Happy Birthday RD Burman! The Greatest Composer Until Rahman

Now, on Rahman’s birthday, I will call him “the Greatest Composer Since RD Burman” and it will be an equal compliment.  The two of them are up there, all by themselves, on the list of popular film composers.  For his birthday, I will give you 55 reasons to love him (mostly songs)

1.1. He was one of the first composers to be raised in film music.  His father, SD Burman, was not only a brilliant classically trained musician, he was also a film musician.  And he passed on to his son both the classical training and the familiarity with film requirements.

2. His nickname “Pancham” was a sign of how music and film both followed him from birth.  there are 3 versions to it.  The first is that he cried in tune with the 5th note on the Indian scale, “Pa”.  The second is that he cried in all of the first 5 notes.  And the third is that Ashok Kumar, the first star of Indian film, gave him the name.

3. RD composed his first song at 9 years old, his father used it in the soundtrack of Pyaasa.  Bringing together the brilliance of Sudhir Ludhianvi, Guru Dutt, and RD Burman for one shining moment.

4. RD received training from his father at home, and from 3 separate musical masters in Bombay.  As a child, he was already working in his father’s film orchestra, along with continuing his studies with his other masters.

5. RD received his first commission as a solo music director at age 20.

6. Let’s look at some of SD’s greatest work, to get a sense of the family RD was coming from.  This is the lullaby that Karan Johar just tweeted recently he sings to his children every night.


7.  That’s a happy one, but a lot of SD’s greatest songs are more emotional than that.


8.  Although he could be bouncy and happy too!


9. And romantic!


10.  Very good with the sad longing songs too


11.  And that staple of Indian film, the “I am a carefree young man” hero introduction song.


12.  Finally, the song RD wrote at 9 years old, which his father used in the film he was working on.


13.  As a young man, RD continued working with his father, now as an official “assistant music director” on films like Guide.


14.  And the insanely catchy Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi.


15.  RD was offered his first film at 20, but it ended up being shelved.  His first film finally came out when he was 22, Chote Nawab, a comedy with Mehmood.


16.  Chote Nawab came about not because RD had all that experience as an assistant, but because Mehmood came to meet his father in order to hire him, and noticed RD playing the tabla in the corner, and his talent was so obvious, that once SD said no, he hired RD immediately.

17. RD still didn’t have regular work even after Chote Nawab, no full films until Bhoot Bangla came out 4 years later, another Mehmood film, confirming their friendship and artistic partnership.

18. It was the movie after Bhoot Bangla which first confirmed RD as something special, Teesri Manzil, which took the rock and roll inspired sounds of the 1960s teen romances and made them something a little different, a little better.

19. Teesri Manzil is also where RD worked for the first time with the two singers who would become the “voice” of his songs, Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle.  Asha, who he would later marry.

20.  The 50s were where RD grew up and was trained.  The 60s were where he first started working, but the 70s were when he came to rule the decade.

21. Bhoot Bangla!!!


22.  Teesri Manzil!  Such a good movie in every way, but the songs are really something special.


23.  Another one!  So you can see Helen, Shammi Kapoor, and RD Burman all coming together.


24.  But like I said, it was really the 70s where he came into his own.  In songs like this one, which is so popular to this day that it was just remixed for Noor.


25. Or this one, which inspired the title for a whole movie, plus a remix within that movie.


26.  He could do fun peppy songs, but also just plain lyrical songs.


27. This is one of my favorite of the more lyrical side of things.


28.  But mostly he became famous for how he took the new rock sounds, and new electronic instruments available to him and invented a new film sound.


29. Another one, which should be familiar from all the many many samples and remixes.


30.  This is also when RD started singing his own songs sometimes, enjoying the sound of his rough voice against the music.  Like in this one, which is purely instrumental besides his voice providing the refrain “Mehbooba”.


31.  RD was a fully successful man by this point, and as most successful men did, he got married.  To a young woman who was a fan of his music, who he met in the resort town of Darjeeling.  She had bet her friends she could convince him to take her on a movie date.

32.  The romance was like something from one of his movies, but of course life isn’t like the movies.  5 years later, they were divorced.  He was 32.

33.  Through out this time, RD continued to work with Asha Bhosle.  Asha was divorced, and 6 years older than him. It took him years to convince her, but eventually they were married.  She was 47, he was 41.

34.  RD and Asha toured together, and through out the early 80s he was still the king of film.  But time went on, and new “Disco” style composers came to be popular.

35.  His last film, 1942: A Love Story, returned him to popularity, winning him a FilmFare award.  But it was too late, he had died before it came out, at only 55.

36. But, in 55 years, he had managed to forever change the film industry!


37.  Working with every star from Shammi to Rajesh Khanna


38.  Every catchy tune you hum, it’s an RD Burman song.


39.  He worked with generations of actors, Sanjay Dutt.


40. And Sunil Dutt.


41.  His last film, it didn’t win FilmFare’s just out of sentiment, even at 55 he still had a melody no one could match.


42.  And he found new twists on things he had done dozens of times before, like the heroine in love song.


43.  The rain song


44.  And of course the love song.


45.  But the real mark of RD’s popularity is how his songs are still used today, remixed over and over again.  “Gulabi Aankhen”


46. “Dum Maro Dum”


47. “Raftaarein” constantly


48. And again!


49. Not just in films either, popular musicians will use his work too.


50.  There’s even films like Dil Vil Pyar Var which are almost entirely Burman remixes


51.  His songs have traveled the world, played as far away as Europe.


52.  Jhankaar Beats, one of my favorite movies, is almost entirely about RD Burman songs, culminating in this live performance of a remix.


53.  And stopping in the middle to give us his entire life story in song.


54.  There’s a reason RD is still revered, look at this medley, song after song, each one a classic.

55.  Let’s let RD himself end this.

6 thoughts on “Happy Birthday RD Burman! The Greatest Composer Until Rahman

  1. “The Greatest Composer Until Rahman” I can maybe accept it when Rahman retires and becomes a legend. Till then, there’s no one like R.D.🙂


    • I was thinking the other way. Rahman will be 56, older than RD ever was, in only 5 years. Let’s see if he can manage to use those extra years of life to give RD a real challenge. It does feel like, with 1942, RD was entering a new phase of composition, he could have ruled the 90s as much as the 70s if he had lived. Maybe Rahman will find a new inspiration in the last 3rd of his life and surpass RD.

      On Tue, Jun 27, 2017 at 2:09 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



      • I mean subjectively. Objectively I can obviously see how great Rahman is, but his songs don’t come with the feel of ‘we will never have another song like this’ which accompanies RD’s, because he is still working.


        • good point! So in that way, we should all be hoping for Rahman to drop dead before 55 in order to make us appreciate him more than RD. Ooo, I just got a little shiver down my spine saying that. I didn’t mean it! Rahman should live forever!


  2. Pingback: Happy Birthday Kumar Sanu!!!! 17 Reasons I Love You | dontcallitbollywood

  3. Pingback: 100 Years of Indian Film History in 10 Songs | dontcallitbollywood

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