But then he raised his saxophone to his lips. And even now, even five decades and more after he started recording, we were in thrall from the first note. Sweet and true like honey on a winter morning, he held the melody for the 30 men on stage, some of them his comrades since 1958, some who were still in school when his friend and leader died in 1994, all of them united in memories. Manohari Singh – saxophonist, composer, grand old man of the orchestra and above all, comrade-in-arms to RD Burman for nearly 30 years, from the days of Chhote Nawaab to the swan song of 1942: a Love Story.
Ranged around him were 13 other stalwarts of the RD legend. Bhanu Gupta on rhythm guitar and harmonica, Ramesh Iyer on lead, Franco Vaz inside the circle of his drums, Kishore Sodha with his trumpet, Shyam Raj alternating between clarinet and tenor sax, Pradipta on the mandolin. It was … eerie. It was my childhood revived. For nearly 30 years now, RD Burman has had a pre-eminent niche in my personal pantheon. But frankly, I was at the concert not for the music but to satisfy my curiosity, to see the men (no women in those days!) who’d made the music. Then they struck up. Nothing very iconic, just the title song from Shaan with full oom-pah. And the hair stood on end on my forearms.
The entire evening was like that. Music straight up, no frills or showmanship, some memories of RDB from the MC, (Ankush, who works for Siemens in Pune but travels everywhere for RDB shows and memorabilia), and total involvement from the vocal audience. The concert was linked to the launch of a documentary on RDB by Brahmanand Singh. Funded by Shemaroo, this DVD release is in the same no-frills style – fixed-cam interviews of the people who knew RD, reminiscences of the way he made his music, intercut with some stock footage and some rare old photographs and recordings. Essential for RDB fans, pretty good even for others who may not share my passion.
The high point for me came right after the interval when, on request, they played the Sholay theme. Even unrehearsed, they were so GOOD. Good music and nostalgia, what a combination. They’ll be back next year – those of them who are still around. I’ll be waiting.