He would have turned 82 on Sunday (June 27) had he not passed away on January 4, 1994, at the age of 54. A couple of hours before his untimely death, Rahul Dev Burman was at a get-together at his old friend, producer-director Shakti Samanta’s, house. “We were seeing him after five-six months. Panchamda had undergone a surgery and had not been keeping well. Unable to give his best to his music, his career had hit a rough patch. But that evening, after a long time, he was in high spirits. He told dad that a few days ago, at a New Year’s party on the sets of 1942: A Love Story, everyone had raved about his songs. Dad assured him that he would be back soon,” recalls Ashim, Shakti Samanta’s son.
There were around 15-20 guests at the bungalow that evening and when dinner was announced, Ashim recalls that the singer-composer took his father aside and told him quietly that they would eat later. “They sat down for dinner only after the others had left. My wife, Bulbul, served them and Panchamda was delighted to see his two favourite dishes on the menu — prawns and broccoli,” Ashim adds.
He finally left around 1 am. An hour-and-a-half later, Ashim got a call that still chokes him up, “Panchamda nahin rahe.” He rushed to RD Burman’s house, which was barely two minutes away. Soon after, Asha Bhosle arrived and by the morning, the entire film fraternity was there to pay their last respects to the man who had revolutionised Hindi film music.
RD Burman’s association with the Samantas started with Aradhana when he assisted his ailing father and the film’s composer, Sachin Dev Burman. Kati Patang was his first film with the banner as a music director. Ashim, who was in college at the time, would rush back for music settings and recordings. He remembers RD Burman composing Yeh shaam mastani and how much his dad and he had loved the tune. “Dad pointed out that he had heard something similar earlier and Panchamda confessed that it was inspired by one of his father’s Bengali songs, Aakash keno dake, mon chhuti chaye, mayurpankhi megh, oi jaye bheshe jaye. Then, with typical Panchamda humour he quipped, ‘Baap ka maal hai, apna hi hai’ and made us laugh,” he chuckles.
Amar Prem brings back memories of Bada natkhat hai from the movie. He heard RD Burman singing the song and came running out of his bedroom and into the living room to listen. “I was at the recording and I have to admit that Lataji’s (singer Lata Mangeshkar) rendition was 99 per cent to Panchamda’s 100 per cent,”Ashim raves.
He flashbacks to when they were composing the background score for a fight sequence he had shot in slow motion for his own film, Main Awara Hoon. Initially, he was taken aback by the fast beats RD Burman came up with, realising the genius of the man only when he was watching the sequence in sync with the music. “He was dad’s friend so I couldn’t treat him like a pal. He was a friend to be respected and yet so much fun. That was why it was so disheartening to see him ailing and down in the dumps. I’m glad his last day was a happy one with us. The memory will stay with me forever. I miss Panchamda every day,” Ashim sighs.