A R Rahman or R D Burman?

I had some engaging discussions with friends recently about who the greatest Indian music composer is. For the most part, the debates revolved around two legends: A R Rahman and R D Burman. (Due to our limited knowledge of Tamil music industry, we kept Illayaraja out of consideration.)

I won’t get into why I think A R Rahman is the greatest, but behind the discussions about the aspects of music (melody, genre, innovation, etc.) I felt that there lies some cognitive biases that affect how we compare the present with the past.

While comparing a contemporary artist — or a piece of art — with a historical one, I think there’s a hidden yet perceptible hesitation to grant more eminence to a contemporary artist than to a veteran. I propose several theories that might explain why:

(1) The veteran artists are often widely respected and revered by our generation as well as our elders that any comparison that do not favor the senior artists is perceived as disrespectful.

(2) Cultural pessimism. Every generation believes that people are not up to the standards of their parents and grandparents. Be it the music industry, or movie industry, cultural values, or the overall state of society, we think that things are getting worse. This pessimism (that our culture is in decline) is one of the reasons why many of us can’t accept that a contemporary music composer (such as A R Rahman) can be better than someone like R D Burman.

(3) We tend to compare the ‘current’ with the ‘best from the past’ — and as a result, the current (music) seems to pale in comparison. Today’s listeners have enjoyed (and endured, if you’re not a fan) pretty much everything that A R Rahman has created. But when it comes to old songs, we are familiar with only those that stood the test of time. Comparing all of the current songs with the best of the past  is unfair — which conveniently overlooks mediocre numbers from the past to affirm that old is gold.

Surely a bulk load of junk was created in the 60’s and the 70’s as well, we just don’t remember those very well. Today’s junk is more accessible — and hence, intrusive and annoying — than yesterday’s.

(4) The diversity of contemporary music industry implies that much trash will be produced. Those suboptimal, low-quality songs should be kept in perspective and we should consider them as a luxury that only a more progressive, innovative and diverse music industry can afford.

All these arguments, in and of themselves, are not enough to conclude that the contemporary music is superior. All I am saying is these cognitive biases tend to impale our ability to make a fair comparison. I am sure there are biases that work in the opposite direction as well. Can you think of any?


74 responses to “A R Rahman or R D Burman?

  1. I’d like to think of this article as a benchmark standards for comparing ‘present’ with the ‘past’ – not just music, simply for everything that’s ‘new’ and being compared with ‘old-that-is-gold’.

    Theoretically, we’re supposed to compare anything with an ‘absolute’ reference (only) – seldom that we do it in practice and routine. How rare is it to see/hear parents pushing their children to perform better than some sibling/cousin/friend? No matter how better the child may be at sports, art and tons of other skills, the parents would just not be able to overlook the ‘academic’ excellence (if anything like that exists).

    Before we start ‘comparing’ two things, there has to be a common platform and scope. As you rightly mentioned, ARR and RD – being successful musicians of their era – have common platform. But we also need to specify the ‘scope’ of comparison. Contemporary music may not necessarily be greater all the time – but nor can be the great ol’ melodies.

    I really enjoyed reading this article – well-pondered subject and a great write-up. Already read it twice! 🙂

    (I’ve been planning to write a similar article on A R Rahman Vs Bryan Adams for a while now. Although the content of my article would likely be of different context, your article has reiterated the urgency to complete and publish it. 😀 )

  2. Similar thing happens between Sachin Tendulkar and Don Bradman

  3. While comparing past with present or say seniors with juniors, the person concerned may be biased, because of his/her age.Sometimes an euphoric statement telling everything of that time was the best may come.
    I, for one, want to be as clear as possible telling this.
    The newer generation is far smarter and more intelligent than the past one. The reasons are two:
    1.Heredity and genetic development tells the younger generations smarter. and 2. More exposure to newer technology like Tv, computers and internet from birth have made younger generation more knowledge bearing ones.
    Finally admit the present to be better than past in any subject whatsoever.

    • I like that! The cultural pessimism is a separate (but related to the topic of the post) and intriguing phenomenon in itself. I have been in numerous discussions with friends who bemoan how the new technologies are making us dumber, less social etc. while conveniently ignoring the fact that we have made such dystopian prophecies at the dawn of pretty much every technology (from farming to printing to internet) which ultimately ended up making our lives better.

      Like you said, I too believe that things are generally getting better. We live in a much better, healthier and safer world today than we did years ago. Sure, changes bring side effects – and we need to keep an eye on them. But these should be cautions, not hindrance (to growth and technological advancement).

    • well..sorry if I’m jumping on the wrong train or lets say other than the comparison of two great composers!..I liked reading through it Vishal..

      Mr Desai, I’m not sure if the present generation is smarter..may be smarter than the past generation when it comes to know-how, but not as resolved when it comes to the way of reasoning things around..

  4. Both RDB and ARR are too great in their own leagues to be compared as such. I would not dare such an attempt.

    • Pankaj,

      Do you think such comparison(s) would be disrespectful to one artist or the other? If we deem one better than the other, does that diminish the other’s greatness?

  5. Jatin Joshi


    sorry for the late reply as i would imagine to be the 1st one to respond to this topic!!!! but didn’t get a chance to read it earlier….

    First of all, great portraying subject on a wide scale and very well written!! particularly, #3 is something lots of people would have not have thought about….i remember that i was one of your friend that you had this discussion about ARR v/s RD..as Rahul has mentioned this is a benchmark standards of comparing present v/s past; so, i don’t know if you are talking specifically ARR v/s RD comparison? or just taking this as an example and trying to portraying the art, music, sports etc with present v/s past subject!!

    I think the overall topic of present v/s past is very well written and very convincing!!! great thinking…taking specific example of ARR v/s RD or Sachin v/s Bradman would be really difficult and challenging!! Don’t think anyone will have a clear answer to that..To me, They all are legend in their own time and lets not compare them with anyone else…and if we dare to compare than it will come to one’s individual choice, taste and their knowledge !! often times i have seen that the person supporting one legend has apparently more knowledge about that person than the one that he is not supporting!!

