Sachin Dev Burman, also known as S.D. Burman, was born in Comilla (now in Bangladesh) in the royal family of Tripura. Adept in dhrupad and sitar, his father, Nabadip Chandra Dev Burman, was one of his earliest mentors. Even when he moved to Kolkatta for post-graduate studies, S.D. Burman continued to train in music under stalwarts like K.C. Dey (Manna Dey’s uncle), Ustad Badal Khan and Ustad Allauddin Khan.
He began his career as a singer on Calcutta Radio station in the late 1920s and gradually gained popularity as a Bengali folk and light classical music singer. By mid-1930s, he had probably reached his peak as a singer and ready to move on to other challengs. He began composing music for Bengali films in 1937 with the movie “Rajgee” and went to compose for films like “Rajkumarer Nirbashan” (1940) and “Jeevan Sangini” (1943). He got married to Meera Dasgupta in 1938 and his son Rahul Dev Burman was born in 1939.
S.D. Burman did not have a good beginning in Hindi films. In 1933, His singing for Pankaj Mullick’s compositions for the movie “Yehudi Ki Ladki” were rejected due to his strong Bengali accent! He waited almost a decade to sing his first Hindi film song for the movie “Tajmahal” (1941). Burman da eventually gave in to the lure of Bollywood and moved to Mumbai in 1944. His first movie as a music director was “Shikari” (1946). Over the next few years, he composed music for a handful films (“Aath Din”, “Do Bhai” amongst others) but it was only in 1950 that his career really took off, thanks to a series of collaborations with Dev Anand starting with “Baazi” (1950). Dada went on to compose music for 14 Navketan Films. It was in the 1950s that he developed the style of music he came to be known for - simple melodies (he wanted his servants to be able to hum his songs) with folk music influences (as opposed to classical music that was in vogue at that time). He capped of the 50s on a serious note with his compositions for two Guru Dutt classics - “Pyaasa” (1957) and “Kaagaz Ke Phool” (1959).
The 50s were also eventful in terms of his relationships with his singers. He mentored Kishore Kumar and gave him his first hit song “Jeevan Ke Safar Mein Rahi” for the movie “Munimji”. He helped Geet Dutt transform herself from a singer of bhajans to a singer of stylish numbers like “Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui”. He had a fallout with Lata Mangeshkar in 1957 and did not use her as a singer for the next six years!
In the 60s, 1965 was a landmark year for Burman da. He recovered from a serious illness while composing for the movie “Guide” and went on to compose one of his best bodies of work. Every song in “Guide” became hugely popular and critically acclaimed. Poor health continued to plague him in the second half of the 1960s. It is commonly acknowledged the credit for his hit songs in “Aradhana” (1969) truly belonged to his son, R.D. Burman, who was assisting him in this movie.
But, Burman da, would not give up easily and continued to compose music. In 1973, with his brilliant compositions for “Aradhana”, the sixty-seven year old man was probably the most serious challenger to R.D. Burman, who now dominated Hindi film music.
He died in Mumbai in 1975.