We first worked together on Parichay. It was important for me to sit with him on the music sessions. He inspired certain moments which I picturised later, his music was that visual...I went to Rajkamal studio where he was recording a background score for another film. I gave him the mukhda- 'Musafir hoon yaaron/Na ghar he na thikaana'-and I left. That night he woke me up at 1 A.M. and said, "Come, come down with me to the car." He'd recorded the tune on a cassette already. He started driving through the empty streets of Bandra, he played the beat on the dashboard. It was my first song as a director with him.
By the time he composed 'Saare ke saare', he had shifted from home--he was in the process of acquiring a new flat--to Caesar's Palace Hotel. The most beautiful song in the film--'Beeti na bitaai raina'--was also composed in the hotel room. It was based on a classical 'bandish'; it fetched Lata and Bhupendra National Awards for best playback singers.
In all, we did eight films together, as a composer-director team. Besides Parichay, there were: Khushboo, Kinara, Aandhi, Kitaab, Namkeen, Libaas and Ijaazat. How did 'Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa to nahin' (Aandhi) come about? He was recording Bengali songs for Durga puja around that time. The lyrics were by the renowned Gauri Shanker. I liked the tune that Pancham was composing; I filled it up with Hindi words and said, "Look, I'm going to use this for Aandhi."
As for 'Is mod pe jaate hain, kuchh sust qadam raste', I gave him the words from one of my poems. He composed the tune instantly. He never took time. Spontaneity was his specialty. If he struggled over a song, he would prefer to abandon it. For instance, 'Ek hi khwab kai baar dekha hai maine' (Kinara) exasperated him. He found that metre a bit difficult, but two months later I put it before him again. He caught the scanning, and the song was finally recorded.
When I gave him 'Mera kuchh saamaan tumhare paas pada hai' (Ijaazat), he waved the lyric aside and said, "Huh, tomorrow you'll bring me the front page of The Times of India and expect me to compose a tune around it. What is this blank verse you're giving me!" Ashaji was sitting there, she started humming the phrase, "Mujhe lauta do." He grasped it immediately; from that one phrase he developed the song, which was quite a feat! This time Ashaji and I got National Awards. Poor fellow, he did all the work and we enjoyed the 'kheer'.
Ashaji's and his was a superb creative companionship. He used the potential in her voice to maximum effect. No other composer ever placed Ashaji's voice above his music the way he did. We recorded the non-film album Dil Padosi Hai, and the variations from semi- classical and ghazal to pop and jazz, were a valuable experience for each one of us. There was a three-way harmony of voice, music and lyrics.
After his heart ailment, Pancham did feel that producers were sidelining him. He did feel hurt. He would laugh, with a touch of bitterness, at the new music composers who copy his tunes and make a mess of them. They would even imitate his singing style which was unmistakably his. 'Mehbooba mehbooba' (Sholay) and 'Dhanno ki aankhon mein' (Kitaab) were his creations, but others tried to clone his style, only to sound like amateurs.
My last meeting with Pancham was on December 30, 1993. He went to Sahara recording studio in Goregaon. Ashaji was recording a song for G.V. Iyer's Vivekananda. Salil Choudhary had composed the music. Pancham and I had gone along with Ashaji. At the end of the evening, he said in his customary manner, "Milte hain."
We never did.