    • Hey Jatin,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Behind the admittedly rhetorical title of this post, I was actually writing *in general* about such comparisons – and not really focusing on the specifics about RD and ARR (which, as you mentioned, can get quite subjective).

      Since the day we had that discussion at your house, I kept mulling over how some cognitive biases seem to cloud our judgements while doing such comparisons. (The futility of such comparisons notwithstanding!) RD and ARR comparison is used here as merely an example. That’s the reason I didn’t get into who I think is the greatest! 🙂

      Your comment about information bias is also very interesting. Indeed, the person taking one side often has more information about that side. Very true.

  6. Tushar Jambhekar

    A very interesting and juicy discussion indeed, couldn’t resist jumping on the chain! Just trying to comment solely on the ARR vs RDB comparison, I have the following observations:

    -Everyone agrees that both ARR and RDB are legends in their own right and we have enough material from these two greats to analyze and enjoy! Talking about a reverse cognitive bias, I think ARR enjoys the benefits of advanced sound enhancing and recording techniques which enable him to mix a plethora of sounds and instruments from the world over in his compositions. The end result, needless to say, is absolutely brilliant! It is widely acknowledged that apart from being such a talented composer, he is an expert in audio mixing techniques and is known to engineer all the latest sound innovations in his music. Similarly, RDB was also known to be innovative and well-ahead of his time, making heavy use of western instrumentation in his compositions, a style that has inspired successive generations of music directors, including ARR. Its fascinating to think what RDB or any good composer of his generation might have been able to create, if they had access to the current sound engineering marvels!

    -Both these geniuses have dabbled in a wide variety of genres in their music, producing truly great works of art. But perhaps, striving for experimentation and too much variety causes some of their works to be a somewhat diluted or a little distant from what is the requirement of that particular genre. For example, IMHO, when talking about compositions that stay true to Indian Raagas or for melodies based on a classical bandish, the works of RDB or ARR pale a little in comparison to their respective peers namely Madan Mohan, Naushadji or SDB (in RD’s case) or Ismail Darbar (in ARR’s case). This is not to say that their classical compositions are bad in any way, they are still head and shoulders above the rest of the pack! From a sheer variety perspective, these two are unparalleled in the sense that we haven’t seen so many different genres handled with such brilliance! (The resurrection/introduction of the Sufi genre in mainstream Bollywood music by ARR can be counted as one of his career milestones.)

    -Overall, for me, ARR ranks slightly ahead of RDB, just because of what he has achieved at such a young age. His work till date has been so brilliant that he is mentioned in ‘all time great Indian composers’ discussions, even though he is only in his 40s. All of us who are ardent music lovers should be licking our chops thinking of the ARR treats that lie in store for us, in the coming years! Jai Ho…:)

    • Great points, TJ. You’ve articulated these points so well that I just don’t have anything to add. Just one side note about the technological advancement comment — one could argue that the performing arts field doesn’t benefit from technological advancements as much as other fields do. It took 40 minutes for Mozart to produce a string quartet in the 18th century, and it probably takes pretty much the same amount of time today. The *creation* of music doesn’t rely much on technology. The *production* does. So if we are comparing the end products (which is what we do, most of the time), the technological benefit favors a contemporary artist. But when we’re comparing the core melody part, the technology/software aspect disappears.

      PS You write so well and you’ve got a lot to say; you should seriously consider blogging. 🙂

      • TJ

        Thanks for the encouragement Vish, I need to take a page out of your book and set my sights on starting a blog. Its a pretty creative way of expressing your opinions and thoughts and of being part of interesting discussions.

    • Sumee

      RDB Composed Amar prem at the age of 32. ARR is yet to give master peice though he is 40+… ARR to be precise is a bastard and pani kum chai. He took 5 Cr of Indian tax payers money and gave such a shitty peice of music for the Common wealth games.. He is a bastar

  7. That a ‘legend’ from the current generation is given less weight than another from the past is widely known (and ‘accepted’). There’s another dimension to it. Most people would not accept a person as ‘great’ if s/he is way younger. Take the example of Justin Bieber. A lot of teen-agers consider him a ‘legend’ already, while the people from older generations often say, “he’s just a kid” (the assumption being kids can’t be legends!).
    Back to the comparison, I rate both RDB and ARR below two other composers. My Ranking would be:
    Salil Chowdhry

    • Yup, truism it may be, but I wasn’t really trying to prove a widely known and well accepted phenomenon. I was trying to explain it… I think some of the reasons behind this ‘old is gold’ belief (fallacy?) are very interesting, more complicated than a simplistic one-dimensional explanation — and often overlooked.

      Salil Chowdhury! Certainly one of my most favorite music directors. His ability to make complicated musical and vocal arrangements sound so simple and effortless to the common listener is perhaps unparalleled. Blending the elements of Westerns classical music with local flavors was his trademark. Big fan.

      • enigma

        Dear All

        I would certainly second Raja on that. Salil Chowdhury should ideally rank above all of them. Its our misfortune that he isn’t as popular as SDB or RDB or even Madan Mohan. And mind you, both RDB and ARR have borrowed heavily from Salil Chowdhury. So has Illyaraja.I would prefer to list the top 5 composers as follows:

        Salil Chowdhury

  8. I don’t have depth of knowledge in music as you guys do. But over all I enjoyed reading the blog and comments. Well written and well said by most of you all. As a human being we always try to do things better , everytime we do something that is repetative in nature. In that case generations after generations I think we have improved in every field.

    Rather than comparing past with present, I see that as present taking inspiration from past. We would be very happy to see some one like tendulkar from any country in near future, taking his excellency at a differnt level.

    • True dat, Ritesh! There’s probably nothing in the present that is not, in one way or other, inspired from the past. The present owes its existence to the past.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  9. santosh

    Bhai do u Know Laxmi Pyare, Indias best ever.Ruled from 1963 to 1998.
    Others are good too but LP is the best.

