend her time worshipping her chosen deity, Lord Krishna. The wearing of the ghungroos and dancing in frenzy was the symbolic breaking of the shackles of society. The bandish celebrates her victory, her grand moment, the triumph of her devotion over the impositions of a claustrophobic society. The bandish then is a proud proclamation of a heroic victory, and that is why Malkauns, with its inherent veer rasa, has been chosen to carry the message of proud victory.

Coming back to Suraj at the palace gates, it is with this veer rasa that RD proclaims Ratna the Ghost’s crossing of the first hurdle, her first victory. Suraj has entered Chandangarh Palace. The lovers’ reunion in now a distinct possibility. This interlude, which I call the “palace-gate interlude,” defines to me, how a moment of victory must be portrayed through modern music. “Barson geet gaye….”

Elsewhere, I have written at length about the Madhuvanti interlude, of which two separate versions exist. After Ratna the Ghost has successfully lured Suraj to the palace, she has to now lead him to the durbar hall where the Madhuvanti interlude will enable her to tell him how she had danced to his music at that very durbar hall in a past life. The Madhuvanti interlude has to be seen in context, and it tells a priceless story of its own. With the Madhuvanti interlude, Ratna the Ghost has crossed the second hurdle. She has introduced Ratna and Prakash to Suraj. All that is left for her to do is to lead Suraj to the portrait of Ratna in the palace. The process of past-life regression has already been initiated for Suraj. He will remember the details when he sees Ratna’s portrait. Lata sings − “Ghunghroo ki chham chham…dekho yeh tasveeren….”

The song ends. So does the role of the ghost of Ratna. It is with moist eyes that we will say farewell to Ratna and her ghost. She will, however, live in our hearts forever….

Lata Mangeshkar’s association with Rahul Dev Burman goes back many, many years before Mehbooba and “Mere naina” happened. RD was assisting his father when Lata was singing her best songs for Dada Burman. “Mora gora ang lai le” from Bandini, “Piya tose naina laage re” from Guide, “Piya bina piya bina” from Abhimaan, “Megha chhaaye aadhi raat” from Sharmilee … and so many other gems come readily to mind. RD’s first recording as an independent music director was sung by Lata. At her insistence, a song recorded by Kavita Krishnamurthy was rerecorded in her own voice after RD passed away before the release of 1942 A Love Story. A multivolume encyclopedia could well be written on the Lata Mangeshkar−Rahul Dev Burman partnership, and should justice ever prevail in this world, it will find a place among the holiest books of the world. But if this humble fan, yours truly, were to be asked to pick, at gun point, a single favorite, I would take a two-beat pause to pay my respect to “Raina beeti jaaye,” “Beeti na beetai raina,” “Ja re ja main tose na bolu,” “Bahon mein chale aao,” “Tere bina jiya jaaye na” and innumerable other priceless songs, and name “Mere naina sawan bhadon” as indeed, my favorite. Having said that, I should clarify, that my choice has not been based on whether Lata has sung at her finest and best for this song. That would lead to an unending debate. Neither have I named this song because it might be RD’s best composition ever. An unending debate there too. My choice is based on the simple premise that this ghost-cum-reincarnation saga set in music could not have been conceived or executed without Lata Mangeshkar singing “Mere naina sawan bhadon.” I doubt, and I do so with all due respect, whether any singer could have sung this song with the perfection and impact that Lata Mangeshkar did.

This is why she was Rahul Dev Burman’s Don Bradman.

Version 4: Sung by Kishore Kumar for Suraj. Location and setting: Suraj’s home.

Suraj returns from his life-changing experience in Chandangarh and virtually shuts himself out to the outside world. His fiancée Rita (Asha Sachdev) walks in to find Suraj singing “Mere naina sawan bhadon….” Unaccompanied, though he has Ratna’s tanpura in his hand. It is just one line that Kishore sings, and it may be too short to be even called a version.

Version 5: Sung by Kishore Kumar for Suraj. Location and setting: Jhumri’s village; daytime.

In reality, versions 5 and 6 are part of the same recording, and except for the setting and the length there is no difference. Suraj sings the mukhda and one antara of the song (“Ae dil diwane…”) while playing his guitar in the daytime near a raging river. Jhumri hears his song and comes toward him. The song is interrupted abruptly. In the YouTube clip, this version can be heard from 2:30 to 5:00.

Version 6: Sung by Kishore Kumar for Suraj. Location and setting: Jhumri’s village; Windy, moonlit night.

Much has been written and discussed about the Manna Dey−Kishore Kumar duet “Ek chatur naar” from Mehmood’s Padosan. While Manna Dey depended on his classical training to bring out all the nuances in the song, Kishore Kumar sang it in his own free style, and, infusing his singing with spirit and comedy, gained possession of the song. And this is Manna Dey’s own magnanimous assertion, not mine.

