One expects the unexpected from a book on a composer who has sprung endless surprises. As an insider, who holds the same family name as the subject of his study, Khagesh Dev Burman has some advantages. So, the reader would imagine he has access to stories that are beyond what is common knowledge about a composer who is still on the songlist of today’s teenagers, all the Bollywood song apps, on every RJ’s gig.
Sadly, this expectation is belied. The unknown in this book about the great musician’s life, very well documented in so many other tomes and in general Bollywood folklore, is few and far between. There are some interesting tracts in this heavy volume—for instance, how RD met and wooed his first wife, Rita Patel, a story that reads like a film scene, and some references to his relationship with his father, the legendary S.D. Burman. But apart from these sporadic stories, there is little that is new. However, the author does make bold to state a much-concealed fact: that S.D. Burman was sometimes subjected to violence at the hands of his wife, Meera Dev Burman, who also insisted on monopolising the right to write lyrics for his Bangla songs.
Beyond this, through the pages, Khagesh Dev Burman only enumerates song after song from movie after movie that Rahul Dev Burman composed music for. Interesting facets of the compositions certainly show up the author’s knowledge of music. But as the years roll and the pages turn, the dry accountant’s listing of every single song and its interpretation begins to pall. What is jarring is the author’s limited choice of words, his use of superlatives to repeatedly describe Lata Mangeshkar or Kishore Kumar’s singing, and use of phrases like ‘edifices of enigma’ and ‘yippee voice’ begin to grate. The personal interventions by the author, like “Now prepare for some bad news”, stick out. What is worse, many controversies that surrounded R.D. Burman, like the significant issue of lifting tunes from various regional and international sources that he has been accused of, has been completely glossed over with just a weak defence.
Other details of the composer’s work ethics, often quite mad and wild, are not talked about. For instance, there is nothing about his relationships with Shammi Kapoor, who gave life to his songs on the screen; Nasir Hussain, who had him in almost all his films; Gulzar, who gave RD’s songs the gravitas and complexity through his lyrics, and Asha Bhosle, friend and philosopher, who sang all his songs with a unique passion. All this could have been explored and explained in much detail. Even in the section where the Gulzar-Pancham collaboration for the much-publicised Dil Padosi Hai is discussed in detail, there is nothing new.
It is only in the epilogue that some facets of RD as a person and family man are discussed, like his penchant for practical jokes. The book has interesting layout aspects, in that quoted passages are set apart visually. An appendix shows a ‘Bird’s Eye View’ of his life. R.D. Burman has a huge fan following. The book would have done them a great service if it had been edited better. It would certainly have been less than half its forbidding weight and size.