  10. S J Bhattacharjee

    RD is far above than ar rahman , there can not be any questions on that. See his variety — be it Amar Prem , be it Yadon Ki Baraat , be it Masoom , be it Shaan. Such music directors come once in 200 years , may be even more. AR Rahman is very good , very innovative , but no patch on RD.

    • Anu

      Dude u r kidding right? RDB did not even get a single national award whereas ARR recieved 4. I am not even talking abt the international recognition here. Also you listed only 4 movies here. I can list 10 best movies that ARR’s best. (roja, Bombay, Rang de basanti, Ghajini, Rockstar, Guru, Dil se, Rangeela, Indian, Taal, Lagaan,
      Kannathil Muthamittal..opps more than 10).

  11. Ranjan Bhattacharya

    Very interesting points of view and interesting reading. Please kindly note that Salil Chowdhury officially ranked R.D.B. as the greatest prodigal music composer and director of all times along with hundreds of great musicologists all over the world including Jose Flores of Brazil and Kronos Quartet of USA etc etc. R.D. made great experimentation’s with chords,rhythms,scales,harmony ,melody ,fusion and was a perfectionist. He never allowed the singer or a single musician rest till he got out exactly what he wanted. He used and brought in hundreds of instruments from Chanda,Reso Reso,various kinds of madal, matkas ,pedal matka,Flanger etc etc etc ( Huge list actually) and used it to great effect which enriched the Bollywood music.. He was equally versatile with both classical,folk,jazz,pop,rap ( Mere nam hai Shabnam of Kati Patang was composed in 1970 ,much before rap invaded the music scene) and continuously used various exemplary musical nuances for which one has to virtually dissect his music to even fathom those great touches of brilliance. Unless you are a great musician yourself,it may just escape your notice.. Several musicologists and composers and experts have been doing that and he is still one of the highest selling composer in the market, 17 years after his death with hundreds of remixes and rerun of his music. From Vishal Vardyawaj ,Ismail Durbar, Jatin Lalit,Shankar Ehsan etc have openly acknowledged his direct influence on them and even explained why. So did A.R.R. initially. Imagine even conceptualising double track recording in mid sixties with using the recorder head twice in Lata Mangeshkars ” Kya Janoon Sajan ” and then the same thing in 70’s in “Koi aaya aane Bhi de “from kala Sona and finally in 80’s in “Katra Katra” from Izzazat or using the madal in various scales to match the ascending notes of Lataji in “tere Bina Jiya Jaye na” ( Ghar) or using the DHA of tabla in guitar followed by madal in “O majhi Re” in Khoosboo. The list can go on and on like a mahabharat.The musicians openly say that when they went to R.D.B.,they learnt and enjoyed and perfected themselves and they SEE NO ONE EVEN NEAR HIM TODAY. R.D.B. according to Javed Akhtar,Shammi kapoor,Majrooh Sultanpuri etc was a school of music which is followed by most others till now . I ,of course will keep A.R. Rahman away from that list.

    Having said all that A.R.Rahman is also great composer and our pride. He took off from where R.D. has left and is passionate in his compositions. His Bombay theme music is mind blowing and he is also working very hard to make better and worthy music. Let us not compare Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw or Elvis and Michael Jackson. Both are legends in their life times. Let us enjoy their music and accept the fact that they both are rare geniuses India should be proud of.

    • santosh

      Never Equal to Laxmi Pyare in Variety and Success though.

      • Santosh,

        LP certainly had the longest successful career span (early 60′ to mid 90’s) than any other MD’s. I often marvel at how the duo who composed ‘Raahi Manwa’ (Dosti, 1963) could also compose ‘Nayak Nahin Khalnayak Hai Tu’ (Khalnayak, 1993). That’s what I call keeping up with the times!


    • Ranjan,

      That Pancham was a great, versatile, and innovative MD is beyond dispute. He revolutionized Bollywood music by his wide-ranging, experimental, rich musical style, and still remains influential and relevant even today.

      But I don’t see how comparing him with other MD’s – looking at the similarities and differences – reduces his greatness in any way. If I carry an opinion that A R Rahman is the greatest music director India has ever produced, that doesn’t mean I think any less of the beauty, and intricacies of Pancham’s songs. If I think that Roja is the best debut album by an Indian MD, that doesn’t stop me from marveling at the wonderful Ghar Aaja Ghir Aaye Badra by Pancham.

      I enjoy such comparisons, and think that a healthy comparison (between MD’s, sportsmen, artists etc.) often helps us understand their individual greatness (or the lack thereof) with even better clarity. But yes, if we sway from a healthy comparison to taking derogatory slurs, that’s a different matter.

      One other thing that I want to mention is you seem completely oblivion to the fact that you are comparing a veteran artist with a contemporary one. When you say “From Vishal Vardyawaj [sic],Ismail Durbar, Jatin Lalit,Shankar Ehsan etc have openly acknowledged his direct influence on them […]” you are ignoring the obvious fact that it’s been more 50 years since RD debuted as a music director. People are usually open about the influence of artists/people of yesteryears. But they will be hesitant to say the same for their contemporaries and competitors. But think about how much A R Rahman’s music has already revolutionized, influenced and inspired the contemporary music industry. I think that’s what a fair comparison would be: how much influence an artist had on his peers. We just don’t know how much influential A R Rahman will be 50 year after Roja – just like back in the 70’s, my dad didn’t know how many remixes will be made of RD’s songs.

      And pointing out such cognitive and logical biases while doing these comparisons was my goal in this rhetorically titled post.

  12. Washim


    • Washim,

      Ha ha! It’s so simple, right?

      • Sumeet

        You mean, ARR was pioneer of fusion, sound, new experimenations etc ha ha.. pls go and update your knowledge. All this what is akin to ARR has already been done by RDB in the 60s & 70s ..so whats new from the
        ARR table!??

