Wakao! 5 reasons why R. D. Burman was a great innovator.

Today (4th Jan) marks another anniversary of the passing of that versatile music composer, R. D. Burman. Taken away suddenly when he at least had a decade or two left in him, RD was known for not just excelling across musical genres, but also for being a musical innovator. Even today, his fans can spend hours discussing his work and the way he put it together. For students of innovation such as us, it's interesting to look at his life (chronicled via books, a documentary, and via interviews of his peers & colleagues) and try to spot what made him so innovative. Not surprisingly, his work shows many of the classic traits of innovators. Here are five of them:

  1. Collaboration: Like many great innovators, R. D. Burman worked with some fabulous singers, lyricists, and musicians., allowing them their share of the spotlight. He let his collaborators bring in their own ideas, which helped make his music better. His work with his percussionists in particular, became a trademark.
  2. Wide influences: While he came from a musically rich background in folk, classical, and Hindi film music, RD also drew from Western pop & rock, the Middle East, and others, even bringing the likes of the Brazilian Bossa Nova to Hindi films.
  3. Creativity: R D Burman could play a variety of musical instruments (excelling in particular at the harmonica), could sing, and began composing at a young age. That foundation made it possible for him to build on, to produce numerous ideas by observing everyday life, improvise, and cleverly break several conventions of film music.
  4. Experimentation: Legendary for his use of non-musical objects to produce rhythm and melody (ranging from bottle tops, combs, and even the gargle of a singer and the back of his assistant), Pancham was unafraid to experiment. Not everything worked, but RD's work often went against the grain of popular styles, while others were playing it safe or commercial.
  5. Conviction: Being the son of a legendary music composer, RD could well have constrained himself to carry forward S.D.Burman's folk and melody style. Instead, he had the conviction to venture out, while making his father proud. At the end, when life was taking him through a tough phase, he was convinced he was going to bounce back with his work for "1942: A Love Story". He wouldn't be there too see himself proved right.



  1. R. D. Burman: The Man, The Music (the National  Award-winning biography)
  2. Pancham Unmixed (a documentary)
  3. R. D. Burman and Rhythm (a paper)
  4. R. D. Burman's top 14 sound improvisations in music direction (India Today)