Gulzar’s simple beginnings in the Bombay film industry happened with the lyrics he wrote under the nom de plume of Gulzar Deenvi for films directed by Pradeep Nayyar (Choron Ki Baaraat, 1960; Diler Haseena, 1960) and S.M. Abbas (Shriman Satyawadi, 1960). His association with the Burmans owes its origin to a fortuitous face-off between S.D. Burman and lyricist Shailendra on the sets of Bimal Roy’s Bandini (1963). Another lyricist had to be summoned, and Gulzar penned ‘Mora gora ang layi le’. He and the younger Burman hit it off during the sitting sessions of this song.

After close to a decade as a lyricist and scenarist, he crossed an important milestone in 1971 when he turned independent director with Mere Apne (1971) and followed that up with Koshish (1972). Then came his first film with Pancham – Parichay (1972).

There has to be something about bathtubs and showers that brings forth solutions. Gulzar had given Pancham the first two lines of ‘Musafir hun yaaron’ to compose. While Archimedes might have had a reason for his principle of buoyancy to surface just where it did, Pancham did not. Yet, it was under the shower that Pancham came up with what would become the first gem in a glittering array.

‘I was sitting in Pancham’s music room one morning and warming up by strumming chords on my guitar,’ Bhanu Gupta recalls. ‘Pancham, who was taking a shower, opened the bathroom door, poked his head out and said, “Bajate thako, themo na (Keep playing, don’t stop).” So I continued playing the chord progression. When Pancham came out, he was humming a tune that fit the chord sequence I was playing. The line was “Mujhe chalte jana hai”. Later, he went back to the first two lines. So, in effect, Pancham composed the tune for the refrain first and then for the mukhra.’

The songs of ‘Parichay’

The source of inspiration behind Parichay remains hazy. The consensus is that writer Mani Barma borrowed the basic outline of Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music for the Bengali film Joy Jayanti (1970). This in turn inspired Gulzar’s Parichay. However, the film credits well-known Bengali writer Rajkumar Moitra as the storywriter. The fact that his then fiancée Raakhee gave him the idea after reading Moitra’s story also made news in film magazines in the early 1970s.

Gulzar has never denied that he was inspired by The Sound of Music – his tale of rebellious children tamed by a teacher had far too many similarities to the Hollywood musical. ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa’ is the Hindi equivalent of ‘Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do’ which made ‘Sa Re ke Sa Re’ Pancham’s answer to ‘Doe a deer, a female deer’. Both songs served as an explanation of the seven basic notes of music. However, to Pancham and Gulzar’s credit, the tune, the rhythm and the feel were all very original.

Gulzar worked with Pancham in three more films in quick succession: as lyricist in Doosri Seeta (1974), and as director and lyricist in Aandhi and Khushboo (1975). Directed by Gogi Anand, one of Pancham’s closest lifelong friends, Doosri Seeta bombed big time at the box office. With that, three RD–Gulzar gems went virtually unnoticed. It was only after the composer’s resurrection post-1994 that the audience could enjoy melodies like the Lata Mangeshkar solo ‘Din ja rahe hain ke raaton ke saaye’ and the Asha solos ‘Tu jahan mile mujhe’ and ‘Aaye re aaye re’.

The tunes of ‘Khushboo’

Khushboo, starring Jeetendra as the Panditmashai, was Gulzar’s first venture into Saratchandra Chatterjee territory. The Panditmashai angle was just one of the various subplots unfolding within the film, permitting Gulzar the luxury of landscaping a more present-day village and a more orchestral music score than what one would have expected in rural Bengal. This was seen in the Asha Bhonsle solos, ‘Bechara dil kya kare’ and ‘Ghar jayegi’, which had the right dose of ebullience and grace but posed the risk of being interpreted as modern, given the period setting. The tragic mood of the story was reflected in the use of the sarod in the background, played by Aashish Khan.

The Lata Mangeshkar solo ‘Do naino mein aansoo bharen hain’ was recorded in two versions and is, with its mix of the flute, tabla and the extended taan in the antara, an example of how a sad song can be composed without it getting maudlin. The film uses a version where, apart from the vibraphone, there is little instrumental accompaniment with the vocals.

The one song which has stood out for more than three decades is Kishore Kumar’s ‘O majhi re’. With its underlying Bhatiyali philosophy, this modern version of Bengali folk music is known as much for Pancham’s technical innovations like the use of the reverb and the blowing on a bottle filled with water to simulate the upper C note on the normal octave, as for its compositional and lyrical brilliance.

The ‘Aandhi’ soundtrack

Gulzar started writing the screenplay of Aandhi shortly after Parichay. He had penned down some thoughts, though the main characters eluded him. While working on the script, he met writer Kamleshwar Prasad Saxena who was writing a story titled ‘Aagami Ateet’ for producer Mallikarjun Rao. This story had a stark resemblance to A.J. Cronin’s Judas Tree and would be named Mausam (1976).

During the course of the discussion, it was decided that Kamleshwar would write a novel based on the storyline Gulzar had in mind. The result was the novel Kaali Aandhi. Although some shots of Aandhi were based on the story by Kamleshwar, Gulzar maintains there were differences between the screenplay and the novel as far as the characters were concerned.

The music of Aandhi, considered at par with Amar Prem, is the result of a symbiosis of the best of both Pancham’s and Gulzar’s worlds. One needs to go back a few years, when Gulzar was fascinated by ‘Raina beeti jaye’. He had said in Meri Sangeet Yatra: ‘The use of shuddha notes [in ‘Raina beeti jaye’] were representative of the purity of the courtesan.’

Gulzar probably extended this idea to Arati Bose in Aandhi, for the title music which had all the seven shuddha notes woven in a simple mesh.

With the Kishore–Lata duet ‘Is mod se jaate hain’, Pancham further used the title track, added a Teevra Madhyam, and delved into the territory of Raga Yaman. Replete with Gulzaresque imagery and references, the lyrics baffled Pancham. With his limited knowledge of poetry and precious little knowledge of Urdu, he had inquired of Gulzar if ‘nasheman’ was the name of a town. Often thought of as excelling only in minor-scale compositions, Pancham was possibly divinely inspired to create the song that shattered the notion.

In ‘Tere bina zindagi se koi’, Suchitra Sen and Sanjeev Kumar revive the memories of their love in Golconda Fort twelve years after their separation. Emotions are mellower, and so is the tune. Initially created by Pancham as a Puja song in the form of ‘Jete jete pothe holo deri’, Gulzar took to the tune and penned the lyrics which fit in snugly. Despite this, the song has a made-to-order feel as far as the theme of Aandhi is concerned.

Excerpted with permission from RD Burman The Man, The Music by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal, HarperCollins India.