        • enigma

          actually!!! go buddy update your knowledge!!! what new has ARR done??? getting an award does not prove or disprove anything!!! this is like tolstoy being creatively inferior to taslima nasreen!!!

          i firmly believe that for both the names to be taken under the same breadth, we need to wait for some more years. RD Burman still employs more radio space than ARR after 17 years of his demise…..that proves a lot….my conviction is that timelessness of compositions is the best measure in this regard…..let us wait for the day when ARR will be succeeded by some younger composer with rare feats to his credit….then we can re-discuss the topic….till then…to each his own….

          P.S. My vote goes to RDB…..!!!!

          And for people who pose rather half-wits to me for their display of limited knowledge and musical acumen, please do not even try expressing what “you” feel till such time you know who RDB was from ARR himself!!! go ask him about RDB’s influence in ARR’s music…

    • Ur comment really sucks IM a student of A R RAhman i study his music and m working with him in Chennai i can say that R D Burman sahaab he was beyond limit … A R Rahman sir has different color..but if u r comparing with RD my friend let me tell u there are many composers are their in India from dat GOLDERN ERA like S D Burman,Shankar Jaikishan,LP,MAdan Mohan sahaab Salil da jay dev etc who can give serious competition to Arr work,, any time ..

      I know u r a dia heart fan of arr .listen other work also study dem and think during 60s- 90s there used to hve 4 trk manual recording system limited technology me jo kaam hamare legends composers chod ke gaye hain quality k hain zabardast hain bemisaal hain

      u talk abt copying music .. dats every music composers do including ARR sir .. for me AR Rahman is the face of new India he is doing great ,i love my both guru RD and AR r great composers

    • S.Bhattacharjee

      Sorry , Waseem , your ‘Dinesh Mongia’-bit to show RD in a poor light compared to AR Rahman , smacks of clear bias. RD composed Amarprem , Kati Patang , Aradhana (part) , Aandhi , Aap Ki Kasam , Teesri Manzil , Caravan , Yadon Ki Baraat , Hare Rama Hare Krishna , Mere Jeevan Saathi , Jawaani Diwani, Anamika , Kinara , Khusboo , Ghar , Jurmaana , Masoom , Mehobooba , Kudrat , Saagar , Betaab , Love Story , Ijazaat , Libaas , 1942 –a Love Story and lots more. In what way they are inferior to Roja , Bombay , Rangeela , Dil Se , Taal , Guru , Saathiya , Rockstar? If Oscar award is the main criterion for conferring immortality on AR as some tend to do , then I am sorry. Meena Kumari for all her brilliance did never get a national award whereas Raveena Tandon and and Priyanka Chopra got one each. Does that mean that Meena Kumari is inferior to these two as an actress? You have to appreciate the respective times of RD and AR. Hollywood then never had to look Bollywood-wards. Today SRK’s wealth is more than Tom Cruise. Even in the hey days of Big B , he earned only a fraction of many actors in the Hollywood. Did that diminish him in our reckoning? You are entitled to give AR higher marks than RD , because it is your choice. But , for God’s sake don’t diminish this extraordinary legend of Indian film music by bracketing him with Dinesh Mongia as compared to AR’s Sachin. There must be some genuine reason that even 20 years after RD’s death , only unalloyed praises and heart-felt gratitude are reserved for him. For the record , when the redoubtable Javed Akhtar in one of the recent TV programmes was asked to choose only one Hindi film song from the vast repertoire of Hindi film music ( past or present ) , he named Zindegi ke safar from ‘AAP KI KASAM’ ( a RD creation ) without batting an eye-lid. It only shows RD’s standing among the pantheon of the great names in Bollywood. That of course , does not take anything away from AR Rahman. He is also a great in his own right. But you can’t take your bias towards AR to such ridiculous levels as to evoke a Sachin-Mongia kind comparison! It then becomes an insult to the great RD’s cherished memories. Please don’t mind my saying so.

  13. santosh

    arre yaar listen to Utsav, Sur Sangam, Dosti, Prem Rog, Ek Duje Ke liye, Karz, Sargam u’ll know the real Boss. Laxmi Pyare.

  14. Santosh,

    Those are all very successful and impressive albums (not very sure about Sur Sangam, and Sargam though) with some very melodious songs. I like how you mentioned Utsav as the first album in your list – ‘Saanjh Dhale’ is one of my very favorite songs, rendered beautifully by Suresh Wadekar.

    But what do you think about the fact that their sound – especially their orchestral arrangement – was heavily inspired from Shankar-Jaikishan? I am not trying to take away anything from this great duo — in terms of popularity in their times they are perhaps unparalleled. But when it comes to revolutionizing the music industry, original style, variety, experimentation, fusion of different genres, and influence on other MD’s I think ARR and Pancham are ahead of LP.

    • Ranjan Bhattacharya

      Dear Vishal,

      Very very impressed with your concepts and thought provoking points ,

      Let me very clear. A.R.Rahman brought with Roja a completely new sound in Bollywood and it was very refreshingly different . In fact even now when I hear Bombay theme music – a magical fusion of Bengali Kirtan in Flute followed by western symphonic crescendo – tears flow from my eyes. He has made all of us proud and no doubt is a genius in his own right.

