Saturday, December 03, 2005

the panchammagic song of the fortnight

The folks at are a swell enthusiastic bunch, who've been responsible for organising two shows in Pune every year dedicated to the music of the late great R D Burman. The first is on Jan 04 (RDB's death anniversary) and the other on June 27 (RDB's DOB). They've had a wide array of themes and several generous guests both famous (Gulzar, Amit Kumar, Bhupinder, Shailendra Singh) to the lesser-known (Homi Mulla, the late Marutirao Keer, Manohari Singh, Nitin Shankar).

They've been running a series called "Song of the Fortnight" with articles on RDB's music and had been kind and generous to ask YT to write something up for the series. Since I sent my first article, a few more have made it to the page. Pointers follow (with only extracts, so that these guys get some more hits)

dha.Dakan pal pal / film: Arjun (1985) / lyrics: Javed Akhtar
The song opens with a spacey mix of sounds (dominated by a recurring synth motif and short flute passages) conveying a sense of mystery.

The electric guitar (which has a greater role to play later) makes its appearance with a few strums, as the music moves to a crescendo on the strings. Inexplicably, the music company (then MIL, now Universal) decided to exercise their "creative" veto and chopped off this opening minute of the song on subsequent non-vinyl releases.
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pyaar jab na diyaa / film: Sitamgar (1985) / lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
The case of the "Sitamgar" soundtrack is a strange one. All the songs on this album were gems. Even the unreleased seldom-heard Shailendra Singh song "kisii Gariib ke dil se" (having had the privilege of hearing it a couple of times, I am willing to accept this as his best song ever) was testimony to Pancham's ability to elevate even mundane common place lyrics with his melodies and musical embellishments. Yet, the soundtrack languishes in the doldrums. It's very rare, and neither the CD nor tape is as easily available as some of his other soundtracks. You'll be in luck only if you snag a few of those rare compilations with strange names and manage to find a stray inclusion. All this means that the soundtrack remains relatively "under-sung". Although the ISB transcriptions are almost all there, they can only present the lyrical content with hardly any hint of what Pancham had to offer to the song. It thus seems fitting to choose a song from the album (also the first song that I remember having heard from the list).
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har ek raasataa / film: Ameer Aadmi Gharib Aadmi (1985) / lyrics: Nida Fazli
In the early-to-mid 80s R. D. Burman was very busy. He boasted a full workload and was a favourite of the big banners. One camp of listeners lauded his creativity while another contended that he was overworked and headed for burnout. What could not be denied was the persistent diversity in his music. He continued to be a favourite for new launches: directors and actors making their débuts (and sometimes even their shot at a second coming). Amjad Khan was one such example. The talented actor chose Pancham as the music director not just for his directorial début (Adhura Aadmi), but also for the next two films he would helm (Chor Police, Ameer Aadmi Gharib Aadmi). Reportedly, these were above-average efforts and indicated that Amjad Khan was definitely a cut above the rest in mainstream filmmaking, but alas, the 80s did not prove to be a good time for either Amjad Khan or Pancham, who, as the 90s drew near, hit his worst streak of all time (paradoxically, so close to his winning run of work). He became box office poison, people withdrew from him, and he was left to watch one great song after another go down the drainpipe of anonymity as the films bit the dust at the box office (or worse, never made it to the box office). Amjad Khan had a couple of other movies to his name too, but these died either in pre-production or on their way to the marquee. And then there was Abhi To Main Jawaan Hoon.
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jiinaa to hai / film: Paanch Dushman (1973) / Daulat ke Dushman (1982) / lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
This lament from Paanch Dushman found new listeners thanks to featuring (with the original film name), along with other rarities, on the splendid 2-CD compilation Tumse Milke from HMV (the first of hopefully many more collaborations between this music publishing behemoth and the cleansing efforts of Pancham Studios). Its previous CD avatar (CDF 120419) was one of several attempts by HMV at squeezing several less-lauded movie soundtracks onto CDs. There it shared space with Balika Badhu and Doosri Sita under its revised moniker Daulat ke Dushman.
The omission of the third allows the bass pattern to remain consistent throughout the song despite the shifts between a major and minor key. And in the mukha.Daa, the use of the F betrays an overlap of the prevailing E natural minor with E Phrygian. There's also the use of both sevenths, which would suggest the use of the harmonic minor scale.
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merii nazar hai tujhape / film: The Burning Train (1980) / lyrics: Sahir
Set primarily in Abminor in standard tuning (and liberally exploiting the natural harmonic and melodic variants), the song opens with a flourish of brass after which violins backed by chord strums on an acoustic guitar join in. A drum roll marks the end of this fragment as the bass guitar tumbles in overlapping percussion spliced across the left (claves) and right channels (hi-hat) complement off-beat chord stabs on the synthesizer. The string section joins with three-note-fragments starting on the second count of each measure. The chord strums continue on the acoustic guitar. A short solo phrase is up next on the electric guitar with the brass providing a resounding response at the end of it. The brass section launches into a four measure contribution, before a percussive improvisation section featuring, among other things, the bass guitar, a shaker, congas, the hi-hat and the triangle. As if this was not enough, RDB now throws in the South Indian element by introducing the mridangam, which then proceeds to accompany phrases played out on the sitar. The return to the western element isn't too far away as the next segment features melodic phrases and chords played out on an acoustic guitar while another acoustic guitar provides constant strums of chords. The trumpet replaces the first acoustic guitar for the coda of the prelude as the bass guitar punctuates the measures. The off-beat synthesizer stabs return with the shaker and the acoustic guitar to provide the rhythm introducing the song.
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