S D Burman – Early Days

Sachin Dev Burman was born on 1st October 1906 in Comilla, (Now In Bangladesh) in a Royal Family. He was good at studies, though since childhood, he was inclined towards singing as well. He was attracted to folk music, more so to Bhatiali and बाउल songs. He at times even bunked his classes at college to meet the singers, who used to sing these songs. So it’s not surprising that his songs are greatly influenced by folk music. He completed his education till B A in Comilla, as per his father’s wish.
His Father, Navdeep Chandra, always encouraged him, but warned him to be consistent at his studies as well. Young Sachin was also fond of games like, Football, Tennis and Cricket and was also interested in fishing. The Royal family didn’t of course approve of the young prince’s activities. But his passion for music was so great that he ignored any such hints of giving up these activities.
In 1925, he moved to Calcutta (now Kolkata) for M A in English Literature. (He didn’t complete M A). He was studious, but he missed his little Comilla a lot! Calcutta was a big city even then, but he missed his fishing at lakes, open skies and chirping birds and greenery. But Calcutta was also famous for music. He was greatly inspired by stalwarts like Rabindranath Tagore, Dwijendralal Roy, Rajnikant Sen. Sachin Dev Burman had now decided to follow his heart and dedicate himself to music. He met K C Dey in 1925, and took his tutelage for seven years. This time Sachin’s father was against his decision, he wanted him to go abroad for higher studies and get settled in Tripura at a higher government post. Sachin da totally disagreed with him and continued with his passion.
During 1925 to 1930, he was blessed with acquaintances like K C Dey, Hemendra Kumar Roy, Sudhirendra Sanyal, Bishmadev Chatterji (who was his music teacher also) and Dhurjoti Prasad, all of them left an impact on young Sachin that was one of the major influence on his composing skills. Sachin da was also in touch with Sarod maestro, Ustad Khalifa Badal Khan, where he learnt Khyal singing. He used to visit Comilla on important events, where he used to listen to various renowned artists. He grabbed all he could while listening to their vocals that enriched his knowledge of folk songs, sufi songs.

His father expired in 1931, and he lost his big support. The Royal family wanted him to come back and look after the legacy, but Sachin da could not give up his passion and went back to Calcutta. His monthly allowance from The Royal family was also severed, he started music classes. He continued his other hobbies, fishing, tennis etc. He also composed for musical plays, ‘Sati Teerth’ and ‘Janani’, both the plays were popular. He grabbed every opportunity that came his way and broadened his horizons. He was very eager to make a gramophone record, but HMV had already declined him for nasal quality of his voice. But Hindustan Record Company dared to go for his voice and in 1932, his first gramophone record was out. He was merely 26 then. His achievements and his knowledge were far superior for his age. The songs were ‘Dakle Kokil Roz Bihane’ and ‘Ae Pathe Aaj Aesho Priya’. It proved to be a successful association. Many of his Bengali songs proved popular. I won’t go into details of his Bengali songs.
In 1933, one incidence left him broken hearted, but he pulled himself together and continued forwards. For a film, Yahudi Ki Ladki, his friend and composer, Pankaj Mulik recorded a song, but due to faulty pronunciation of Urdu words, it was rejected. Later it was re-recorded with Pahadi Sanyal. Another incidence is also talked about, when Sachin da was offered a role of a sage in an Urdu film, ‘Selima’ and only after reassurance that his identity would not be relieved, he played that small role. His face was disguised with heavy beard and mustache, and was unrecognizable on screen!

On 10th February 1938, he married Meera Dhargupta, who was once his student. The marriage wasn’t well received from both sides. The Royal family was already hostile to him for abandoning his duty because of his passion for music. The marriage poured more fuel on the fire because it wasn’t the marriage between equals, this was the reason for their hostility. Meera’s parents also were unhappy, though popular, Sachin da didn’t have a stable home or a career and was more of a wanderer. Meera Burman used to write songs in Bengali for him. She also used to assist him for composing songs. Burman da used to consider himself lucky to have her as his wife.

