Bappi Lahiri with Narendra Modi at a rally in Serampore on Sunday. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Serampore, April 28: The disco king knows how to manage the bling.
The gold chains are still blinding as they tumble down his neck, but fewer. His chief accessory, as Bappi Lahiri campaigns on a hot April evening in Serampore, is his wife.
He steps out of his white Innova sporting a bright orange full-sleeve tee and wife Chitrani in a green salwar suit. They climb up to the stage, matching their steps, and raise their arms together, fingers joined at the top, as a red and silver throne glints behind them. Together, they are the BJP.
Bappi has got around 25 such T-shirts in bright orange tailored for his election routine.
“Dekhechhen toh amader colour combination? Amader flag-er dorkaar nei (Have you seen our colour combination? We don’t need a flag)!” he grins, holding a lotus, his eyes peering through his dark shades as he addresses a gathering in a dark open field in Nabagram in Konnagar. Veterans would have avoided the shades to make direct eye contact, but Bappida knows better.
He knows what people want.
They want a show. He is going to give it to them.
At Basai Dharmatala, on the way to Nabagram, Parbati Mondal, 40, had interrupted Bappi continuously with “Arre ekta gaan shonaan (please sing a song)!” She didn’t care if he won or lost. “Only time will tell who will win and who will lose. I love his songs: the songs of Disco Dancer!”
She was being urged on by none other than Chitrani from the car.
Trailing Bappi’s cavalcade is a Matador with a larger-than-life picture of the disco king done up in full bling, flashy jacket and all his chains, which is part of a five-piece campaign platform, including a makeshift staircase that is fitted to each stage set up for his meetings.
There’s also a settee, a wireless microphone if Bappi needs to stop midway and quickly sing a few of his songs, a CD of newly recorded numbers, such as Jai jai Serampore, hey hey, jai jai BJP, hey hey, that Bappi has specially composed and sung for the campaign. There are speakers, too, to blast the arrival of Bappi.
Women and children make up most of his audience at Nabagram. It is 7pm, and the children are glad to postpone study hour, and the women their daily chores.
Bappi is a ball of energy. Despite the din and clamour around him, he knows how to get himself heard. “Reverb thoda kam kijiye,” Bappi instructs the boy at the mixer as he takes up the microphone.
He says Tansen had summoned a storm and the rains with his music.
But he will make the lotus bloom. He breaks into a song — Chirodini tumi je amar — the hit number from Amar Sangi, which this time ends with “BJP, I love you.”
The temperature soars, but Bappida is unflappable as he comes back to his car and settles into the front seat. He beams at everyone, rolling down the windows occasionally to flash a victory sign or do a namaste.
Before coming to Nabagram, he paid a quick visit to the Aryasamaj temple in Adarshnagar, a Hindi-speaking area.
His last stop of the day is Uttarpara, where Somen and Suraj are among the scores of children who have found a place in the front row and are in auto repeat mode after Bappi: “Modi sarkaar zindabad… zindabad zindabad!” they cry. “Amra Bappi kaku ke dekhte eshechhi (We have come to see Bappi uncle). We love Ooh lala!”
Earlier in the evening, before the campaign, The Telegraph had caught up with Bappi at Hotel Royal on old Delhi Road.
Bappi had just returned from Mumbai after casting his vote the previous day. Sprawled on a giant couch in a sprawling room with an omelette waiting in front, he had a point to make. “If I’m asking people for votes, how can I avoid it?”
He pointed to his family around him: wife Chitrani, son Bappa, daughter-in-law Taneesha, daughter Rema, son-in-law Gaurav Bansal and four-year-old grandson Swastik. “Bappa and Gaurav are my pillars. My left pillar and right pillar…jaan diye korchhey (they are trying their best).”
The family’s enthusiasm is evident. Bappa, also a music composer in Mumbai, has taken a “month’s holiday” to be with his father from Day One.
The family is also discovering a new world.
“We’re usually in guarded green rooms or living in a plush bungalow in Juhu. We never get to be with the public. Here we’ve been going into people’s houses. I now know what real India is. People don’t even have electricity!” exclaims Bappa.
He also speaks, with no trace of irony, about the effect of Bappi’s tan from the campaign. “I think he’s looking Spanish!” he says.
With equal conviction, Bappi and his family claim that he is going to win. “The battle seems already won,” says Bappa.
The statistics from the last elections can look a little scary. In 2009 Kalyan Banerjee of Trinamul had got 52.68 per cent of the votes. The BJP’s Debabrata Chowdhury had got 3.56 per cent.
Banerjee is generous with his praise for Bappi’s music but dismisses him as a political figure. “People are flocking to see him because he’s a good singer and composer but they won’t vote for him. He is a man who needs his AC car and AC room and that’s not where most people live,” says Banerjee.
Tirthankar Roy, the CPM candidate for Serampore, sees no competition from either Bappi or Trinamul. “There has been no development in the last few years. Unemployed youth, harassed women and labourers who haven’t got their salaries will all cast their votes in our favour.”
But Bappi takes a different view. “I keep doing shows all over the world and it seems even in my political rallies, people are going mad about me. Bappida ke ekta touch korchhe ar emon korchhe jeno bhogoban ke touch korlo (They touch Bappida and behave as if they are touching God)!” he says.
“If Modiji can bring paribartan, why not Bappi Lahiri?” he asks. “I have fallen in love with Serampore — all the temples, the banks of Hooghly, Dakshineswar on the other side. I want to promote these.”
His priority list also includes a “Bappi Lahiri Music Academy” and reducing unemployment among youth. “I want to see smoke billowing from the chimneys in mills. I feel very bad about all the mills up to Bhadreswar that are locked. We also need to ensure women find work. Now everything depends on if I win,” he says.
“See, I have seen Michael Jackson and how people were crying just to touch him. The same thing is happening with me. When I’m going to villages, people are going crazy just to touch me. How many people will I shake hands with? Haath ta toh chhire jabey amar (My hands will drop off). But I know that this is a sign of their love and this kind of love only a few lucky ones get.”
“See, puro prithibi ghurey ami ekta jinish jenechhi je Bappi Lahirir shamney keu nei (After roaming the world, I have come to the conclusion that there is no match for Bappi Lahiri)! I’m only scared of God. So if God is willing and people want me, I’ve already won,” he says.