My father (Kishore Kumar) was very close to Pancham (R D Burman). Because of their closeness, I became friends with Pancham. I think I sang the maximum songs for Pancham after Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar and my father. I think Ashaji sang around 800 songs. My father sang 500-600. I sang about 150 songs for Pancham. That’s more than Mohd Rafi saab. We were associated for 20 years till his death. We loved each other unconditionally. I was R D Burman’s blue-eyed boy.
My professional association with Pancham started in 1975 with the song, Bade achche lagte hain in Balika Badhu. At that time I was a novice. I had sung a couple of songs earlier, though I used to visit R D Burman. He used to visit our home till his death and cook for us. He was a fantastic cook. We’d compose music together. He had three friends in the film industry — me, Shakti Samanta and Ramesh Behl. We were with him till the end. The Burman family was like family to me. Sachin Dev Burman mentored my father. And Pancham mentored me. Even when Sachinda was composing for Guide in 1965, I was a little brat jumping over the harmonium all over the recording-room. Burman Dada enjoyed me jumping around like a monkey!
I came to Mumbai from Kolkata in 1971. Aradhana had released and my father’s second innings as a playback pasha had begun. One day, my father was going for a recording with Manna Dey for Pancham. It was a song in a film called Khalifa. My father asked me to accompany him. I sat listening to my father and Mannada rehearse. Suddenly Pancham turned to me and said, ‘I heard that you sing very well. Sing for me.’ I was nervous. But I sang my father’s song in Jhumroo as the stalwarts in the orchestra accompanied me. While returning home after the recording my father said, ‘You lost a golden chance… Your singing was bakwas’. I was hurt. I told my father, ‘I was nervous. To hell with singing. I’m going back to Kolkata.’ But in the evening Pancham called and told my father to send me for a recording the next morning. My father said, ‘What will he do in a recording?’ Pancham said I had to sing a song for a film to be directed by Shakti Samanta and he needed a raw voice. My father said, ‘Main kis khet ka mooli hoon? Why do you need my son when you have me?’ Pancham explained he needed a young voice to sound like a 17-year-old. All this was banter. My father was actually very happy for me.
I sang the song, Bade achche lagte hain. I never knew it would become so popular. In fact it didn’t become an overnight rage like Chikni Chameli. It took three years to become popular. Today it’s a household number. Bade achche lagte hain gave me an identity beyond being Kishore Kumar’s son. And I give full credit to Pancham. He forbade me from copying my father. He said no one could sing like him. He said, ‘Sing in your own voice.’ I did. Then came the songs of the movie Love Story, which made me very popular. Rajendra Kumar, who launched his son Kumar Gaurav, knew my father from the time Rajendra Kumar assisted H S Rawail in Sharaarat. My father sang in that film.
Rajendra Kumar wanted Kishore Kumar’s son to sing for his son in Love Story. I will tell you a shocking fact. R D Burman ‘hated’ the music of Love Story. He never liked Yaad aa rahi hai, which became my biggest hit. I remember while recording the number Pancham called me aside and said, ‘Yeh gaana yaad aa rahi hai bahut bakwaas hai. It sounds like a bhajan instead of a love song.’ The song was a super hit. I rang up Pancham, ‘Ab bolo, kya bolte ho.’ Pancham was quiet. At that time he was going through a lean phase.
Love Story brought him back in the reckoning. My favourite song in Love Story was Kaisa tera pyar kaisa gussa with Latabai. After Love Story everyone hoped Kumar Gaurav and I would become a team like Rajesh Khanna and my father. But that was not meant to be. Pancham and I came together for the music for other Kumar Gaurav starrers like Teri Kasam, Lovers and Romance which were flops... I remember the first song we recorded in Love Story was Yeh ladki zarasi deewani lagti hai with me and Asha Bhosle. Raj Kapoor saab and my father came for the recording. Just imagine, I was singing in the recording booth with Asha Bhosle while Raj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar and Kishore Kumar were chatting away behind us. We were getting distracted and the stalwarts were asked to leave the recording room. The atmosphere was jovial, easygoing and fun-filled.
I distinctly remember my first meeting with Panchamda. I was just a kid hovering in the studios when my father sang. My father made a film, Door Gagan Ki Chaon Mein where he played my father. I played a mute boy. In the film, my father takes me to the city for medical treatment. There was a shot where both of us father and son had to climb down the stairs looking disheartened. My father needed a mouth organ piece in the background. Pancham played the mouth organ very well. We were working in the Bombay Lab in Prabhadevi and he called up Pancham to come and play the mouth organ. That was the first time I saw Panchamda. I think it was 1963. By then Pancham’s first film as an independent music director Chote Nawab had released.
But Pancham wasn’t well known. We became friends. At that time he was Sachin Dev Burman’s son and I was Kishore Kumar’s son. Then I met him again when he came to our house with Mehmood saab to get my father to sing the track Jago sone walon in the film Bhoot Bungla. After that, we met frequently. When I heard the songs of Chote Nawab I was clean bowled by Pancham’s versatility. On one end of the spectrum, he composed Matwali aankhon wali, on the other, he composed Latabai’s Ghar aaja ghir aaye badra.
I knew this man was a genius. Then I heard Pancham’s songs in Bhoot Bungla. My father’s, Jago sone walon was fine. But the Manna Dey song Pyar karta ja was even better. However Pancham couldn’t make a mark, in spite of beautiful music in Teesra Kaun and Chandan Ka Palna, until Teesri Manzil. Pancham was trying to find his identity. He told me once, ‘It’s very difficult to be taken seriously when there are stalwarts like Shankar-Jaikishan, S D Burman, Madan Mohan and Naushad... How do I make my mark?’ Pancham went completely western saying, ‘To hell with the Indian purists.’
In Teesri Manzil, Pancham introduced the bass guitar into Hindi film music. People said he plagiarized songs. Hah, chori kisne nahin kiya? All composers sought inspiration. When Pancham borrowed, he did it with style. He created his own musical style completely removed from traditional film music. He revolutionised the sound of music. At that time, when Pancham
experimented with tunes we were hung up on the sound of Shankar-Jaikishan. Jaikishanji had predicted about Pancham, ‘A boy has come. He’s going to make chutti of all of us.’ Pancham was something else. He was definitely ahead of his times.
My song Roz roz aankhon tale with Asha Bhosle which is so popular today, was a flop when it was composed in 1987. It has gained popularity in the last five years. Destiny, I guess. Today we have fabulous technology to support film music. But listen to the clarity he brought to the sound of the 1960s and ’70s. Absolutely clean recording. I sang for him till his end. I remember the title song in the film, Rama O Rama was my first recording after my father expired. My father died on October 13, 1987 and on January 1, 1988 I recorded the song in Rama O Rama.
Pancham died too young. He never took care of his health. As a musician and a human being, he was next to none. Even today Pancham is a chart-topper. A music company spokesperson told me frankly that their revenues are generated from Kishore Kumar and R D Burman’s songs, just last week. No one can surpass the impact of Panchamda. He was a complete composer.