      R.D. Burman did just that in the 60’s and 70’s onwards. He simply moved out from traditional orchestrations and compositions to revolutionise and bring a whole school of modern music. He brought in polyphonic sounds,different levels of eastern and western percussion,very intricate and mind boggling rhythm patterns, unusual and complicated chords and brass sections and cobined all genres of music from Hindustani and Carnatic classicals to Folk,Jazz,Pop,Latino,Arabic music but with a clear stamp and style that was typically R.D. Even today you can close your eyes and identify a R.D. composition and it remains evergreen fresh.
      In fact he used very heavy orchestration using hundreds of musicians – a huge brass section,a large percussion section etc etc but you can identify each tone of individual instrument though the recording those days were much below par. For example he may use a baya,pedal matka,base guitar and nal and they are all low frequency notes and each can be heard clearly in a good stereophonic sound system of today. He brought in many many new acoustic instruments from Electric organ ( First played in O mere Sona ) to Resso resso,Duggis,Chanda, madal,various ghoongroos and matkas,congas,thumbas,various forms of drums,Flangers. He even made musicians play tabla with drum sticks and hammers,introduced the jhappi style of tabla. His use of brass and saxophone is simply unparalleled and he made all his musicians work very hard to come out with unbelievable patterns of tones,sounds without compromising on the melody. His antaras beautifully merged with the mukhras and were equally melodic even in his so called jazzy songs. I have heard from all musicians that they used to literally worship him and used to be with him from morning to night to learn and learn. Listen to greats like Manohari Singh, Uttam Singh, CharanjiSingh,Bhupinder Singh, Louis Banks, Kesri Lord,Bujji Lord, Franco vaz, Bhanu Gupta,Ramesh Iyer,Homi Mullan,Ranjit Gazamer to Pandits like Pt,Shiv Kumar Sharma,Pt.Hriprasad Chowrasia,Pt.Ronu Mazumdar,Pt.Ulhas Bapat and you can know anecdotes after anecdotes and you will be thrilled to say the least. All the singers also speak volumes from Hariharan ,Shailendra Singh,Kavita Krishnamurti to Dr.S.P. Balasubramnaiam not to speak about Lataji and Ashaji or Manna Dey about how R.D. was a perfectionist and made sure there were enough rehearsals and made sure that he got the best from each singer and musician.

      By the way,in the 80’s R.D. along with Jose Flores of Brazil came out with an international album called PANTERA and a song from the album ,” In every City” was in the New York Hit Parade for weeks together. Even today Jose Flores is very respectful of R.D..The famous Boy George,Hope Augustus and others were coming out with another international album with music scored by R.D.B. but it perished with his leaving this planet. Today many bands of the world had openly adapted and play R.D. Burmans tunes with their own interpretation and changes. Most importantly the famous Kronos Quartet came out with an album ” You are stealing my heart” which was even nominated for Grammy where they played many numbers of R.D. and go on playing it all over the world in large concerts.

      Laxmi – Pyare were the stalwarts as far as commercial success goes and are brilliant in their own way. Santosh would be happy to note that L.P. had been assistants to R.D. for Chote Nawab and Bhoot Bangla and Laxmiji played the mandolin and Pyareji played Dholak for him. Similarly,R.D. played mouth organ for many L.p. compositions most notably that of “Dosti”. And they were the best of friends and mutual admirers. Pyarelal in a T.V. interview commented that one has to a composer himself to understand and study Panchamdas music – it is so full of exciting nuances. In fact the same is view is shared by Pt. Zakir Hussain,Pt. Amjad Ali Khan,the late and great Jagjit Singh,Late Salil chowdhury and last but not the least the great Illayaraja. As many musiclologists have said R.D.was not only a great composer and director but he was a master craftsman. Who can think of gargling as background music (Satte Pe Satta),tabla as suspense music ( Khel Khel Mein and Sholay) use of bottles, papers,glasses and what not to create the exact sound and effect he wanted. You will be surprised to know that R.D. helped L.P. in the orchestration of “AA JANE JAAN” – a supreme composition by L.P.. R.D. and L.P. had the highest respect for each other. From Anil Biswas ,Salil Chowdhury,L.P.,Kalyandji Anandji to the scores of musicians and music afficiandos – R.D. was hatke and exceptionally talented and he will be relevant for as long as the music lasts. He even used 32 beat matra in manoranjan and 17 matra tal in “Jhute tere nain”. To appreciate music L.P.said -“You have to know the intricacies of music yourself to unearth the gems he has contributed”

      That in no way takes out the brilliance of L.P. who is one of the greatest of the greats of Hindi popular music and A.R.Rahman ,who now is the biggest shining star in the music firmament. But unlike L.P.or A.R.Rahman,R.D was scorned,ridiculed for breaking away from the standard pattern of composing music. It is only after his death and with the inputs of so many greats who have dissected and explained R.D. to us that we now revere him . It is just the case of Mozart in music or Van Gogh in painting whose worth was never understood in their lifetimes. Let us not compare the legends – the are all unique and they are all great -period. Lastly I will quote a poem by Salil Chowdhury on R.D.’s death translated by Mr. Supratik Ganguly :-
      ” He arrives unexpectedly, unanticipated,
      Begets expectations enormous,implausible,
      Gratifies the thirsty earth with his creative flair,
      Showers it green and fertile
      And then goes away one day,
      As unexpectedly as he had appeared,
      with the future lit up by the halo of his prominence…. “

      • Ranjan,

        Very interesting and informative reply throughout. That poem by Salil Chaudhray reminded me of a similar (although more personal), beautiful and touching poem written by Gulzar ‘Yaad Hai Pancham’.

  15. santosh

    Vishal, That was a very Short List- LP’s Music has lot of Depth, Indian Culture and even they made western Songs Sound Indian.
    Other Examples: Bobby, Daag, Anurodh,, Kranti, Apnapan, Aasha, Pyar Jhukta Nahin, Meri Jung, Sat shiv sundaram, You can Just Check Laxmi pyare in Wiki. Others are Good but LP had Clear Edge.

  16. santosh

    Not that Vishal, RDB and ar rehman are very Good No doubt, but they also have received a lot of Hype, but LP, Just media has coolly forgotten them even after their Great Tenure, i feel they too deserve the Hype.

    • I hear ya! LP enjoyed tremendous popularity during their times, but they are not as fondly remembered and reminisced today as some other MD’s from yesteryear.

      • Ranjan Bhattacharya

        My very dear Santosh,

        L.P.did have super hype like Shanker Jaikishen from the media and the duo produced magical numbers from Parasmani to Khalnayak. They were great professional music composers and were possibly the most commercially successful . But then so was Shanker Jaikishen, Kalyandji- Ananadji,Madanmohan,Naushad,Jaidev,Roshan and the geniuses like S.D. Burman, Salil Chowdhury ,Anil Biswas . Each one of them was a great in their individual domain. But we are discussing about the persons who had the maximum contribution,versatility and whose music still is played ,listened and revered to the most and it is not an inch of hype. Media only started talking about R.D. Burman ,when a whole lot of musicians who played for all music composers and singers and lyricists along with musical experts hailed him as to quote the exact words ,” He was very different from others . He came with the Vardan of God ” and dissected,analysed and showed what kind of extraordinary creativity went into every line of his music,notes and rhythms etc etc. Please believe even L.P.said what I just now quoted – you can verify.

