Wednesday, April 20, 2011

354 PAGES OF PURE PANCHAM BLISS



By : Viplove Gupte

Circa December 1975. City Indore. The area was called Chhatribaug and the place where my parents and I were living was a 2 room house which was built in the premises of a Sai Baba temple. Apparently it was quite famous. I was 12 months old. As usual, I used to cry a lot. My dad being the super genius he was (he still is a super genius) he would peacefully take out his record player ( I forget the make and so does he) and put the record of a film sound track, not that he was listening to any other kind of music. As the needle would scratch the magnetic groove of the black vinyl, a strange sound, a strange sounding singer would belt out an even more stranger sounding sound. I would stop crying in an instant and would enjoy the music in my own way. Now don’t ask me what the ways were because I don’t remember. The song, to my surprise, was “Mehbooba Mehbooba” from Sholay, sung and composed by Pancham. This was told to me some 15-16 years later by my dad and amongst a zillion things I wish to thank him, I added one the most prominent thank you for introducing me to Pancham. Incidentally, the first movie I saw as a toddler of couple of months was another Pancham gem “Aandhi”.

So I finished reading RD Burman : The Man The Music – A book by an IIT Kharakpur grad and another one from Jadavpur university who are enjoying their corporate life as an SAP Consultant and a Banker. A couple of days back a colleague of mine, another Pancham buff Sudha Sadhanand (a person whom you can bond with over everything under the sun) called and told me about these two friends of hers. Their book on Pancham is all set to come out to the market and we should do something about the book on radio as this is a book on Pancham. I looked at Pancham’s picture which is on my desk (gifted by another friend Geetanjali). A lovely picture where he is sporting an all while ensemble including a golf cap and a red muffler looking at you intently and his hands posed in a unique way, quizzing the person looking at the picture – Dude, do you even know what you are doing?

So a lot of people like Pancham. I am biased towards Pancham. I am obsessed with Pancham. I am a borderline lunatic. Probably would have turned a stalker if he was alive. Like a whole lot, I was a part of Yahoo groups of Pancham, interacted briefly over emails with Vinay who gave the world www.panchamonline.com and also met then Punekari Ankush through the same group. Also, thinking of Pancham also makes me remember a school senior called Sunil who had a huge collection of Pancham songs in cassettes. Songs on Akashwani, and yes, my first job as a Head of Programming of an FM radio station where my Station Head Alok Purohit and I shared the same madness – Pancham. Without asking anybody and having the power to buy any music I want as Head of Programming of a music station, I painstakingly bought all the popular numbers of Pancham from the market. It was not the entire collection but it was one of the best collections with all the hits and some rare gems of Pancham. It reached to an extent that the music store I used to buy CDs from, would send me CDs that he would scout for in the wholesale market.

I have a strange love for Pancham, almost Gulzaresque. Once more, I took benefit of my position and decided to host a show on Pancham on radio. In his memory on 4th January, 2002 I was to host a 3 hour show to be broadcast at 9 pm. All the years of listening to Pancham, dad’s guidance, me and Alok singing songs before short-listing the 34 songs (I think so) we would play in the show and then amidst all the preparation, creating a sales package for the show which my dear friend Nitin Patodi went and sold to Patwa Motors of Palasia, Indore saying that we are celebrating Pancham’s birthday. My sound engineer and friend Ravi Harry and me spent 3 days to cut the show. The show started with me saying “Pancham tum nahi rahe” in a true Gulzar style and later on I went on talking about a subject which I could talk on for hours – Pancham. The show also caused anguish to some Pancham fans as I also played some of the songs which Pancham got inspired from including the song that stopped me from crying – A unique song that Ravi and I thought was a path-breaking idea where we mixed Mehbooba Mehbooba and Say You love me (Demis Rousso). It took Ravi close to 2 hours to match the chord and create a seamless song. Don’t remember clearly but there were other inspirations too which we played on my show. Prateik Sharma, an RJ then who used to work with me, claims to have the recording of the show. Looks like will have to hold him to gun point to get hold of the amateurish RJing attempt of mine.So coming back to the book.

I saw Jitesh Pillai’s tweet and Sudha’s facebook status saying that they are enjoying the book already. I was almost red and hence ran to the Landmark book store, which incidentally is in the same premises where my office is (I know, blessing in disguise). To my shock, the book hadn’t come to Landmark. I asked my team mate Shreya to call up another book store “Book Lover” to find out about the book. No luck. I was damn pissed. Jitesh went on tweeting. In the mean time, some reviews also appeared on internet. This is really not done, I thought and pinged Sudha on bbm (Blackberry messenger). She in turn called up one of the authors Balaji Vittal and complained to him. Probably 15 minutes had passed when my phone showed a couple of missed calls. I don’t usually pick calls from the numbers that I don’t have in my phone book or prefer to get an SMS from the caller before answering.
For some strange reason, I called back and it was Balaji’s number. For all the right and wrong reasons, he turned out to be a very very sweet chap and was stepping out to send me the book via Blue Dart courier so that it reaches me in the morning. We spoke for some time and he said, he will call back in an hour with the details. I sent him my address as discussed. In an hour, he said, the book will be delivered to me post 12.30 tomorrow as the distributor and publisher have promised.

