When Rahul Dev Burman was signed on for Chhote Nawab, his first film as an independent Music Director, he was clear about one thing - that Lata Mangeshkar should sing for his first film. This was the time when papa Sachin Dev Burman and Lata Mangeshkar were engaged in a cold-war following some misunderstanding in 1957. It is difficult to say whether it was his putra prem that resulted in SDB making up with his favourite Lota, but RDB’s first recorded was sung by Lata Mangeshkar.
Ghar Aaja Ghir Aaye, an exquisite composition in Raag Malgunji, demonstrates RDB’s strong grounding in Indian classical music (he had learnt sarod from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan). It is noteworthy that for his first song RDB selected a Raag that had till then not been used much in Hindi Film Music (I know of only one instance that predates this song)
Thus began a partnership that would result in close to 340 songs over the next 30+ years. I strongly believe that it is impossible to make a 'Best of RDB' list without including a few Lata songs (the reverse is possible, though). I also believe that Pancham reserved some of his best tunes for Lata, although his output with Asha Bhosle is much wider and deeper.
In the 1960s, Pancham wasn’t as prolific as in the subsequent decades. In fact, his second release as a composer came 4 year after his debut. Like Chhote Nawab, Bhoot Bangla was also produced by comedian Mehmood’s borther Usman Ali. Bhoot Bangla, which also showed us a glimpse of Pancham as an actor, had a nice Lata solo picturised on the lovely Tanuja.
In 1966 came another Usman Ali film - Pati Patni. RDB again utilized Lata’s dulcet voice for two extremely melodious solos. According to the man himself, Kajre Badarwa was composed for some other film, but Mehmmod liked the tune so much that he insisted on using it for Pati Patni. This song, based on Raag Piloo, starts with beautiful flute and santoor prelude.
For the next few years, Pancham did not do many films, composing music for around 2 films per year. Following the success of Teesri Manzil (which, incidentally, had no Lata song), RDB made a permanent place for himself in the Nasir Hussain camp. Nasir Hussain’s Baharon Ke Sapne was a primarily Lata dominated soundtrack with songs ranging from the frothy Chunari Sambhal Gori to the innovative Kya Janoon Sajan. I pick Aaja Piya Tohe Pyar Doon due to my personal liking for flute dominated orchestration, and there is plenty of flute in the interludes of this song.
Mehmood and his brother continued to stick with Pancham for their next film starring Meena Kumari - Chandan Ka Palna. This film had a nice Raag Jogiya based song - O Ganga Maiya, but I prefer Sharabi Mera Naam Ho Gaya, a ‘tipsy’ song. It is nice to hear Lata letting herself go and having some fun. I also think that whenever Lata sang such songs, she lent a certain wonderful charm by her characteristic underplaying of emotions. This song has just a subtle tinge of slur in the rendition without going overboard (barring the tell-tale hiccups at a few places). The way Pancham composed the antaras also adds to that tipsy feeling.
Here are a few more Lata melodies created by Pancham in the 1960s.
1970s can be considered as the peak period for RDB. He met with extraordinary success with soundtrack after soundtrack. Although his best for this period was with Kishore Kumar, he continued to create gems for Lata to vocalize. His more experimental female compositions went to Asha Bhosle, when it came to traditional melodies, Lata seemed to be his primary choice. From time to time, however, he did give Lata songs that one would normally expect to go to Asha. Here are some of my favorites from 1970-1975.
Kis Liye Maine Pyar Kiya - The Train - A tune made for Lata.
Raina Beeti Jaaye - Amar Prem: This is undoubtedly my most favourite Pancham soundtrack, and this Raag Lalit/Todi based song is one of my top Lata-Pancham songs.
Jiya Na Laage Mora - Buddha Mil Gaya: Here's another classical based song.
Aaj To Meri Hansi Udai - Gomti Ke Kinare: A sad mujra with a distinctive Pancham flavour.
Bahon Mein Chale Aao - Anamika: A cute, seductive song
Tune Chheen Liya - Bandhe Haath (1973, Majrooh Sultanpuri) - A light, romantic number where Pancham experiments by choosing Lata to sing a tune that probably would’ve gone to Asha.
Keh Rahe Hain Ye Aansoo - Jheel Ke Us Paar - This tune was later copied in a Malayalam film.
Jo Baat Ishaaron Mein Kahi - Joshila (1973, Sahir Ludhiyanvi)
Chori Chori Chupke Chupke - Aap Ki Kasam
One of the most memorable Music Director - Lyricist partnerships of all time has been between Gulzar and Pancham. They have created such gems together that it is impossible to talk about the contribution of one without the other. Lata Mangeshkar has sung many wonderful songs for them, right from Parichay (1972) to Libaas (1991). Here’s one such gem from Doosri Sita.
Do Nainon Mein Aansoo Bhare Hain - Khushboo: The clip below is from a version which focuses primarily on the vocals and has minimal orchestral support.
In the next part of this post I will list a few of my favourite Lata-Pancham songs from 1976 onwards