burman 1
Sachin & Meera Dev Burman

Meanwhile, many of his Bengali songs were released and proved popular. Now a different responsibility was on its way. His son, Pancham was born on 27th June 1939. During the period 1939-40, he composed for four Bengali films. He also sang for R C Boral, for the film, Nari, that was a background song.
He suffered major setbacks in 1943, when his elder brother, Lieutenant Colonel Kiran Kumar, left for heavenly abode. Kiran was interested in music and was closer to Sachin da. They used to discuss music at lengths. In the same year, one of his closest friends, Ajoy Chakraborty also died, who used to be his favourite lyricist. His childhood friend, and composer, Himanshu Dutt also died in 1943. These successive losses were too much for him. The three of them were a musical triangle for a number of Bengali songs.
He was constantly getting proposals and invitations from Bombay (now Mumbai) to join Hindi films there. He rejected the first proposal from Ranjit Films, in 1942. Calcutta was too close to his heart and he was against leaving the city for any reason. But he wasn’t well adjusted in Bengali Films and the response wasn’t good. So in 1944, when he was invited by Filmistan Studios, he could no longer avoid it. His old friend, Sushil Majumdar was in Filmistan already, and endorsed the studio. Finally in October 1944, The Burmans left Calcutta for Bombay.

Burman da in Bombay –
The teething period wasn’t easy. Stalwarts like Ghulam Haider, Naushad, Anil Biswas, were already at peak and some new composers were up coming. Husnalal Bhagatram, C Ramchandra, Bulo C Rani, Sajjad were on the horizon. Burman da was at loss with two of his deficiencies. Firstly he could not speak fluent Hindi and here, in Bombay, Hindi language had a lot of little additions from various states. Secondly, he was a complete stranger as far as conducting the orchestra at the recording was concerned. His Hindi always remained Bad. But for orchestra however, C Ramchandra came to his rescue and did the job for him. Though C Ramchandra had composed for a few films already, he was so helpful to Burman da, and never made an issue about assisting him. With his help, the songs of Shikari were recorded. The film was released and barring a few songs, the response was average.

Burman da was a little taken aback at the response, he realized that something was missing in his tunes. One day he heard a servant at his home, humming Naushad’s songs from Rattan. He was hurt, but he started thinking about it. Why was the servant, humming Naushad’s songs, while he didn’t care for his master’s songs. He realized that the tune should be very attractive, but at the same time, it should be simple enough for a common man to croon. A similar incidence also took place at the Filmistan studios. Sashadhar Mukherji wasn’t impressed by his tunes. Sachin da used to present a few tunes everyday to Mr Mukherji. Suddenly one day, he passed a tune. Sachin da was bewildered, why that particular tune was passed. Incidentally he heard the office boy humming that tune and that particular mystery was solved. Sachin da has written in his autobiography that, he started getting his tunes passed by the office boy, before presenting them to S Mukherji. And to his surprise, majority of the tunes, liked by the office boy, got passed by S Mukherji too!

Both the incidences made him realize the importance of a simple but catchy tune. The tune should not be complex and heavily decorated with classical music elements. He learnt a good lesson ‘Easily hummable, catchy tune is the key to success’.

He never forgot those incidences in his life and offered melodious songs always keeping that lesson in mind. The songs of Aath Din were also received with an average response. ‘Ummeed Bhara Panchhi’ sung by Burman da was popular and is still considered as one of his earlier hits. For both the films, Amirbai was his choice. He also introduced Meena Kapoor, in the same movie. Her father was Burman da’s friend and he encouraged her. The song from Aath Din was released early (earlier she had recorded for another film too) and became her first Hindi film song. Ashok Kumar was still singing for himself. For Shikari, the actress Paro, also sang three solos but was unable to create a place for her. After a song in Do Bhai, Burman da never offered her a song. Ashok Kumar was an average singer and Burman da used to worry a lot for final take. He used to force him for a lot of rehearsals, and yet was nervous about the final result.
After Indian independence and division of India, his native place Comilla was a part of Bangladesh. It was a great shock to him. Though he had severed all ties with The Royal family, his childhood memories were irreplaceable!

In 1947, major breakthrough was awaiting him. He got acquainted with Geeta Roy, a beautiful Bengali girl, with a sweet and expressive voice. He was very much impressed and offered her the songs of Do Bhai. Both of them got instant recognition! Thanks to ‘Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya’. Geeta Roy was a must for his films thereafter. For all his forthcoming films he asked for her voice at least for a couple of songs. Rafi also sang for Sachin Da for the first time for this movie.
The film also introduced lyricist, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, who later penned a few songs for S D Burman.
The year also saw two failures,’Dil Ki Rani’ & ‘Chittor Vijay’. Incidentally, both the films had Raj Kapoor & Madhubala as lead pair. In the former, RK sang for himself and was an attraction, but the film failed at the Box office.

