If the composing wizard Rahul Dev Burman had lived, he would’ve been 76 on June 27. “I wish he had lived. He died too young and too unhappy,” says Lata Mangeshkar as she recalls her long association with her dear Pancham (as he was fondly called). “I had seen him running around in his half-pants when I’d record songs for his father Sachin Dev Burman. Pancham was immensely talented. He could compose in any style. And he knew exactly which song to give to which singer. If he gave my sister Asha Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja, he gave me Raina Beeti Jaaye. He also gave me Meri Awaz Hi Pehchaan Hai, the signature tune of my career,” Lata adds.
She reveals how unhappy RD was during his final years. “For a composer as talented as Pancham, to be almost jobless was a living death. He would sometimes share his grief with me. I feel sad even now when I recall how cruel the industry was to him just because some of his music didn’t do well.” Lata says RD was not the only one at the receiving end. “Before Pancham, there were two other very talented composers who died unhappy. Khemchand Prakash never saw success or money while he lived. He was in hospital on his deathbed when Aayega Anewala from
Mahal became a rage. He could reap none of its benefits. Then there was Ghulam Mohammed. He struggled all his life and died leaving behind the immortal music of Pakeezah.” R.D. Burman’s last composition 1942: A Love Story too became a rage. Lata gets emotional as she recalls how he pleaded with her to sing for the film. “He told me, ‘Didi, I don’t know how much money there is in this.’ I told him not to worry about money, that I’d sing the song for free if need be. Twice my recording for the film got postponed. Finally, I was in Delhi when I heard he passed away. I recorded Kuch Na Kaho with a heavy heart. I remember Sanjay Leela Bhansali was present during the recording. He also shot the song Pyar Hua Chupke Se sung by Kavita Krishnamurthy so beautifully. Pancham would have been so happy to see his songs used so beautifully.”
The legendary singer reveals a few things about R.D.’s first marriage with Rita Patel. “Pancham asked me for a gift. He wanted me to write a letter counselling his wife on how to conduct herself with him. ‘Didi, you know me longer and more closely than almost anyone else. Tell my wife what I am like and how to cope with me,’ Pancham had requested. That letter was with him all his life. I believe it was found in his bank locker.”
Lata was in London when R.D. underwent a heart surgery. “The day before his surgery he called me to say he wanted to see me. ‘If something happens to me... I’d like to see you.’ I went to meet him in the hospital. By God’s grace he recovered. But then unhappiness killed him a few years later. He was very depressed about his career and his mother’s senility,” Lata says.
She adds, “I heard his friend treated him to biryani and liquor the night he succumbed to a heart attack.” What made Pancham special for Lata, she says, that for him she was his father’s artiste. But when he recorded with her, she was a colleague. “And if Kishore da (Kumar) was with us, it would be a lot of masti. Pancham’s songs have stood the test of time. “Only two music composers from Hindi cinema have attained such enduring fame after their demise — one is Pancham and the other is Mohan,” she says....