Next day, at around 2.05 in the afternoon, this guy from the book shop “Book Lover” was standing at the reception with my copy of the book. I also stole a glance at the person who was going to receive the other copy he was carrying. It was addressed to Vishwas Nerurkar, a man who is known as an official Hindi Film music buff and a Pancham Bhakt. In between, I joined Balaji’s list of facebook friends, and soon to the facebook page created for the book. Soon, Aniruddha also joined my list of facebook friends and I started reading the book. I have just finished reading the book. For the first time, I have read a book so carefully and lived the book with the writers. I was a part of the journey that Pancham took. I don’t understand the music the way the two gentlemen writers have written. I don’t understand the guitar riffs and Bassa Nova rhythm, or 4 X 4 progression leave alone the technical part like Komal Dha or Teevra Ni or lower Octave. I only love music the way it feels. I appreciate music because the way it is able to evoke emotions in me or any living being so beautifully. A near hypnotic effect of music has been witnessed by me when my friend Utkarsh Naithani did a music appreciation course for all me and my team where I saw individuals feeling the same emotions as the composer had felt while creating the music. Its uncanny. It was spooky but the truth is that I saw it happening to 3 different individuals with 3 different compositions. Must do it again sometime. But this book took me to all the songs that I grew up listening to. I remembered some of the most obvious and some hidden gems of Pancham.

The book is a treasure trove. For people who live on Pancham, and for people who have no idea who Pancham was. It is a meticulously written book or should I say a song with each stanza adorned with beautiful words. The best thing about the book begins when the authors dedicate the book to people Pancham worked with. I dreaded to see one name appearing in the book but the best part, the authors were thorough in their research when they wrote almost non-judgmental about Sapan Chakraborty. It is not a usual book of anecdotes and the greatness of Pancham. We all know about them. The book also shows the lazy, lethargic Panchm who trusted people a little more than required in the commercial world. While he agreed to play “Harmonica” for Lakshmikant Pyarelal, they back stabbed him in the end causing a major setback to his career and life. The books also talks about his assistants and his army of musicians leaving him.

The book is so accurate in its descriptions and I know for a fact that all the people who worship Pancham will agree to every single thing it has to say. The author duo have spent hours in talking to people who worked with Pancham, many other film music aficionados , writers, journalists and film historians but unlike all other books, this books shows Pancham in the right light. His obsession with Asha Bhonsle who probably was too commercially oriented to be with her “Bubbs” when he was going through his heart surgery or when he breathed his last. This books talks at length about many legends who gave the best creatives of their lives to Pancham – The legendary Bhanu Gupta, Manohari Singh, Basu Chakravarti, Homi Mullan, Kancha, Tony Vaz and many such artists who were the breaths that the soul called Pancham took.

At no moment, the books gets preachy or gets in to the anecdotal mode where a thousand fake stories were associated with the genius of Pancham. It deftly touches the quirks that he had like “I don’t know, I want this sound any how” and left his team to create the sound. It doesn’t talk about his idiosyncrasies at all which is a relief to people like me. For all the books that I have read in my life, especially books on great people written by some, they all are borderline worshiping bibles. Aniruddha and Balaji have managed to steer clear of the classic trap of making the man larger than the work which my opinion is a commendable achievement. But the real beauty of the book is the ease that these two authors have shown in explaining the finer nuances of Pancham’s songs. As a listener, all of us have enjoyed the wizardry that Pancham often displayed in his songs, the expectations that he would bring to his compositions, the unique treatment that he would offer in his most average songs and his crazy arrangement stories, we have enjoyed them all. The book, however, explains the journey of composition of many of Pancham gems. How he borrowed from his dad’s repertoire, how he got inspired from various tunes, how he was forced to create something similar, From ABBA to Boney M to Pink Floyd….all the influences. The book covers it all and that’s what makes the book stand apart. It fills the gap that all of us have felt.

Many Pancham fans have contributed in the making of this book, including discussions on Pancham’s yahoo group which eventually became victim of some crazy zealous people who wanted to compare Pancham to AR Rahman. Well, there is hardly any comparison between the two. Both of them are similar to share the dissimilarity in their music. AR Rahman has admitted listening to RD Burman, SD Burman and many other Hindi film composers in his growing up years (his book with Nasreen Munni Kabeer) and also accepted that as a kid he was singing Dum Maro Dum without realizing the meaning of the songs. These are two different musicians, born in two different eras and have contributed to film music in ways that nobody else did. The book, however, stays clear of comparing Pancham with any other music director and hence does not tread the path, once again proving the intent of the authors to write a clean book on Pancham, a true dedication. Hats off to Aniruddha and Balaji was being able to stay true to the core of the book, retaining the soul of the book throughout by not giving in to the cheap gimmicks many great authors have resorted to. They themselves have admitted in the “Author’s note” that there are people better qualified to write a book on Pancham but since this is not a “Mahima Mandan” of Pancham but a mere glimpse of musical journey of his and how his music has survived ages and how he is one of those composers who got his due only after he left. I truly believe in the book and the authors as there is not one single “give in” trick in the book, not even one cheap paragraph which can be used to promote the book (there are authors who wrote about sexual orientation of Mahatma Gandhi to sell the book). In the age of commercial writing, this is a herculean task but the duo carried the cross on their shoulders.

Yet, I have a complaint to make to Anirrudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal both – just 364 pages?


PS : The book makes you burst in to singing, smiling, whistling, jumping and crying almost at the same time. Read it if you are not worried about the surroundings and people around you.