It was the mid-90s. “Skin-tight jeans” were a thing, and audio cassettes were prized possessions. Forget social media, even the Internet was unheard of, while cyber cafes were still a couple of years away. I was slowly warming up to college life and the liberation from uniforms, bunking classes to sneak into theatres, making/ requesting proxy calls (if you don’t know this term, you’ve probably never been in college), getting to know FOSLA and its secretive ways, and momos! In Guwahati, momos were comfort food. Still are.
This is when I was introduced to The Gang (that’s what I’ll call them, for the purpose of this piece) – a motley crew of film lovers, Antakshari junkies and dedicated members of FOSLA. Apart from girls, porn and sports – in that order – what these guys thrived on was music, and music of a certain kind. Some of them had won medals in inter-college Antakshari competitions, and maintained whole notebooks of lyrics, mukhdas and antaras of film songs. These notebooks contained details of which film the song was from, the lyricist, the director and of course – the composer.
It didn’t take me long to sink in with them, be a part of their debates on what was that word after “Ek sau sola chaand ki raatein, ek tumhare kaandhe ka ____” from Ijaazat, or which version of Mere Naina Sawan Bhado was better: Kishore or Lata? or what the Sholay Qawwali (which never made it to the film) was all about, or how to get hold of Professor ki Padosan (it’s a movie, silly!). The thing to note is that all of the above relates to a single music director: Rahul Dev Burman. Anybody else was simply not good enough. Most waking hours were spent trying to hum these numbers, replicating the music orally or on desks.
It was shocking that an overwhelming majority of the songs I already liked seemed to have been composed by this man. The Gang told me about his experiments – playing on the empty bottles in Sholay, the scraping of combs for Padosan, even rubbing sandpapers to create an effect in some tracks. Also, the fact that he used unconventional “singers” like Danny Denzongpa, Rekha and even Hema Malini!
Notice there was no YouTube or Imdb to refer back to and check things. They mostly had their ear for music to fall back on, to know whether a certain piece was by a certain composer. But the inlay cards in audio cassette covers settled many a dispute. Such cassettes, and indeed, many of the songs, were often painstakingly collected. One of The Gang actually had to “buy” the Sholay Qawwali all the way from Calcutta after paying a premium to some collector. And then there was Shatrughan Sinha’s Bheema (bewilderingly spelt as ‘Bhemaa’, 1984) – the album wasn’t available anywhere, and a hefty price awaited anyone who owned the cassette and willing to part with it. Also, the twin English compositions by RD: Listen to the pouring rain from Bombay to Goa (1972) and I am Falling in Love with a Stranger from Deewar (1975).
I’ve been to rooms that had walls covered from floor to ceiling with audio cassettes, not an inch to spare. I meant that literally – from floor to ceiling with not an inch to spare. Some had cupboards (“Godrej almirah”) full of them. Some had racks and bedsides shelves and bags and drawers teeming with cassettes. Many couldn’t afford buying all of these from the store, there were shops offering ‘recording services’. You went to them with your list of songs and movies, and in a day or two you had a “recorded cassette’ full of the songs you wanted.
What these people also shared was a strong dislike for the “common” compositions. Being hardcore RD fans, they were wary of the usual suspects that seemed to play everywhere you went. I’ve spent days and nights, hours and hours of listening to one “rare song” after the other. And they were really very good. These sessions over-wrote almost all the Hindi films music I’d heard till then, and trained my ear to the “RD sound”.
In time, everyone leaves. We did too. The world passed us by, and the music changed, sensibilities changed. Cinema changed. But somehow, RD and his music only kept growing more and more popular with each passing day. The remixes, the ‘RDX’ albums, the DJ mixes, party mixes…they kept on and on. As a fan and an enthusiast, it felt great. Boss still rules. But what annoys the hell out of me is when people proclaim “I love R D Burman” but still play the same tracks over and over and over and over again. And again. Whether it’s Gaana or Saavn or Apple Music or your favourite FM Channel, all they can think of is Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko, Piya tu ab toh aaja, Do lafzon ki hai, Kehdoon tumhe, Jaanejan dhoondta phir raha, Panna ki tamanna, the Aandhi songs, the Ijaazat songs, Amar Prem, Kati Patang, Gol Maal….you get the drift.
I mean, the man composed thousands of songs. Even hardcore fans keep stumbling on to some brilliant composition or the other that they had never heard! And almost all of these songs have some glimpse of the genius that was R.D. Burman. Sometime back, I had the good fortune of interacting with a luminary from Bollywood who is known for his unfathomable knowledge of Hindi film songs. A self-confessed RD-fan, he even knew the man personally. But even such a giant of a man spouts only these oft-heard tracks, and broke my heart when he said he hadn’t even heard some of the songs that I loved.
I know it’s not fair. Music is music. Of course, one can and should play all kinds of music. But if one is a fan, it is inconceivable to me how anyone can restrict themselves to just about a hundred songs and not explore more! So here’s a list to help get started.