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R D Burman made his debut with 'Chote Nawab' in 1961

Salaam Pancham

It was indeed an enchanting evening when S P Balasubramanyam sang the best of R D Burman's tunes. The warm singing and the rich acoustic orchestra make this compilation a treat

It was the most intimate tribute a singer could pay a composer. Earlier this year, on a summer evening, S P Balasubramanyam sang live the R D Burman songs he loved but never got to sing at the studios.

The two volumes of Yeh Shaam Mastani feature 21 songs from the Hyderabad concert. These are tunes any critic would place among R D Burman's best. And these are no run of the mill cover versions either. Cover versions of old Hindi hits, unless done by big names, usually make do with a keyboard-sequenced orchestra, and are flawed by imitative and uninspired singing. But this compilation gains from the star performers, and the energy they generate on the concert stage. The orchestra is acoustically rich, and the organisers spare no expense to make SPB's heartfelt renditions a treat. Others who performed at the concert are S P Sailaja, incidentally SPB's sister, Chitra, the southern playback star, and Sudesh Bhosale, who's now rising in the Mumbai music industry.

Rajesh Khanna inaugurates the concert, which begins with Yeh shaam mastani. Side A gives you R D Burman's more pensive tunes. Sudesh sings O meri dil ke chain and Chingari koi bhadke, in my view R D Burman's most meditative song, after which Chitra takes up Raina beet jaye. Gulzar pays a short tribute to his friend Pancham, and SPB and Chitra sing Tere bina zindagi si koi. All neatly rendered.

S P Balasubramanyam sang in memory of his friend R D Burman Chura liya is perhaps one of R D Burman's simplest, and most stylish, compositions, where he expertly exploited the resonance of the guitar strings. This hit from Yadon ki Barat opens Side B. Sailaja lacks the panache of Asha Bhonsle, and it takes SPB to make his entry and save the number. Piya tu ab to aaja, the vamp number from Caravan, begins languorously, and progresses to a pulsating beat. Sailaja competently manages its sensuous expression, as does Sudesh Bhosale, who specially enjoys doing the 'Monica' scream. He takes equal delight in the lusty number that follows, Duniya mein logon ko from Apna Desh. R D Burman intelligently adapted heaving and breathing sounds and made them intrinsic to the musical appeal of tunes like these. In fact he even sang an entire stanza in a hoarse scream, and Sudesh follows that style with relish.

Mehbooba mehbooba from Sholay was one of R D Burman's hoarsest hits. Sudesh makes it sound very staccato. His syncopated lines sound fine, but why has he ignored the flow of R D Burman's original rendition?

Chitra joins Sudesh in singing Jai jai shiva shankar. Sudesh and SPB sing Ek chatur naar kar, the north versus south jugalbandi from Padosan. Originally sung by Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar, here SPB is called upon to sing Mehmood's part and mock his own southern brethren!

Musafir hoon yaaron opens Side A of the second tape. The violin ensemble is excellent throughout, and particularly catches your attention in songs like Yeh jo mohabbat hain from Kati Patang, sung here by Sudesh. This talented singer provided delightful playback for Amitabh Bachchan in his recent Bade Mian, Chotte Mian. Somehow in Yeh jo mohabbat hain Sudesh seems to concentrate more on imitating Kishore Kumar's style, which he does rather unsuccessfully, rather than on singing it to the best of his own ability.

Gulzar, who wrote Naam gum jayega for Kinara, which he also directed, appears on stage again and says, "I might have said in this song that names and faces will be forgotten. But that's not true. I remember Pancham's face ever so often".

R D Burman's last hit, Kuch na kaho, comes next. SPB sings some original improvisations in this waltz number. Mere naina sawan bhadon from Mehbooba continues to be a great favourite with radio audiences, and is apparently one of SPB's favourites too. His initial hesitation gives way to a neatly etched interpretation. This is one of Indian cinema's better tunes in raga Shivaranjani. That's a raga in which SPB has sung maybe a hundred sentimental, and mostly overdone, songs in the south! Mere naina is sentimental too, but it has restraint, and the orchestra is arranged with fine imagination.

Side B of the second tape begins with the slow Aaja meri jaan, from the movie of the same name, which is followed by Chand mera dil from Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin. Then comes the funky Aaja aaja from Teesri Manzil, reminding you of the rock and roll years, and the flamboyant way in which R D Burman imported their musical exuberance into Hindi cinema. Sailaja, who sings the female lead, shows again that she is no Asha Bhonsle, but she does manage a better rendition of Dum maro dum, the song from Hare Rama Hare Krishna inspired by the hippie generation. O Maria was a number SPB sang originally as well, but it's one of R D Burman's insipid, routine tunes.

For the record, the concert was held at Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium, Hyderabad, on April 10, 1999. Sony Entertainment Television put it on air live.

The packaging of the tapes deserves special mention. The sepia pictures of R D Burman, Asha Bhosle and SPB, the biographical details and the classy layout of the inlay cards make the compilation a collector's joy. But why on earth do they describe SPB as an 'impresario', which means one who arranges shows and concerts? There are a couple of other blunders that creep into the over-effusive copy. For instance, it says S D Burman called his son Pancham because he would cry in 'all the five notes'. Pancham is just the fifth note, and doesn't mean five notes!

But those are minor quibbles. If you love R D Burman's tunes you'll love this compilation. You'll love it all the more if you are an SPB fan as well.

S R Ramakrishna

Yeh Shaam Mastani
Sony Music
Rs 150 (2 cassettes)
Rs 645 (CD)

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