Sachin Dev Burman was born on October 1, 1906 into the royal family of Tripura. He started his training in classical music under his father, the sitarist and Dhrupad singer Nawadwip Chandra Dev Burman. As a schoolgoing boy, Sachin’s greatest passions were music and football. Gifted with a rich voice, Burman enjoyed performing for an audience, even though his parents did not approve of him entertaining those not in the royal family. There were also a few occasions when his gift for singing saved him from peril.
While studying for his degree at the Presidency College in Calcutta, Sachin spent his spare time studying folk music and singing. He was vocally trained by masters like K.C. Dey, Ustad Allauddin Khan, Bishmadev Chattopadhyaya, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Ustad Badal Khan, who gave him a good grounding in Hindustani classical music. Contrary to the wishes of his family, the young man devoted himself to music once he graduated, and soon became a singing star of the Calcutta Radio Station. In 1932, he released his first recording and released a total of 131 Bengali songs over the following years.
S.D. Burman began his career as a film singer with Yahudi Ki Ladki (1933). The songs were composed by Pankaj Mullick. Later, the song he sang was re-recorded in Pahadi Sanyal’s voice. Sachin Dev continued to sing in films like Sanjher Pidim (1935, Bengali). Though many thought his voice was thin with a nasal twang to it, he consistently sang for a few films. He also started composing music for Bengali plays like Sati Tirtha and Janani. One of the earliest films he composed music for was the Bengali movie Rajkumarer Nirbashon (1940).
S.D. Burman’s ability to compose as well as sing made him a favourite of music lovers all over Bengal. With his gramophone records selling rapidly, he was soon proclaimed the Saigal of Bengal. Despite his burgeoning success, he retained his passion for learning new kinds of music, and his travels abroad continued to enrich his knowledge throughout his career. Many of his insights about the new forms he encountered made their way into his more experimental compositions.
Burman sang the Hindi song Dhire se jaana bagian mein in the early 1940s. Around this time, the Indian People’s Theatre Association was formed, and he became an active member. Here, he had the chance to discuss his work with other musicians. His work at the IPTA enhanced his knowledge of popular forms of music and encouraged him to undertake experiments in choral and solo singing. His work with different rhythms at this time helped him become a master of kaherwa and dadra.
Meanwhile, S.D. Burman married Meera on February 10 1938 while they were students of music together. Their son Rahul, nicknamed Pancham, later went on to become a renowned music director as well, starting as an assistant to his illustrious father.
As a member of the IPTA, Sachin Dev could perform for crowds varying in size and composition and judge their reactions to his compositions. Meanwhile, he made his debut as a music director for Hindi films with Filmistan’s Shikari (1946), starring Ashok Kumar. His next project was the acclaimed Eight Days/Aath Din (1946), written by Manto and directed by Ashok Kumar and Dattaram N Pai. His breakthrough came with Do Bhai (1947), for which he composed the song Mera sundar sapna beet gaya, which changed the path of his and Geeta Dutt’s careers. After he scored a few films, however, S.D. Burman decided to leave Bombay in the late 1940s. Before he left, he stayed and completed work on Mashal (1950). His music for the film was very well received. Manna Dey’s song Upar gagan vishaal is remembered to this day for S.D. Burman’s extraordinary composition.
The success of Mashal ensured that S.D. Burman received an offer to work with the Anand brothers’ production house Navketan. His first assignment with them was Afsar (1950), but it was Baazi (1950) that topped the charts. The song Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer voiced by Geeta Dutt and picturized on Geeta Bali was a raging hit. Burman had found his place at Navketan. He wrote the music for a majority of films starring Dev Anand and nearly every film produced under the banner. He wrote hit songs Ye raat ye chandni (Jaal, 1952), Maana janab ne pukara nahi (Paying Guest, 1957), Jaane woh kaise log the (Pyaasa, 1957) and Waqt ne kiya (Kaagaz Ke Phool, 1959). His other films included Taxi Driver (1954), Munimji (1955), Nau Do Gyarah (1957) and Kala Paani (1958). For his outstanding music in Taxi Driver, he won the Filmfare Award for the Best Music Director for the first time. In this decade, he also composed the soundtrack for Bimal Roy’s acclaimed films Devdas (1955) and Sujata (1959).
In the late 1950s, Burman has a disagreement with Lata Mangeshkar. This benefitted Asha Bhonsle, since he signed her on for immensely popular songs like Accha ji main haari (Kala Paani), Ab ke baras (Bandini, 1963), Dekhne mein bhola hai dil ka salona (Bombai Ka Babu, 1960) and Haal kaisa hai janab ka (Chalti Ka Nam Gadi, 1958). S.D. Burman’s music for Guide (1965) is still believed by many to have surpassed his earlier work by far, with songs like Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai, Tere mere sapne sab ek rang hai, Din dhal jaye, Gaata rahe mera dil, Piya tose naina laage re and Kya se kya ho gaya vying with each other for the audience’s affections. After his work on Guide, Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963) and Bandini (1963), S.D. Burman gave Hindi films some of the best Hindi songs of all time with Aradhana (1969). The film that catapulted Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore to stardom featured songs like Mere sapnon ki rani, Roop tera mastana, Safal hogi teri aradhana and Kora kaagaz tha ye mann mera.
Following the success of Aradhana, S.D. Burman continued to compose music in the early 1970s as well, and his prolific output included a string of hits like Sharmeelee (1971), Naya Zamana (1971), Anuraag (1972), Abhimaan (1973), Jugnu (1973), Prem Nagar (1974), Chupke Chupke (1975) and Mili (1975).
Unfortunately, S.D. Burman went into a coma soon after rehearsing the song Badi sooni sooni for Mili. He passed away on October 31 1975 in Bombay. The films Barood (1976) and Arjun Pandit (1976), for which he had already composed music were released after his death. Over the course of his long career, S.D. Burman won several awards: two Filmfare Awards for Best Music Direction for Taxi Driver and Abhimaan, two National Film Awards, one for Aradhana and the other in Best Music Direction for Zindagi Zindagi (1972). He was also felicitated with a Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1958.