In 1948, the film ‘Vidya’ was already much talked about for the off screen relation between the lead pair, Dev Anand & Suraiya. Their screen presence was highlighted by Burman da’s songs. Mukesh sang for Dev Anand once again after Ziddi.

In 1949, again he failed to deliver catchy tunes and the movie ‘Kamal’ was a complete failure. But the same year saw a major success, with Dilip Kumar, Kamini Kaushal starrer, ‘Shabnam’. This time he went for Shamshad Begum as the lead singer, though Geeta Roy and Lalita Deulkar also had their share of songs.
The multilingual song ‘Yeh Duniya Roop Ki Chor’ was popular. Till now, he worked with lyricists like G S Nepali, Yashoda Nandan Joshi, Harkishan ‘Premi’ and Raja Mehdi Ali Khan. But for Shabnam, he gave a chance to Qamar Jalalabadi, who wrote all the songs for the movie. Though the songs were popular, they worked together for the first and the last time. He was now again thinking of moving back to Calcutta, but Ashok Kumar was sure about his talent. He asked him to complete his final film in hand and wait for its results. Fortunately he was ready, and started composing for his ‘last film’ in Mumbai. But the success of songs of Mashal was magical and Sachin da decided to stay back in Mumbai. It was a big turning point in Hindi films history. He never thought of leaving for Calcutta again.

The year 1950, also brought a fresh change in Burman da’s career, where his alliance with ‘Navketan Films’ begin. Navketan’s first film, ‘Afsar’ was offered to him and he again composed for Suraiya. It was the only movie, where Dev Anand had no songs. The film wasn’t a success, but Suraiya’s solos were a rage.
The year also proved memorable for other reasons as well! Three of the singers made their debut in Burman da’s song career.
Till now, Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum were his main female singers. The year 1949, brought a Tsunami called, ‘Lata Mangeshkar’ who changed each and every aspect of playback singing. Every composer wanted her to sing for them. Burman da also offered her, two solos for the movie ‘Mashal’ and a melodious & successful journey began!
Manna Dey also sang his first song for S D Burman, in Mashal. He was with Burman Da since 1946, he was his music assistant , as well as look after day to day activities. He was the one to teach the tunes to other singers. He was expecting Sachin da to give him a chance as well for playback. He was singing since 1942, but was typecast for mythological films. This time he sang for Burman da, two solos, ‘Upar Gagan Vishal’ was his first major hit.

So in a way, Geeta Roy and Manna Dey got their first big berak with Sachin Dev Burman.
Kishore Kumar is considered Burman da’s favourite singer, he used to consider him his second son. Kishore Kumar had sung a few lines for Aath Din, which were a part of the background score. He sang his first song with Burman Da for Pyar in 1950, he was singing for Raj Kapoor. Kishore Kumar sang for him for the first and the Last time.
The movie, Pyar also was a flop. Later Kishore Kumar was Burman da’s main singer for Kishore Kumar. Though in my opinion Rafi was also given equal chance for Dev Anand.
For Mashal, Kavi Pradeep was added to his lyrict’s list, but they never worked together. It is said that, Pradeep used to set tunes for his lyrics, and hence the songs were
many a times considered as his own. The composer’s contribution used to be questioned. Burman Da advised him against it and never worked with him again.
For Pyar, he got associated with Rajendra Krishna, who penned songs for him in early 1950s for a few films. I conclude this part of the series here.

Let’s move on to the song list. I have included a few non-film Hindi songs as well. So here we go, in chronological order………….

1. Prem Ki Pyari Nishani – Tajmahal (1941) S D Burman / Maadhulal Damodar Master – Pandit Anuj
Burman da was formally trained in classical music, though he was more inclined to folk music. The strong classical base to his singing is well evident in this song. Those who criticize his voice, should listen to it. It’s a perfect answer to all their criticism. With minimal instrumental help, he has performed the song beautifully.