Kishore Kumar asked RD to record Lata’s version first. He would hear the recording and learn the song from there. That is precisely what RD did. Kishore took a week or so to satisfy himself that he was ready to record.

Even though Kishore had no training in classical music, he had an unbelievable amount of natural talent. He took no shortcuts. He did not tone down Lata’s classically trained vocal nuances to suit himself. Rather, he took it upon himself to match nuance for nuance. And, he delivered exactly what RD needed for the grand finale of the Shivranjani saga.

Kishore Kumar’s magnificent “classical” version begs a lot of questions. Suraj was a pop star. Why could he not sing a simplified pop version? The orchestration of Kishore’s “Mere naina sawan bhadon” was so different from the title song “Meri mehbooba.” Why couldn’t the same style of orchestration be used for Kishore’s “Mere naina”? And, why did Kishore’s version have such few chords? The bass guitar appeared to be transfixed on to the root note for the most part while the chords played were the minor, major, and 6th and 7th variations of the root chord. Lata Mangeshkar’s ghost version (version 3 explained earlier) had such beautiful chords, and many more chord changes. Why were those same chords not used for Kishore’s version?

Earlier I have mentioned how RD had sacrificed some chord changes to incorporate the 2-beat pause or vacuum in the ghost version of the song. Here he sacrifices his entire modern orchestration to be true to his story-telling through music.

Let’s get the logic first. Suraj has heard Ratna’s ghost sing “Mere naina” during his recent trip to Chandangarh. Ratna’s ghost had lured him to the palace and made him aware of his connection to her in their past life. When Suraj sees Ratna’s portrait hanging on the wall in a room at the palace, memories of his past life are activated, and he sees his previous life in flashback. And, in his past life, he had heard Ratna sing “Mere naina” (version 1) in the palace gardens. His identification with his past life is complete.

Version 1 used traditional instruments as accompaniment, and just a few chords played very faintly on the vibes or xylophone. This is the version that Suraj now sings to Jhumri, because this is the version Suraj hopes that will help Jhumri remember her past life as Ratna. In Jhumri’s past life as Ratna, this is the song she sang − this was “her” song.

Suraj’s version is an updated version of Ratna’s song, and not the version of Ratna’s ghost. The traditional classical instruments like the sarod, sitar and santoor have been replaced with modern instruments. The rhythm patterns are also connected, for the first 4 beats of Ratna’s version have been repeated twice in the cycle of 8 for Suraj’s version. There are no pauses or vacuum in the beat cycle that were there in the ghost version. This is the reason that the chords and chord changes are minimal, though played prominently on the acoustic guitar, in Kishore Kumar’s version.

Once we have realized that Kishore Kumar’s version is directly linked to Lata Mangeshkar’s version 1 (Ratna’s song), a lot of hitherto unanswered questions regarding the orchestration and chords of Kishore Kumar’s version are finally answered. If musical similarities and connections explained in the preceding paragraphs are not enough, then we may find further proof of the same from nonmusical sources. Please revisit the video of the songs (Lata Mangeshkar’s version 1 and Kishore Kumar’s version 4, the daytime part) − the color of costumes that the lead pair of Rajesh Khanna (blue) and Hema Malini (red and green) wear, and the direction in which they travel on screen (left to right) during both the songs. In the ghost version, Hema wears white and Rajesh wears a black jacket, and they travel right to left on the screen while moving toward Chandangarh Palace.

The orchestration and the overall sound for the Kishore Kumar version is not the Pancham sound that we are familiar with. The fluidic bass guitar, the chords, the saxophone, the tumba and so many of the distinct RD experience are all missing here. RD could have easily given a completely different flavor to the Kishore version, cloaking it with elements that are distinct and unique to him. But had he done that, he would not have been able to tell the story of Mehbooba with music.
Sometimes greatness is defined by not what one does, but by what one chooses not to do. RD’s version for Kishore Kumar epitomizes just that.

The part of the Kishore Kumar version that I have called version 5 has the same prelude, alaap and mukhda, but a different interlude and antara (“Baat purani hai”). This is the grand finale of the Shivranjani saga, and ends when Jhumri wakes up to the strains of this song, restlessly walks toward Suraj, and, unable to take it anymore, puts her hand on his guitar, and stops him from singing the song that torments her so. “Band karo yeh gaana….”

The Gandhar in the Alaaps

Yes, the Gandhar in the three alaaps have a story to tell too. Lata Mangeshkar’s alaap in the Ratna version has only the Komal Ga. Her alaap in the ghost version has both Komal and Shuddh Gandhars, and is used as a climax in the antara of the songs as well. Kishore Kumar’s alaap for the Suraj version has only the Shuddh Gandhar.