  17. santosh

    LP were Humble enough to Praise their Contemporaries, Even RD said in 80’s that LP were best at adjusting to Time very well, and Pyarelal is the greatest Music arranger in India(Comparable to Zubin Mehta). LP’s Music has lot of Indian Folk Music Richness.No MD in Hindi Survived like LP as they knew how to adjust with time. Even before Laxmikantji died they Gave music for Bhairavi, Raaj Kumar etc.two Greats Praise each other, thats perfectly okie.

  18. santosh

    RD, at one point, had overtaken the formidable team of Laxmikant-Pyarelal. But he let himself be beaten back by vastly inferior talents in the 80s, while Laxmikant-Pyarelal fought back like tigers. In retrospect, it can therefore be said that RD faltered at the crucial moment, LP didn’t. .

  19. Ranjan Bhattacharya

    Not only two greats praise each other- they were genuinely best of friends. Yes,L.P.were true blue professionals and did combat the nineties. R.D.did not falter – neither was he a professional music director – he a was a very passionate music director and did not compromise on many issues which I have to come to know from many musicians and even directors. Most of the music directors were in fact copying blatantly R.D.’s style though not reaching 1/10th of the standards of music or compositions ( Quoting L.P.). But like a true champion ,R.D. came back with 1942,a Love Story and till today his music sells the highest ( including his background music in two volumes from Universal),is played the highest ( Radio Etc),Remixed and used as jingles the highest and is now being cultured and analysed the world over. Most contestants in all music shows tries to sing his compositions,two books have come our on him and were best sellers,a documentary was made on him which has won many awards apart from being another best seller of Shemaroo( Pancham Unmixed by Brahmanand Singh),There are awards in his name,endless number of functions are held on his birth and death anniversary all over the world ( Not only India) – his Vinyls are out from cold storage and are in the market at abnormal prices and are still selling like hot cakes. Two films ( Dil Vil Pyar Pyar and Jhankar Beats were almost a tribute to him – though the first were the lyrics of a classic L.P. tune). He has become a PHENOMENON after his death which has nothing to do with the commercial success – then Manmohan Desai would have been hailed as better film director than Satyajit Ray or Adoor Gopalakrishnan – it’s about inherent quality and even greater creative mastery on the subject.
    But that does not take anything about L.P.s greatness or everlasting contribution to Hindi film music. In fact three of my all time favourite numbers are tunes of L.P. ( Ek pyar ka nagma hai, Yeh jeevan hai , Bhor bhayo panghatme). Let us say that both were great and would remain great. And so would A.R. Rahman and Illayaraja.

  20. santosh

    sahi hai ranjan sir.a legend is legend. but my concern was LP is totally forgotten today and many people rate them as Ordinary composers and think them as somebody C grade ones.

    • Ranjan Bhattacharya

      Dear Santosh,

      I am certain if some people are saying like that – they either are deaf or have not heard the wonderful repertoire of Laxmi – Pyare ji.

      Most of us unfortunately do not get into the depth of any music or composition or for that matter any creative endeavour and go along with the hype . Class and mass are sometimes very difficult to equate and people have strong biases. One should have an open mind and an analytic , logical approach instead of arguing from the top of their voices on their own perceptive positioning. L.P. was not only great but a giant with outstanding compositions to his credit which has made Bollywood music that much richer
      .That is a fact and denying that is ridiculous.

      Let me make a small statement to you :-

      ” A.R. Rahman,
      Jai ho tum, you are too good ,man,
      Laxmikant – Pyarelal,
      With your music, you are immortal,
      R.D. Burman,
      The Phenomenon ” – Ranjan Bhattacharya.
      Let us salute each one of them – they have worked very hard to give us great music.

  21. santosh

    all are sons of our soil.

  22. Sharad

    From the 50’s we are blessed to have had many music director who have composed classics. However, the standout composer would be one whose music cannot be dated and whose composisions will never be outdated. This is where RDB is untouchable !!!

  23. Bikash Paul, Ultadanga, Kolkata

    Music is an abstract art, we have felt the same in so many composers like Salil Chowdhury, RDB, Kanu Roy, Banraj Bhatia, Madan Mohan, IllayaRaja, Bishal Vardwaz and so many others. Now time came for those, who have not faced that kind of listeners and time of technological advancement. I am not telling todays Music Directors are not composing that height of tune.

  24. kafeel

    ar rehman and pancham are like comparing mozart and beethoven.

  25. kafeel

    by the way,all the modern composers who claim to be influenced by pancham,if you will seriously listen to them,there is rehman print on them,although,i personally believe naushad to be the greatest indian composer till date.

  26. ZZ

    RD Burman can’t be compared to anyone else in this whole world. He is beyond anything and everything. Whether it’s hollywood or bollywood, RD Burman beats everyone hands down.
    And I am not one of those older guys who is judging with an era bias. I grew up in the Rahhman era. Rahman is a great great musician, but he is not comparable to RDB.
    There is something else about RDB. I don’t know what it is, or how to explain it, but he is not from this planet.

    Newer isn’t always better – even more so in arts. In technology, sports etc – yes, newer is usually better – but not in arts/music. That’s because
    1>art is usually judged by creativity, and not by objective measurements.
    The quality of sound in a 3rd rate music of today is better than the quality of sound that one could produce in RDB’s era. Today, one can even use computers to compose music. But that does not by default make a musician of today better.
    2>Something like melodies are not infinite, and even more so good melodies. Often, the better melodies are already taken up by older people.

