As we complete a year of managing money in India, we celebrate two towering legends of the Indian music industry. Not only did RD Burman and AR Rahman change the way movie music is made in India, there are striking parallels in their careers. Both men were professional musicians by their mid-teens. Both turned away from conventional styles of music composition. Both were masters of their craft – which was primarily composing music for Indian movies – and yet their range of knowledge extended far beyond their chosen profession. This combination of in-depth specialization in one area alongside a vast body of knowledge is a powerful driver of creativity & original thought.
“Time works in a strange way. However, successful you may be, if your success is only a matter of chance or circumstances, not based on real talent, it will not stand the test of time. But if you are really great, you become greater with time. And time makes a bigger and bigger idol of you. And that is what is happening to R.D.Burman. Because time is kind to great people. And R.D.Burman was great.” – Javed Akhtar in the Foreword to “R.D.Burman: The Man, The Music” by Anirudha Bhattacharjee & Balaji Vittal
“First you have the prelude and then the music comes, then you have an interlude, followed by a cross-line,” Gulzar says about the conventional film tune. “From the start, songs were written this way. Rahman broke the pattern… the horizon… at what stage the song will return to the refrain, one never knows…Like classical and semi-classical musicians, he elaborates the tune. These elaborations build links and keep unfolding.” – Gulzar on AR Rahman
Brief bios of two legendary music directors
Rahul Dev Burman – or Pancham as the Bollywood star of the 1950s & 60s, Ashok Kumar, named him as a toddler – was born in Kolkata in 1939 to a branch of the Tripura royal family. He did not distinguish himself in school but his father, the legendary music director SD Burman, deserves the gratitude of generations of Indian music lovers for beginning his son’s training in Hindustani classical music by the time Pancham was ten years old. The teenaged Pancham was precocious – amongst other songs, he composed ‘Sar jo tera chakraye’ for Guru Dutt’s icononic move ‘Pyasaa’ (1957).
When Pancham was 16, his father relocated him to Mumbai and Pancham became an assistant to his famous father. Personal success however continued to elude him even though his friend, the comedian Mehmood, hired Pancham as the music director for ‘Chhote Nawab’ (1961). Pancham’s first critically acclaimed hit came with ‘Padosan’ (1968), a movie whose true worth has become more obvious to music lovers with the passage of time. Then, in the years following Padosan, Pancham composed the music for four smash hits whose music towered over everything that was composed in Bollywood in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
‘Teesri Manzil’ (1966) was Pancham’s entry into the premier league with the full on brass band and hundred piece orchestra of ‘O haseena zulfon wali’ transforming the Bollywood song & dance number, for once and for all, into a big budget spectacular. In Dev Anand’s ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ (1971) Pancham memorably brought rock musjc, English lyrics and vocalists trained in Western music to Bollywood with ‘Dum maro dum’ being the most memorable outcome of this fusion between East and West. In ‘Kati Patang’ (1971), Pancham’s music resulted in Filmfare awards for superstar Rajesh Khanna, director Shakti Samanta and singer Kishore Kumar. For the next Rajesh Khanna blockbuster ‘Amar Prem’ (1972) Pancham composed three songs which pay glorious tribute to India’s rich heritage of Hindustani classical music and are regarded by the cognoscenti – playback singers (Kishore Kumar, Hemanta Mukherjee), Classical musicians (Pandit Mallikarjun Mansoor, Pandit Ajoy Chakroborty) and film directors (Shakti Samanta, Hrishikesh Mukherjee) – as the greatest songs composed for the Hindi screen.
More hits followed in the 1970s and the early 1980s until younger composers imitating the legend undercut him and left him financially stranded in the late 1980s. RD Burman died of a heart attack in 1994 soon after finishing work on ‘1942: A Love Story’. He was awarded the Filmfare Award posthumously for his work in his last film which itself went on to become a smash hit and launched singer Kumar Sanu’s career.
Born in 1969 in Chennai, Allahrakkha Rahman’s (AR) father, the music composer RK Shekhar, died when AR was nine years old. By then AR had already become an assistant to his father in the studio. Following his father’s death, AR supported his family by renting out his father’s music equipment. By the time he dropped out of school in his mid-teens, he had already mastered the keyboard, piano, synthesizer, harmonium and guitar. However, he was particularly interested in the synthesizer because it was the “ideal combination of music and technology”.