I interpret the transition from Ratna’s Komal Gandhar to Suraj’s Shuddh Gandhar via the ghost’s dual Gandhar as the time lapse of the story. “Gori tori paijaniyan” had no Gandhar at all. Then came the Komal Gandhar with its inherent melancholy and pathos. Then came the Komal-to-Shuddh Gandhar transition in the ghost version, in a way bridging the two Gandhars, as well as bridging the Prakash−Ratna story to the Suraj−Jhumri one. Finally, the Shuddh Gandhar with its inherent peace and calmness, in the alaap of Suraj’s version, which completes the transition and the story.

Shiv Kumar Sharma and the Santoor

Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma single-handedly elevated the Kashmiri folk instrument santoor to the level of a serious classical instrument. During the earlier stages of his career, he played the santoor for many film songs. While his fame spread as a santoor player, he was also a competent tabla player. At the behest of his close friend Rahul Dev Burman, Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma played the tabla for “Mose chhal kiye jaaye” (Guide). He named his son Rahul after Pancham.

The santoor was an integral part of RD’s vision for the Mehbooba soundtrack. It was one of the prominent traditional instruments he used for Lata’s version of “Mere naina” (for Ratna, version 1). The santoor fill-in (I call it the wrong-Gandhar interlude since the chord plays Komal Ga while Shiv Kumarji plays Shuddh Ga) is too beautiful for words. The Shuddh Gandhar played is not by accident, but by careful artistic choice. The santoor plays in the interlude as well. When Jhumri finally realizes that she is the reincarnated Ratna, there is a santoor piece (jhaala) in Raaga Raajeshri (not Raageshree).

Hari Prasad Chaurasia and the Flute

At the very outset, I would like to mention that I have no confirmation that the flute played in the Mehbooba soundtrack was played by Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia. Just a hunch. Pt Chaurasia was a regular member of Dada Burman’s and Pancham’s musicians till his concert schedules made it impossible for him to fulfill both roles.
There are some amazing flute pieces played throughout the film, especially in the ghost version and the Suraj version of “Mere naina.” The Malkauns murchhana prelude and fills during the Raaga Bhoop−based “Chalo ri chalo ri” call for a very high level of musicianship.

Pt Chaurasia composed, performed and recorded a lot of music for Osho Rajneesh, the spiritual cult leader. He presented Osho Rajneesh with a raaga he had composed himself − Kala Ranjani – combining aspects of Kalavati and Shivranjani using a different method from the way Pancham had used the raagas in “Mere naina.” It sounded similar in parts, because the raagas used were the same. It would be interesting to know when and how Hari Prasad Chaurasia conceived Kala Ranjani, and whether, as I would like to think, RD’s “Mere naina” was the inspiration behind combining these two radically different raagas, albeit in a different manner.

Samta Prasad and the Tabla

For many years during his initial tabla training, Samta Prasad (or Gudai Maharaj) played on wooden tablas before he was allowed to graduate to the actual leather instrument. This rigorous initiation resulted in Samta Prasad having unique clarity, distinct tonal quality and unsurpassed taiyyari. His tabla playing could be identified easily because of these factors.

Dada Burman sought out the best as the tabla guru for his young son. Pancham was one of his best students, even though he did not become a concert tabla player. His training under Pt Samta Prasad helped him understand and achieve the best tonal quality of percussion instruments. The concept of chhand in music and poetry cannot be easily described in English, although pattern and rhythm sense come closest and will have to serve. Gudai Maharaj was known and acknowledged as the king of chhand. Two of the most distinguishing features of RD’s rhythm were chhand and tonal quality, a direct consequence of his training under Pt Samta Prasad.
Much has been written about Panditji’s tabla solo as the background music in the tonga chase in Sholay, but that is natural, because Sholay was the pinnacle in the history of Indian commercial cinema. Mehbooba did not enjoy even a minuscule fraction of Sholay’s success. Pt Samta Prasad’s tabla in Mehbooba went largely unnoticed. Truth be told, his table playing was far more integral to Mehbooba than it was to Sholay. Along with the vibraphone and the tanpura drones, Panditji’s tabla solo was used with telling effect to evoke memories of the song and dance performance at Chandangarh court. Panditji’s tabla playing can be also heard in the Madhuvanti interlude, which, I suspect, was recorded separately and spliced to the song at the editing table. So was the sawal−jawaab sitar and tabla piece toward the end of “Gori tori paijaniyan.”