    Not only is newer art not always better than older art, but one art is also not always comparable to another. Music is largely a matter of personal tastes. It’s not that calling one great reduces the greatness of another, but it’s not always even possible to compare without subjective opinions.
    And BTW, Mozart and Beethoven weren’t any more contemporaries than RDB and ARR were. Beethoven’s career began when Mozart’s was already towards the end.

    Also, If you hear interviews of many people, you can tell that many in the industry do not regard ARR very highly. For example, Jagjit Singh or Ismail Darbar are certainly not fans of ARR.
    Lata(on RDB in an interview):” Nahin RDBurman thode purane the…. unka music sabse hathke tha, unke music mein kuch alag hi baat thi., Jaise Madan Mohan ji ke ghazal hain, unke ghazal mein kuch alag hi baat hain”
    Lata(while ARR was mentioned in an interview): “…. etc etc…Aaj kal ke gaano mein woh baat nahin rahi”
    Shankar Mahadevan once talked about ARR in an interview. He was all praises for ARR and disguised his main point very cleverly. But his main point was that ARR was lucky to be with the right kind of music at the right moment.

    • @ ZZ,

      You yourself claim that all music comparisons are subjective, and then promptly declare that RBD is “beyond anything and everything”. Sounds subjective to me… no?

      >> art is usually judged by creativity, and not by objective measurements.

      Creativity is just one of the many aspects of art. There’s originality, depth, level of complexity (or simplicity), range/variety, etc. Some are more important than others, and of course that’s where subjectivity comes in. But are you arguing that a healthy critique of music is just not possible? Let’s stay away from RDB and ARR for a second. Do you think some musicians are objectively better than others? For example, wouldn’t you agree that ARR is a better musician than, say, Baba Sehgal? Or would you argue that this is a subjective, and hence, invalid comparison?

      Re Lata’s comment “Aaj kal ke gaano mein woh baat nahin rahi” — this ‘old is gold’ syndrome is exactly what I was going after in this post. The cultural pessimism that I was primarily discussing in this post was completely sidetracked by this red-herring ARR vs RDB comparison — which was used just as an example of such cognitive biases that cloud our judgements.

    • You are so right ZZ. Rahman is the benefactor of Pancham’s early demise. I so hope Shahrukh fails to meet such a fate as PANCHAM met with. When Pancham suddenly left his throne, rahman gained owing to absence of new and credible composers. Pancham lives through Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Jatin Lalit, Sandesh DHandaliya, Bally Sagoo, Vishal Bharadwaj whom speak of all range music can offer.. An entire awards category in Filmfare is named after Pancham and no such other category exists

  27. ZZ

    I think it is possible to make some specific objective measurements, but the ultimate opinion is entirely subjective.
    And that’s how I gave my judgment -partly from my subjective personal feelings, and partly based on whatever relatively objective things I could think of.

    You are the one who brought this comparison, and I must admit that I don’t like comparing either, but if you don’t like it and want to talk purely about new vs old – then here it goes:
    I know that old is not always gold; rather, it’s the golden things that stay with us longer. However, that does not mean that new is always better than old. That’s as much a fallacy as saying “old is always gold”.
    For example, I am sure that not many will agree with you that Shakira is better than Mozart because she is much newer.

    • I actually do enjoy comparing objects, people, etc., even things that may appear completely unrelated. I think such comparisons greatly help us get a better sense of perspective. Comparing one artist with another – looking at the similarities and differences – doesn’t necessarily reduce one’s greatness. It gives us a better sense of what’s really unique and precious. If I carry an opinion that A R Rahman is the greatest music director India has ever produced, that doesn’t mean I think any less of the beauty and intricacies of Pancham’s songs. If I think that Roja is the best debut album ever by an Indian MD, that doesn’t stop me from marveling at the wonderful Ghar Aaja Ghir Aaye Badra from Pancham’s debut album.

      Like it or not, comparisons are inevitable. And they are much more fun and educative if done correctly 🙂 (i.e., with respect and rigor).

      Regarding your comment about ‘old vs new’: Now that’s exactly what the point of this post was, not who’s the greatest MD. 🙂 You’re absolutely correct that the ‘old is gold’ bias can work in reverse as well. Recency doesn’t imply better quality. One such bias I can think of is this – we feel more attached to the music that we hear during our adolescent years (when passions ran high). The music that we hear when we are in our teen years resonates with us and moves us more than the music we hear when we are in our 30’s, 40’s etc — independent of what music era we happen to live in. I still remember getting goosebumps when I plugged in ARR’s Bombay audio cassette for the first time in my stereo. I didn’t experience the same level of emotions when I heard Rockstar for the first time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Rockstar is an inferior album. It implies that my sensibilities and emotions have changed as I continue to age. When critically evaluating Rockstar album, I should discount for the fact that I don’t get as excited by a new album as I used to. If I completely ignore this fact, I may start believing that today’s music is not as good as yesteryear’s.

      Any way, long story short – your point is well taken that there can surely be some cognitive biases that makes us think that a newer product/artist is superior — but honestly, there are many more known – but not widely recognized – biases that works in the ‘old is gold’ direction. Thinking about those cognitive biases – recognizing them, understanding them, and trying to stay away from them, is what fascinates me more than doing the comparison itself.

      • ZZ

        I believe that the newer is better bias is at least as common as older is golder bias.

        You see, when you compare art you are comparing beauty and like they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
        This is very different to sports where you can ask who will win, or to technology where you can ask which processor is faster.
        And like I said earlier, there is also a matter of creativity, which is hard to measure.

        I support scientific analysis of music, but I do believe that comparisons are usually meaningless. It is not necessary to compare to do some scientific analysis of music and obtain some musical understanding.
        I prefer enjoying the music that I like. But like you said, some people enjoy comparing and therefore it becomes unavoidable.

        But if I have to compare and put it very simply – my hands clap when I hear ARR’s music, but my heart beats when I hear RDB’s music. I find more life in RDB’s music, including his slower songs.
        In my mind there is no doubt whatsoever about who is greater and that’s RDB.

