He impressed Lata Mangeshkar when he was barely three. The singer heard him play the tabla when she was in Calcutta for V. Shantaram’s 1955 film Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje. Ten years later, he was assisting the music score of the Bengali biopic Subhash Chandra. Within six years he was composing the music for Ajit Ganguly’s Bengali film Dadu.
Forty years later, he is still going strong.
That’s Bappi Lahiri — the man with the golden touch. Lahiri recalls how his father, Aparesh Lahiri, urged him to accept Ganguly’s offer, and how the nervous teenager found himself cueing the Melody Queen on his first composition, a bhajan. “Lataji was a family friend and was very encouraging. She assured my father that I could make it in Hindi playback music if I relocated to Mumbai,” he reminisces.
Dadu remained incomplete, but following Lata’s advice, the Lahiris moved to Mumbai where Bappi bagged S. Mukherji’s Nanha Shikari (1973), and, at 19, flagged off his music career with the melodious Mukesh composition Tu hi mera chanda, followed by Nothing is impossible, which he sang with Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar. The words were prophetic because after four jubilee hits — Zakhmee (1975), Chalte Chalte (1976), Paapi (1977) and Aap Ki Khatir (1977) — nothing seemed impossible for him.
“And today, suddenly, I realise that four decades have passed in a flash,” smiles the 60-year-old singer-composer-actor-producer.
A flashback to the swinging Seventies takes him back to one of his earliest chart toppers — the eminently hummable Bambai se aaya mera dost, dost ko salaam karo for Aap Ki Khatir. The song, he recalls, initially had only four lines. But at the time of the music release, it was discovered that the song was too short for a Long Playing record. The producer of the film, Harsh Kohli, requested him to add a couple of more antaras. “After the record hit the stores, the song was such a hit that Vinod Khanna, a busy star then, insisted on it being picturised on him in the climax and filmed it for free,” he narrates.
Lahiri is also credited with introducing Bollywood to disco — inspired by the beats that he had heard in the US in the Seventies. He first experimented with the genre in a B-grade desi Bond film Surakshaa (1979), and then made it hugely popular in India with B. Subhash’s cult musical Disco Dancer (1982). The song I am a disco dancer from the film also established Mithun Chakraborty as an able pelvic-thrusting dancer.
“When we were recording the song, my musicians were dancing in the studio. Mithun later thanked me for giving him the best song of his career. Kishore (Kumar) mama wanted me to sing it, but I insisted on using his voice. He, however, refused to re-dub Yaad aa raha hai, pushing Subhash to retain the scratch I’d recorded when he was in London, promising him it would be a superhit,” he says.
It was a superhit — as were I am a Disco Dancer, Jimmy Jimmy and Auva auva, his duet with Usha Uthup . “These songs, along with many others, brought the disco wave to India. Today what you are hearing is what I composed 30 years ago,” says Lahiri, who ruled Bollywood through the Eighties and the Nineties, despite allegations of plagiarism.
Laughing off the label of a “copy cat”, Bappi stresses that he took American singer Shari Watson aka Truth Hurts to court for lifting the music track of a mukhda from Kaliyon ka chaman — a song that Lata Mangeshkar had recorded for the 1981 film Jyoti. The song Addictive made it to the top 10 UK and US charts, and after a two-year copyright battle, Bappi’s contribution was acknowledged.
“It was a proud moment for Indian music, the Hindi film industry and me,” he says, while pointing out that he’s been nominated for the Grammy Awards thrice. “Someday I’ll get there and add a Grammy to the awards I have won.” Among the ones he has bagged so far is a National Award for Best Film for Lal Darja (1997), which his wife Chitrani co-produced with Dulal Roy.
Meanwhile, his efforts to prove that the East and West can meet and make music together that started with Samantha Fox singing and starring in Rock Dancer (1994) and Boy George recording When will you learn for Deewana Hoon Main Tera continue. He says he’s just cut a single with Snoop Dogg that will be released in the US in March. His new dance single Jhoom, Jhoom, Jhoom is a collaboration with Canadian hip-hop artist Jake the Jewla and American songstress Elle Vee, and is slated for release next month.
Besides his recording stints abroad, Bappi is also busy with Bollywood films such as Akshay Kumar’s Special 26, Neil Nitin Mukesh’s Shortcut Romeo and Ajay Devgn’s Himmatwala. “The Dirty Picture (2011) gave me the biggest hit of my 40-year career. At any concert, anywhere in the world, I have to sing Oo la la at least thrice. The original song from Mawaali (1983), Oi amma, was a hit too, but not in the league of Oo la la.”
He is also looking forward to composers Sajid and Wajid’s fresh take (in Sajid Khan’s Himmatwala remake) on two of his hits of the Eighties — Nainon mein sapna and Taki taki. “I know both the film and the songs will top the charts,” he says. “The earlier Himmatwala celebrated a golden jubilee.”
Was it the golden jubilees that turned him into India’s Golden Man — wrapped as he is in layers of gold? He laughs. “Elton John has his cap and The Beatles had their haircut. I wanted a distinct image too so I borrowed my idol Elvis Presley’s glares and chains. Gold has been lucky for me. I’ve been mocked and mimicked many times, but thanks to my jewellery, whether I’m in the UK or the US, the Middle East or Europe, I’m instantly recognised as the one and only Bappi Lahiri!”
And one and only he truly is.
Show and shine
Gold is his trademark
“Gold has been lucky for me. Thanks to my jewellery, whether I’m in the UK or the US, the Middle East or Europe, I’m instantly recognised as the one and only Bappi Lahiri!”
In the works
A single with Snoop Dogg that will be released in the US in March. His new dance single Jhoom, Jhoom, Jhoom in collaboration with Canadian hip-hop artist Jake the Jewla and American songstress Elle Vee is slated for release next month.
24 Carats: Bappi’s Top 3
Chalte chalte mere yeh geet yaad rakhna… (Chalte Chalte): “Kishore Kumar started crying after he heard the song.”
Yaad aa raha hai… (Disco Dancer): “Kishore insisted B. Subhash retain my scratch.”
Intehhan ho gayi… (Sharabi): “Memorable for Kishore-Asha Bhosle’s chemistry and my varied orchestration.”