Panditji’s name appears separately in the credits as the Tabla Player. I would like to believe that his shishya Pancham had a role to play in mentioning his name separately in the credits. My mind goes back to Dada Burman’s own Bengali song “Mono dilo na bodhu,” the original tune for his “Jaane kya tune kahi” from Pyaasa. Dada Burman was so overwhelmed with Brojen Biswas’s tabla in the “Mono dilo na” recording that he fought with the recording company to go against their policy and include Brojen Biswas’s name as the tabla player on the printed record label.

Sachin Dev Burman

We know him as S.D. Burman and Dada Burman. But before he achieved fame as a music composer in Bollywood, he was the Kumar Bahadur of Tripura, Sachindra Dev Burman. As the Kumar Bahadur of the princely state of Tripura, he came in close contact with many musicians, many of them court musicians of different states.
Dada Burman’s musical horizon was vast – he had training in Hindustani classical music from Ustad Badal Khan of Panipat (vocalist who synthesized the Agra and Kirana Gharanas, and also an accomplished sarangi and tabla player) and his best student Pt Vishwadev Chattopadhyay. His passion was folk music of eastern and north-eastern India. His father and first guru was a Dhrupad singer and a sitarist. He had close associations with Ustad Allauddin Khan (the father of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, RD’s sarod guru), the court musician of Maihar. He sang the songs of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. He also learned to sing from Krishna Chandra Dey, the blind uncle of Manna Dey.

In the section where I listed a few key persons who helped give shape to Pancham’s Shivranjani, I would have dearly loved to trace a song in Shivranjani performed or composed by Dada Burman. He started composing for films in the late 1930s. Most of his early music is lost to the world, or, at best, not easy to find. Nor were all the songs he sang in his concerts recorded. Whatever be the reason, I have not been able to find a Shivranjani by Dada Burman and it is my deepest regret, because I am almost sure there is a Shivranjani by Dada Burman waiting to be discovered.

Dada Burman was Pancham’s first and primary guru, and was responsible for all the musical guidance of his little boy, whether it was by teaching him directly or deciding upon and sending him to various gurus to learn from. Pancham was groomed in the finest tradition of Hindustani classical music, and was fortunate to have as his gurus Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandit Samta Prasad, stalwarts in their respective fields. Dada Burman’s agenda was simple: to equip Pancham with the best possible classical music training, which would be the essence of his music.

The first major hit that RD delivered was Teesri Manzil. Pyar Ka Mausam and Hare Rama Hare Krishna followed. His music was perceived as modern and trendsetting, while his classical-based compositions were cruelly overlooked. RD’s impeccable musical lineage and training would be overlooked either deliberately or ignorantly. All his classical-based compositions would be attributed to his father. It did not help RD’s cause that he had a flamboyant carefree image, in complete variance with the stereotyped image of the classical composer. Once in a while RD would get to score for a film that gave him scope to revel in classical music. Usually it would be films of Gulzar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Shakti Samanta that would offer him that rare luxury.

Mehbooba came RD’s way at a very difficult stage of his life. It was released in July 1976. It would be reasonable to expect that the making of the film (including composing and recording the music) took a year at least, which period would coincide with the last days of Dada Burman. He died on October 31, 1975.

Dada Burman was perfectly aware of what his son could achieve as a classical composer like himself. He was known to be proud of RD’s score for Amar Prem. Sometimes, in exasperation, he would lament that RD had moved away from classical music. But RD was very clear in his response. He wanted to carve out a niche for himself. And when the situation demanded, he would create classical music to suit his purpose.

Shakti Samanta’s cinematic adaptation of Gushan Nanda’s reincarnation novel gave RD just the opportunity he needed to unlock the immense treasury he had in classical music. While Shakti Samanta was telling the story in cinematic form using words and visuals, RD was telling the same story with music – classical music.
With Mehbooba Pancham got the opportunity to go where no classical composer could even dream of going. The film gave him an opportunity to tell an entire story using classical music. It gave him an opportunity to use various aspects of the film’s music to acknowledge and give tribute to his gurus and to his Maihar Gharana. But most importantly it gave him an opportunity to fulfill his father’s dream − of making Pancham the finest classical composer.

Pancham, Mehbooba and Me

Panchamda was always my favorite composer. Mehbooba just altered the way I saw him as a composer. After Mehbooba, I saw Panchamda as a trained classical composer who had the best possible pedigree and lineage. Whatever else he acquired in his musical journey was self-taught, and a result of his passion for music and his ability to innovate. With this simple realization, I revisited his music, and I learned dimensions in his music that had escaped me hitherto. From his music, I learned the best possible fusion of Indian classical music with other forms of music. And, I learned that there was never anyone quite like him, in knowledge, thinking or musicality.

This article is my humble tribute to Rahul Dev Burman, whose music taught me music and will continue to do so till my last breath.


 Nilangshu Haldar