2. Tum Ho Bade Chitchor – Non-Film Song (1946) Meera Dev Burman
A cute romantic song by Maestro’s wife. Her voice is very sweet and expressive. Their marriage being love marriage, it’s but natural that those expressions are spontaneous. Meera Burman assisted him during his early days. She is said to be an important part of his musical journey. She wasn’t offered a fair chance in Hindi films, a bit of injustice to her, a fact much talked about! After R D got busy in his individual assignments, in 70s she was again there to support him.

3. Har Din Hai Naya – Shikari (1946) Amirbai Karnataki & Ashok Kumar / Lyrics – G S Nepali
Shikari was his first Hindi movie as a composer. Producer Sashadhar Mukherji from Filmistan was the one who invited him from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to Bombay (now Mumbai). He was yet to find Geeta Roy, still Ashok Kumar was singing for himself. Amirbai was at the peak of her career. Sachin da worked very hard to bring out the best of Ashok Kumar.

4. O Babu Babu Re – Aath Din (1946) S D Burman & S L Puri / Lyrics – G S Nepali
One of the very few duets, he sang for Hindi films. The video is not available, but here’s the audio. A light hearted song, a rare one for him. But it’s a delight to listen to his rendition in such a song. No one expects such a song in Burman da’s voice, but I totally enjoyed it.

5. Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya – Do Bhai (1947) Geeta Dutt / Lyrics – Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
Geeta Dutt was a newcomer then, but Burman da was very much confident about her singing abilities. He was proven right. The song brought her instant recognition and Burman da got his first major break. It helped both of them settle in industry. Geeta Dutt sang it at a tender age of 17, the maturity and melancholy in her expressions are amazing. The song also started a successful association between the two. Sachin da was assisted by Madan Mohan for this movie.

6. Loot Liya Dil Chitchor Ne – Dil Ki Rani (1947) Shyam Sunder / Lyrics – Yashoda Nandan Joshi
The film is of course more famous for the song, ‘Kahan Gaya Chitchor’ sung by Raj Kapoor himself. His voice has uncanny resemblance with Mukesh. But that’s the only song, he was offered in the movie. He plays a singer and poet, in the movie. Equally important role is played by Shyam Sunder, who is his friend. Both of them get equal footage in the film too. Shyam Sunder sings three solos. All of the songs have a comic element, Burman da composing them with equal vigour. The film also has four solos by Geeta Dutt, some of them are really good.

7. Lai Khushi Ki Duniya – Vidya (1948) Mukesh & Suraiya / Lyrics – Anjum Pilibhati
A romantic song, the couple looks great on screen. It was one of the most talked about couple that time and it’s said that, the song also represented their off screen romance.

8. Jeevan Jyoti Bujhti Jaye – Vidya (1948) Amirbai Karnataki / Lyrics – Yashoda Nandan Joshi
Though there are more popular Suraiya songs, I couldn’t help adding my favourite. Amirbai played the character of Suraiya’s mother and got opportunity to sing three solos. She continued character roles in future as well, in addition to playback singing.
She sings this soulful bhajan with such a dedication that our heart goes out for her. Woven in a typical melody, it grows on you.

9. Kali Badariya Chha Gayi – Non-Film Song (1948) Meera & Sachin Dev Burman
Again a non-film song, sung by the couple. Meera Burman was really a very good singer. Her expressions in this song too, captures our attention. Burman da supports her very well throughout the song. After listening to it, we can actually imagine a shy wife singing with her husband. Credit goes to the couple, I fully enjoyed this song too!

10. Yeh Duniya Roop Ki Chor – Shabnam (1949) Shamshad Begum / Lyrics – Qamar Jalalabadi
The multi lingual song was an attraction. Shamshad sings all the languages with equal ease. The song has parts of Gujarati, Tamil, Bengali, Marathi
Even her Marathi pronunciation is fairly good. Especially the word ‘कळी’, which means a bud of a flower, is sung nicely.

11. Kehne Ko Hai Taiyar Magar – Kamal (1949) Surendra & Geeta Dutt / Lyrics – Gopal Singh Nepali
This is certainly not one of his best tracks. In fact the movie has only a few memorable songs. I selected this one for the singers and the lyrics. The shyness of female lead, her inability to express her love, and her expressing herself finally, is well depicted in the lyrics. The tune is not catchy, so the song fails to create an impact. Surendra enters the song very late, with only a few lines to sing. Geeta Dutt carries responsibility on her bare shoulders.