  28. i feel RD Burman is the one most loved in music families.. fondly addresses pancham, is a man whom lived ahead of his time and his music is now lived in composers that include Jatin Lalit, Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Sandesh Shandaliya, Bappi Lahiri, Ismail Darbar and Vishaal Bharadwaaj all of whom accept Pancham as India’s answer to Mozart. It was because of panocha’s untimely demise at age of 54-55 that rahman got a window in hindi films and more over rahman focuses on orchestration while as pancham is one name with music.. its important to know that pancham brought no night time recordings, long wait to film directors like rahman often engages in.. i appreciate ragman’s sense of music but to me he will be always a junior beethoven to a senior mozart that is pancham. an entire award category is named after RD Burman to remember that pious soul whom lived in 1960s,70s,80s of hindi films factory like productions and Yet did justice to 331 films for which he composed music. Its important to know that this came at a sacrifice of his personal life as he remained childless and he delivered the greatest gift to music listeners.. he gave them a way to liberate themselves out of all things wrongs with music. rahman can never even touch that. i admire rahman but he is a benefactor of a rebellious, spirited and ingenious pancham like a luv/kush would be to a ram!

  29. boss kaun tha, maloom hai kya:
    music remembers pancham:

    pancham unmixed:

    pancham – music has only one name

    • ZZ

      I agree Aasish, he was indeed the boss and the lord of music.
      For example, Kronos Quartet did some research on Bollywood music some years back and they said that they found that practically all their favourite Bollywood music came from this one guy R.D.Burman.
      When so many great indian classical musicians, ghazal legends, film musicians of past and present(including ARR), lyricists, singers etc go hullabaloo over a single musician – you know that he must be great. And not to mention the public- Pancham and his music still tops the polls and FM demands. To me RDB is the best.

      Unfortunately, many children of today are only exposed to RDB’s crazy energetic hits and are less aware of many of his unbeatable sweet melodies( many of which will even easily overshadow 1942-ALS ).

      All that said, Rehman is great too. I think in the late 80s and early 90s Indian music was becoming louder, monotonous and less melodious. Rehman’s music came like a breath of fresh air, and he came equipped with modern technology which helped him a great deal. I like Rehman’s music.

      But it does make one wonder what pancham da could have done with today’s technology. He was very fond of recording new sounds and experimenting with it. For example, he tried making music with helicopter beats as the base rhythm, but he didn’t have access to today’s crystal clear sound recording. Many of his songs would have sounded much better with today’s technology. Today one can do lots of experiments with computers and synthetic sound engineering. Today, there are even softwares that can help compose music.
      He was also someone who could get inspired by anything around him- from birds, coins and aeroplanes to human vocal expressions and new styles of music. Surely, the internet would have given him new windows.

  30. Guru Prasad

    Not to forget the lovely “background scores” AR has recorded for several movies…you get goosebumps when you hear such magical sounds…they are so so deep…. right from roja,bombay,kadhalan,thiruda thiruda,indian,iruvar,dilse,earth,lagaan,yuva, swades, legend of bhagat sing,VTV and many many more….only a magician can compose these..it goes on to show how involved AR is with the story and how well he understands music…and also number of singers and technicians he has introduced and the credits he gave for all of them in the album cover(be it cassettes or CD’s)…you need to understand AR’s music not just listen to it… Althought RD and ilayaraja are greats…rahman is a magician.. just simply put down the # of songs you like of these three greats and clearly AR is a winner!

    • Somnath Pal

      R.D. Burman’s music seems to be immortal. The music lovers of present generation also know who R. D. Burman is. The versatility of R.D. Burman and his music is pervasive even today although they were composed more than two or 3 decades ago. Whereas Rehman’s music don’t last more than 3 months. Even the music of Slum dog Millionaire for which he won Academy Award is forgotten and is no more popular. In fact many even do not know the song for which he won the award. Only few of his songs and music scored for films like Roja and a very few other films that he is remembered. Now decide for yourself who the magician is.

  31. Anonymous

    As i said you need to understand his music and not just listen. AR’s songs are not simply hummable or straightforward. The sounds used, arrangement of the music and the entire composition most of the times are very very different. People with a very “Hindi” taste would probably like RD’s music because its close to thier understanding. AR has given and has adopted and proved his versatality in many languages be it south or Hindi or English music. There is nobody who has as succesfully experimented so much as AR has done. Even though RD is one of the legends his music was very limited to film music that too predominantly in Hindi

  32. Anon

    Funny! Because Rahman has himself said that RDB has done so much that he has nothing new left to do.

    “HIndi” taste? Now I see where you coming from. It’s just regionalism, isn’t it?

    I am not sure if you have heard that many RDB numbers. I have heard practically ALL of ARR’s hindi numbers, as well as most of his famous Tamil numbers, and even a lot of his “world music” . All I can say is that ARR’s music is boring when compared to RDB’s.

    The so called “goosebumps effect” that ARR fans talk about is all down to just down to one thing- BASS EFFECT – which is a product of modern technology and previous generation musicians didn’t have access to it. Take down the bass effect from Rahman, and I am not sure if he has anything substantial left.
    RDB could give you chills with no bass at all.
    Also, RDB’s songs are the most difficult to hum. Most of them are FAR FAR more complex than any of ARR’s tunes.

    BTW, both Ilayaraja and ARR came AFTER RDB, and they both tried to imitate RDB in their own way. That’s how great the man Pancham was.



  34. Anonymous

    RD Burman The soul king AR Rehman the sound king Ilayraja the innovation king. Ilayaraja gives us the best music directors in this link http://papyruschords.blogspot.in/2009/07/rd-burman-to-spb-how-is-eliya.html. The god of music tells his favorite gods.

  35. u can name others but cant face laxmi pyare.

  36. Rahul Gupta

    Sorry but R.D Burman songs are still listened and even in future it will be listened by listeners.

  37. Anonymous

    He who claps the last is heard the loudest. Panham was is and will remain the greatest. AR is very talented but is no patch for Pancham. Please ask him what he thinks of him in comparison to Pancham. How many times do you hear Roja or highway songs requested on radio in comparison to RD songs. Please let us not mix luck with talent

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