There is little doubt that the profusion of S D Burman’s gifts as a musician continue to make him the quintessential artiste even after 43 years of his death. The only thing that outdid Burman’s genius as a music composer was his brilliance as a human being. In a new well-researched and meticulously detailed biography, S D Burman: The Prince-Musician, authors Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vithal offer insight into the factors beyond being gifted such as early folk influences and the impact that his surroundings while growing up in Tripura and Comilla, now in Bangladesh, had on him.
They present a compelling picture of what made Burmanda, as he was fondly called within the circles, a singular talent.
Best known for their book R D Burman: The Man, The Music (2011) that fetched them the National Award for Best Writing on Cinema, Vithal and Bhattacharjee attempt to decode S D Burman’s music through the different phases in the composer’s life as well as the important collaborations that he formed with other artists through the course of his career. At the onset, the authors mention a couple of innocuous comments made by people they were interacting with during their research that pretty much cemented the desire to do this book in their minds. These comments hovered around the word ‘history’ and therefore much of the book is also an exploration to unearth the facets of a great musician that are unknown even to his hardcore fans.
Considering that there have been more than a handful books on Burmanda in the past, including an autobiography, this one was an uphill task. Not from the perspective that there might not be much left to talk about S D Burman but how could this one still stand out. In that aspect, both Vithal and Bhattacharjee leave no stone unturned to weave an intriguing narrative. They travel across the places where Burmanda had spent time and meet close family friends including the composer’s assistant during his Kolkata days, and pepper the book with enough information, trivia, and anecdotes to compile a near-perfect rendition of what Burmanda would probably have been.
They unravel the phenomenon of S D Burman in more ways than one yet unlike the simplicity of the composer’s songs; the book tends to concentrate more on details than the essence of what made Burman unique. Up until its final third, S D Burman: The Prince-Musician focuses more on packing it all in as far as dates, era, and production, et al but it’s only towards the end where the authors’ own
analysis comes to the front by which time one has nearly formed an opinion. Perhaps a slight shift in the way the book is structured could have brought more of finesse that would reflect Burmanda’s music as opposed to the immaculate detailing which is needed. But like William Faulkner felt, a writer could take up surgery or bricklaying if technique is of greater interest.