1. His car was a Fiat with the registration BMC 1139. Till a few years ago, it stood in the parking lot of Maryland Apartments where he breathed his last twenty-five years ago.
2. The last visitor at Pancham’s house was Vidhu Vinod Chopra who, after a detailed discussion, left around 9.30 p.m. on 3 January 1994. They were discussing the background score of 1942: A Love Story.
3. Pancham had a passion for harvesting chillies. He had around 200 varieties of those in his garden at Maryland Apartments.
4. His favourite perfume was Grey Flannel designed by Geoffrey Beene.
5. Pancham’s favourite recording studio was Film Center, Tardeo, Bombay. It was the only studio that had a grand piano those days.
6. Once, during a visit to Gopalpur-at-sea, a serpent coiled around Pancham’s legs when he was taking a dip in the sea. Without batting an eyelid, Pancham unwound the serpent from his legs. Strangely, the only animal he was scared of was the house lizard, a phobia which remained all his life.
7. Pancham’s introduction to Western music came through Kersi Lord who had a huge collection of long play records of jazz, Latin American and European and middle eastern music. The only genre that Pancham had no patience for was Western classical music.
8. Swimming and the mouth organ were his passions. He once played the mouth organ while floating on water during a water ballet at Anderson Club near Dhakuria Lake, Calcutta.
9. Pancham also played the mouth organ in a film for which his two good friends Laxmikant and Pyarelal were the composers, Dosti (1964). The three of them remained friends for life.
10. Even before the release of Bhoot Bungla (1965), a few neighbourhood kids had heard the tune of ‘Jaago sone waalon’ from Pancham himself. He had caught them red-handed stealing mangoes from his garden and taken them home where he made them listen to the song.
11. Pancham’s first Bengali composition was sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Interestingly enough, the lyrics had her name too. The song was ‘Amar malati lata’, the Hindi version of which, ‘Hum aur tum thay saathi’ was sung by Kishore Kumar in Hamare Tumhare (1979).
12. The theme from Charlie Chaplin’s film Limelight (1952) was the inspiration for Pancham’s Geeta Dutt-Hemant Kumar duet for a Guru Dutt film called Raaz in the late 1950s. The film never released. Pancham used the tune again for the song ‘Tum meri zindagi mein’ in the Amitabh Bachchan film, Bombay to Goa (1972). But the song was not included in the film. Finally, it was in Mukti (1977) that the song saw the light of day as Kishore Kumar’s ‘Mai jo chala peekar’.
13. The Asha solo ‘Gum sum kyon hai sanam’ was recorded and shot for Kasme Vaade (1978). But the filmmaker could not find a sequence for the song in the film. So it was given to the producer of the film Bhala Maaus (1979) because it had the same lead pair of Neetu Singh and Randhir Kapoor. It is perhaps the only time a song appeared in the long play record of one film and on-screen on another.
14. Pancham acted in three films, Bhoot Bungla, Pyar ka Mausam (1967) and the Bengali film Gayak (in which he played himself). He was supposed to play the role that Sunil Dutt eventually played in Padosan (1968), but backed out after his father asked him to choose between acting and composing.
15. Probably the only song ever to have any composer’s name in the lyrics was composed by Pancham’s assistant Sapan Chakraborty. The song was ‘Ek ladki le gayi dil’ from Naya Nasha (1973). The song has an introductory line ‘Raaste mein R.D. Burman ka ek gaana ga raha tha’.
16. Kishore Kumar was reluctant to sing ‘Mere naina sawan bhadon’ from Mehbooba (1976), saying that the song was beyond him. Pancham persuaded him. And finally Kishore Kumar agreed, but on one condition: Lata would render her version first. Kishore Kumar listened to Lata’s version for one full week and then recorded his version.
17. Kersi Lord disclosed that during the recording of the title track of Shalimar (1978), the musician who played the French Horn was asked to walk across the studio while playing the instrument to create a stereophonic effect as Film Center was not equipped for stereo recording back then.
18. On one of his trips to the US, Pancham purchased an instrument that people termed ‘one of his impulse purchases’. Their reaction was ‘What has he purchased? Sounds so off-tune’. The instrument was the flanger which produced that unique background sound in the song ‘Dhanno ki aankhon mein’ from Kitaab (1977). The sound was one of Pancham’s most unique improvisations.
19. Though he had firm north-eastern and Bengali roots, there was more than a ten-year gap between Pancham’s first Bengali film album and his second. Rajkumari released in 1970 and Troyee in 1982. Curiously, the songs of Rajkumari flopped at the time of release. But all the Hindi versions of its songs – ‘Yeh jawani hai diwani’ (Jawani Diwani), ‘Pyaar diwana hota hai’ (Kati Patang), ‘Yeh kya hua’ (Amar Prem), ‘Aap ke kamre mein’ (Yaadon Ki Baarat) – were super hits.
20. Pancham’s last Bengali album was with Usha Uthup titled Aagami Shishura (The Children of Tomorrow). Prophetic?
21. ‘RD’ was the name of both the hero (Sanjay Dutt) and the villain (Shakti Kapoor) in Sanjay Dutt’s debut, Rocky (1981), for which Pancham composed the music. It was again used in Race (2008): Anil Kapoor’s name was Robert D’Costa (‘RD’ for short), whom the comedian Johnny Lever momentarily assumes as a reincarnation of the composer R.D. Burman.
22. Pancham is probably the only composer whose musicians too have become cult figures in the last twenty-five years. They are celebrated and felicitated wherever they go. Features, articles, interviews about them have been published in many forums time and again. Live shows featuring them have been sell-outs. The recent super-hit thriller AndhaDhun (2018) featured his drummer Franco Vaz.
23. Pancham was known for his penchant for using everyday things to create his music – even asking his musicians to undress so he could drum on their backs to get a particular sound. Even soda-water bottles could not escape his creativity. For the song ‘O maajhi re’ from Khushboo (1975), he came up with the idea of using the sound of flour mills running on hydraulic force, typical of villages in earlier times, to convey the monotony of life in a village. Towards this end, two soda-water bottles were brought. He kept emptying a little soda from each bottle at a time and blew into them, producing a monotonous ‘thup thuk, thup thuk’ sound that was used in the song.
24. Another celebrated song emerged from a combination of the sound from a record player and a ceiling fan droning overhead. He asked the lyricist to give him a few words to put the tune to. He composed the song then and there based on those words and insisted that the song be used in the film they were working on at the moment. The lyricist-filmmaker did not have a situation for the song in the film which was in any way complete. The song was eventually used in the film’s title cards. The song: ‘Chhoti si kahani se, barishon ke paani se’, the lyricist and filmmaker, Gulzar, the film Ijaazat (1987).
25. All his life, despite the brilliance of his compositions ranging from the classical (Amar Prem, Kinara) to the popular (Yaadon Ki Baraat, Jawani Diwani), Pancham never won a National Award, though Parichay, Masoom and Ijaazat fetched their lyricists and singers the same award. Even his first Filmfare Award came in 1982, for Sanam Teri Kasam, nowhere near his best. Of course, now the Filmfare Award for Best Debut Composer is named after R.D. Burman.