Through his teenage years, AR made his name in Chennai first as a synthesizer player in movie soundtracks and then as a sought after composer of advertising jingles. His big break came when Mani Ratnam approached him to compose the music for ‘Roja’ (1992). The movie was one of the first multi-lingual smash hits across India with the freshness of AR’s music being a big driver of the movie’s success. ‘Time’ magazine included ‘Roja’ in the ten best movie soundtracks of all time (see http://entertainment.time.com/
Even as AR’s popularity rocketed in the Tamil movie market, further success in Bollywood came through his consistently fresh and resonant music for ‘Bombay’ (1995) – another multilingual hit from Mani Ratnam – followed by ‘Rangeela’ (1995) and then ‘Dil Se’ (1998). These critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies brought a completely new genre of music to Indian cinema.
In the new millennium, whilst AR continued making memorable movie music in India – notable successes being ”Guru”(2006), ‘Rang De Basanti’ (2006) and ‘Jodha Akbar’ (2008) – he also expanded his reach and his skillset with ventures that no Indian musician had ever undertaken before.
In 2002, AR composed the music for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Westend and Broadway musical, ‘Bombay Dreams’. AR’s music Danny Boyle’s ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (2008) won two Academy Awards (a first for an Asian) and sparked wild celebrations in Chennai. In 2012 AR composed a Punjabi song for the opening ceremony of London Olympics. In 2017, Rahman made his debut as a director and writer for the upcoming virtual reality film ‘Le Musk’. AR remains India’s most expensive and most sought after music composer, someone whose name by itself can set the cash register ringing for the film producer.
Striking parallels between the two legends
RD Burman (Pancham) and AR Rahman (AR) completely redefined movie music in their respective eras and although the two men grew up and lived in different cities, the parallels between their careers and working habits is striking. We draw upon two biographies of these music legends – Anirudha Bhattacharjee & Balaji Vittal’s award winning ‘R.D.Burman: The Man, The Music’ (2011) and Trilok Sharada’s ‘Notes of a Dream: The Authorised Biography of A.R.Rahman’ (2018): – to outline their strikingly similar paths to stardom:
Interestingly, but not accidentally, both men were highly focused musicians. Pancham repeatedly turned down acting roles in the 1960s and made his intention to become a notable composer in his own right clear to everyone in Mumbai. AR quit school in his mid-teens to focus exclusively on music.
Partly due to the musical education his father had imparted to him, AR brought to Indian movie music a mastery of electronic and synthesizer sounds that simply did not exist in the country in the 1990s. With the aid of these instruments, he proceeded to fuse Hindustani classical, reggae, Western pop & rock
AR’s authorized biography contains even more remarkable stories regarding the composer’s hunger to discover new sounds. When the legendary qawalli singer, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, came to Mumbai, “AR went to Nusrat’s room at some unearthly hour, knocked on the foor and politely introduced himself…AR said to him ”I want to learn qawalli from you.” And Nusrat just wakes up his musicians and calls them up to his room and they just played all night. Nusrat told Rahman a few things and AR took notes while they were playing.” In fact, in AR’s case his curiosity extends beyond music. “He finds the technicians, the visual effects guys and cinematographers and just keeps talking to them.”
Both of these composers were masters of their craft – which was primarily composing music for Indian movies. And yet their range of knowledge extended far beyond their chosen profession . As discussed in our 19th August note, this combination of in-depth specialization in one area alongside a vast body of knowledge is a powerful driver of creativity and original thought: see https://marcellus.in/blogs/
Whilst living a more bohemian life than AR, Pancham worked a slightly more conventional 12 hour day from 9am to 9pm in recording studios and in the pre-synthesizer era, he would be surrounded during these twelve hours by an army of musicians, most of whom worked with him for several decades. However, his musical ear was so finely honed that as soon a rehearsal began, even with a 100 piece orchestra, he could spot that, say, the sixth violin in the third row was out of tune.
If we do what everybody else does, if we read the same books that everybody else does, move around in the same social circles as everybody else and receive the same ‘elite education’ as everybody else, you can guess what will happen to us.
If, on the other hand, through a combination of luck, circumstance and hard work, we can take our minds down pathways that others haven’t explored, if we can take the road less travelled, then not only will life be more interesting, we might even achieve results that nobody had ever believed was possible.
On the first anniversary of Marcellus Investment Managers managing money, we thank our 1100 clients, our friends across the world and our families for their support. Over the past year, we have had the time of our lives in building this firm which now consists of nearly 30 people spread between Mumbai & Delhi. You can see here how we have done in our first 12 months of managing money in India: https://marcellus.in/
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