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The Men Behind Gulabi Aankhen

Ashwini Deshpande

By Khagesh Dev Burman
Rupa Publications, New Delhi, 2016, pp. xi 543, Rs. 795.00

By Sujata Dev
OM Books International, Noida, 2016, pp. 238, Rs. 595.00


These books on the careers of two musical legends, firmly ensconced in the galaxy of stars that adorn the firmament of Hindi film music (HFM)—Mohammad Rafi and Rahul Dev Burman—provide us with a glimpse into the making of the majestic landscape of the golden era of HFM (roughly 1950 to 1980), in addition to feeding into the readers’ nostalgia. The two men were not only at the pinnacle of success during their lifetime, but the contemporary remixes and re-inventions of their songs testify to the enduring appeal of their music that still manages to touch the hearts of a generation that may not necessarily relate to the films that housed their original music. Rafi was older than R.D. Burman (popularly known by his musical nickname, Pancham, or the fifth note of the octave) by fifteen years, but their careers intersected to produce some stunning compositions. Both died relatively young, in their mid-fifties. Reading the two books, one realizes that the similarity between the two men sort of ends there. Both the starting points as well as the trajectories of their careers were, in some senses, diametrically opposite. Mohammad Rafi was one of eight siblings, born into a family of extremely meager means. His landless father, whose only source of income was cooking for others on special occasions, could not make ends meet for this large family and moved to Lahore, from a small village in Amritsar district, in search of better livelihood. Rafi was being trained to be a barber in his brother’s shop, and was, thus, the most unlikely contender for the top spot he eventually occupied, as not only one of the best singers of his times, but as one of all-time greats. R.D. Burman was born literally with a silver spoon in his mouth, being the great-great grandson of the 179th Maharajah of Tripura and the son of a musical genius, Sachin Dev Burman. With this background, especially as he assisted his father in his early years, his life was cut out for him, and the real surprise would have been had he not progressed to becoming a full-fledged independent music director. While Rafi never looked back and continued to scale new heights of fame and popularity from the early 1950s to his death in 1980, admittedly in stiff competition with Kishore Kumar in the 1970s, RD’s career was more checkered. He experienced dizzy ...

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