If Bappi Lahiri had lived, he would have been still composing, singing, living life king size. His zest for life was unequalled. He composed music in nearly five hundred film scores. Out of these, four hundred scores were in Hindi films. In Bollywood, this record is unequalled.
After fifty years of musicianship, Bappi felt like the luckiest music composer in the history of Indian film music. Just look at the artistes he worked with: His first Hindi song Tu hi mere chanda tu hi mera tera in the film Nanha Shikari was sung by Mukesh. Then he worked with Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, P Susheela, S Janaki, S.P. Balasubramaniam, Yesudas.
He was a big fan of Kishore Kumar’s voice. But it was Lataji, whom he hero-worshipped all his life. He never addressed her by name but chose to call her Mata Saraswati. Bappi credited his parents and Lataji for his career. It was because of Lataji’s support that Bappi could establish himself in Mumbai.
Bappi was when in the Eden Garden locality of Kolkata where we lived, Lataji came home and blessed him. Lataji sang many Bangla songs for Bappi’s father Aparesh Lahiri, who was a well-known composer in Kolkata. Lataji sang Bappi’s first composition in a Bengali film Daadu.
Bappi’s first big Bollywood hit score was Tahir Hussain’s Zakhmee. In that, Lataji sang Abhi abhi thi dushmani and Aao tumhen chand pe le jaaon. Both big hits. That film also had the Asha-Kishore duet Jalta hai jiya mera bhigi-bhigi raaton mein which was a rage.
Strangely Bappida reinvented himself as the disco king to become a super-successful composer in the 1980s in spite of scoring big with melodies earlier.Bappi Lahiri survived for fifty years in the music industry by changing with the times. Even when he became synonymous with disco music he continued to compose soft melodies in films like Lahu Ke Do Rang, Patita and Hatya.
Bappi became branded the Disco King in 1979 after a film called Suraksha with the song Mausam hai gaane ka. That started his journey as a disco composer. Film music in 1980s and 90s was stamped by Bappi Lahiri. The ‘disco’ style became unstoppable.
This image of the bejewelled rock star came to Bappi from his idol Elvis Presley. As a child, Bappi would look at Elvis’ posters and pictures and imagine himself cultivating a similar image some day when he became a musician. All the gold chains around Bappi’s neck were inscribed with the names of particular deities.
Bappi Lahiri once told me, “My song Pyar chahiye mujhe har ghadi is the anthem of my life. I want to be loved every moment. Because I love every moment.The fire still rages inside me to do young music. I know I am wedded to Indian melodies in my soul. But the feet are committed to trendy rhythms. I hope to be making young music even when I am 70.”
That was not meant to be.
Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.
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