12. Manmor Hua Matwala – Afsar (1950) Suraiya / Lyrics – Pandit Narendra Sharma
For Afsar, Burman da opted for Pandit Narendra Sharma. A good song, composed and sung well. It’s quite popular, but actually my favourite from the movie, is ‘Preet Ka Naata Jodane Wale’. Navketan had a lot of expectations from the movie, but unfortunately it flopped badly at the Box office.

13. Kacchi Pakki Sadkon Pe – Pyar (1950) Kishore Kumar / Lyrics – Rajendra Krishna
Kishore Kumar sings for Raj Kapoor, the only film he was offered by RK. Thanks to Burman da. He sings the peppy song as well as the other sad song, both of which are good. Unfortunately the video of the songs is not available, so we miss the audio visual impact.

14. Jab Tum The Hamare – Mashal (1950) Arun Kumar / Lyrics – Pradeep
I wasn’t aware of this song, until I heard it for the first time while researching for this post. Though the singer is not at his best, the lyrics caught my attention. Such a great song of remembrance! I was in trans hearing it completely, and liked it a lot.

15. Upar Gagan Vishal – Mashal (1950) Manna Dey / Lyrics – Pradeep
In titles, the credit for music is given jointly to Kumar Sachin Dev Burman and Munna Dey (as spelt in credits). It was a surprise for everyone that Sachin da is not considering Manna Dey for playback, though he was singing for other composers. Manna Dey himself was hurt, but he was too modest to complain about it and ask for a song. Finally for Mashal, he asked Manna to rehearse for a song and got recorded too. Manna wanted himself to grab the opportunity and give his best. The song really proved a boon, that boosted his career.

Would you add a song to the list?

Disclaimer –
Mehfil Mein Meri, claims no credit for any image posted on this site. Images on this blog are posted to make the text interesting. The images and screenshots are the copyright of their original owners. The song links are from YouTube and have been used here only for the music lovers. The copyright of these songs rests with the respective owners, producers, and music companies.

13 Replies to “S D Burman – Early Days”

  1. Lovely. Since I’ve recently finished the SDB book and they’ve really focussed on his early days in that, most of these songs I learnt about in that – though some (the ones from Vidya, Mashaal and Do Bhai) I was already familiar with. I loved Kaali badariya chha gayi – hadn’t heard that before!


    1. Thank you Madhuji.
      I wasn’t aware of much of the details until I read the book. I found his journey in Kolkata very interesting!
      I too heard the song Kaali Badariya Chha Gayi for the first time, while researching for
      the post. It is so cutely sung by the couple. and I really liked Meera Burman’s voice.


  2. Anup,
    You have really worked hard for this post. This is an excellent summary of SD Burman’s early life. He was so multi-faceted and talented that interest in him has not ceased. A number of his biographies, perhaps most for a music director, is a proof of that. Many of my favourite songs are here. My blog has more extensive coverage on SD Burman than any other music personality.


    1. Thank you AKji for your praising words!
      It seems he is your most favourite composer, I followed the link shared by you. I don’t think anyone could have done so much song lists on SDB. So splendid! It was a delight going through the posts. I could read only a few (still a big bunch remaining)
      I think you must have covered nearly all his songs!
      He was a wonderful composer and singer.


  3. Holding Ur finger , I enjoyed
    SD’s life journey from 1906 to 1950.

    Yes , I too liked Meera Burman’s voice nd agree with U that she shud hv got more chance in singing.

    SD’s song of ” Aath Din ” was a pleasant surprise.

    In ” Shabnam ” besides the song U hv mentioned , I like d Shamshad – Mukesh duet
    ” प्यार में तुमने धोखा सिखा ,
    ये तो बताओ कैसें ” especially the way Shamshad sings the word ” ऐसें ”

    Well , many of the songs were new to me , but I enjoyed them.

    Ur research is praiseworthy Anup ji.

    Thnx a lot.


  4. Oh.yes
    सही पकडें हैं !!!!!
    We were outstation for a week nd there I must hv missed it.

    I will go thru it nd will definitely comment.
    Lata ji’s birthday post by U must b a gr8 post 2 read.

    Thnx for reminding.


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