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'I am the godfather of disco'

By PATCY N
Last updated on: February 16, 2022 11:46 IST
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'You make a hit, everything is fit.'

IMAGE: Bappi Lahiri at home. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Singer-composer Bappi Lahiri, who popularised disco music in India in the 1980s and 1990s, passed into the ages on February 16, 2022, following multiple health issues

We remember the music legend with this must-read interview, first published on Rediff.com in April 2013.

Sajid Khan's Himmatwala might be nothing like the 1983 original, but its songs Naino Main Sapna and Taaki O Taaki are hits. And the credit goes to music composer-singer Bappi Lahiri.

"The '80s super hit music is coming back again. Naino Main Sapna, Taaki O Taaki in Himmatwala was my baby. Of course, Naino Main Sapna was sung by Lata Mangeshkarji and Kishore mama (Kishore Kumar). My latest superhit song is in the Arshad Warsi film Jolly LLB -- Mere Toh Law Lage," says the flamboyant composer with the trademark style of dressing.

Three of the films he has composed music for have done Rs 100 crore business in the last few years -- Golmaal 3 (I am a Disco Dancer), Dirty Picture (Ooh La La) and Special Chabbis (Dhar Pakad).

"I am Kolkata ka hit ladka, so they all love me. Mera karam bhoomi hai Maharashtra," he says.

Bappida has completed 40 years in the film industry, and has 472 films to his credit. His phenomenal career began in 1973 with actress Kajol's father Shomu Mukherjee's Nanha Shikhari.

In this fascinating interview with Patcy N/Rediff.com and Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com, Bappida looks back at his long and successful career, and also sings in his trademark style.

'We came thinking that Bombay main kuch karne ka he hai'

IMAGE: Bappi Lahiri with his trophies. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Musician at the age of three

My parents Aparesh and Bansari Lahiri were very famous singers from Kolkata. I started playing the tabla at the age of three or four. My guruji was Pandit Samtha Prasadji.

I played at a show in Eden Garden, which was an indoor stadium then, when Lataji saw me perform and called my dad and said 'Apareshda fantastic! Aap ka beta gooni hai (your son is talented!).

Lataji came to Kolkata to sing a Bengali song composed by my dad, Ekbar Biday De Ma Ghure Asi. I have a photograph of me sitting on her lap.

At the age of 11, I started composing and my first composition was sung by my father. It was not for a movie, but an album that every singer in Kolkata does for Durga Puja.

My first music composition for a movie was for a Bengali film Daadu. I was in Class 10 then. I told my father that I was not interested in studies. I was more interested in tabla, piano and other instruments. My father told me to complete school and then I could do music full-time.

I was 19 when I came to Mumbai. It was not the industry that we have today, where every month there is a new music composer. When I came here there were all great composers like S D Burman, R D Burman, O P Nayyar, Shankar Jaikishan, Madan Mohan, Kalyandji Anandji, Laxmikant Pyarelal.

Amongst all these biggies, a 19-year-boy from Bengal was entering their arena. It was tough competition.

It took me two to three years to get my foothold here. My baba (father) told me if you trust in god you will succeed, I have a guru who I call Dadaji, Sri Sri Shankar Narayanji. He gave me his blessings (shows us a taawiz on a gold chain).

We all came to Mumbai as I was the only child. We came thinking that Bombay main kuch karne ka he hai.

'One year we were tense, not because of money, but because we all wanted my work to become a hit'

IMAGE: Bappi Lahiri's prized possesions. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

First job, history in the making

I got work immediately because my father knew Mukesh. Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar were like family. My baba was a reputed man in Bengal and he had sung a song in a Hindi film too for Shankar-Jaikishan.

I got Shomu Mukherjee's Nanha Shikari, but the film did not do well. Then I got B R Ishara's Charitraheen, Parveen Babi's first film. That too did not work. Baba told me we will look around for a couple of years and if I don't find work in this industry we will go back.

That one year we were tense, not because of money, as both my parents were good singers and money was not a problem, but because we all wanted my work to become a hit kyunki chadte sooraj ko sab salaam karte hain (everyone salutes the rising sun).

Then I composed songs for Ek Ladki Badnam Si (1974). A song in that film, Rahe Na Rahe Chahe Hum Aur Tum, sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar, was appreciated. Listening to that song Tahir Hussain saab signed me for Zakhmee.

This was my big break. All the songs in Zakhmee became hits -- Jalta Hai Jiya Mera Bheegi Bheegi Raaton Main topped the Binaca Geet Mala.

Then came the historical film Chalte Chalte. It is Kishore Kumar's life's history. I have gone to Kishore mama's samadhi in Khandwa. It is written on his samadhi: Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna.

He has sung so many super hit songs, but the song composed by me is written on his samadhi. At all my programmes I sing this song in the end. People sway to the song.

Bambai Se Aaya Mera Dost from the film Aap Ki Khatir was a huge hit. It had Vinod Khanna who was huge then. O P Ralhan's Paapi with its big star cast also gave my career a good start.

In the 1970s all the romantic songs were hits, such as Mana Ho Tum Behad Haseen from Shekhar Kapur's Toote Khilone (1978) and Pyaar Maanga Hai Tumhi Se from College Girl (1978), and Chahiye Thoda Pyaar from Mahesh Bhatt's Lahu Ke Do Rang (1979) which youngsters sing even today.

My classical songs were inspired by my parents. My mother was a classical exponent. I have learnt a lot from her songs. Kisi Nazar Ko Tera Intezaar Aaj Bhi Hai from Aitbaar, Log Kehte Hai Main Sharaabi Hoon from Sharaabi, Bandhan Tootena, Pyaari Zindagi from Paap Ki Duniya, Saayina Bina Ghar Soona from Aagan Ki Kali are my classical songs.

'The decade of the 1980s was ruled by Bappi Lahiri'

LISTEN To Bappi Lahiri speak on Disco in Indian Cinema. Video: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Godfather of Disco

Disco is my forte. I am the godfather of disco. I brought disco into this film industry.

In 1979, I went on my first world tour after the success of Bambai Se Aaya Mera Dost. I was in a club in Chicago where a DJ was playing. I asked him what he was playing and he said, 'I am playing a disc and when we play it in a club where everybody is dancing, we call it disco.'

I liked the ring of the word 'disco' in my ear. At that time a super hit film Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta had released, with music by the BeeGees. Everybody was dancing to those songs in the club. And there was a certain kind of beat in that music that hit me.

When I came to India I recorded songs for Raveekant Nagaich's Suraksha. My song Mausam Hai Gaane Ka Baja Ne Ka was a superhit and the film was also a superhit.

Disco Dancer made history. All the songs were a hit -- Jimmy Jimmy Aaja Aaja was used in Adam Sandler's Don't mess with Zohan. They gave me credit for it. The other song was Yaad Aa Raha Hai Tera Pyaar.

After Disco Dancer, Bappi Lahiri and Mithun Chakraborty became brands just like Shammi Kapoor and Rafisaab, Rajesh Khanna and Kishore Kumar were brands. We did lots of films together -- Dance Dance, Kasam Paida Karnewale Ki Wardaat, Prem Pratigya and Dilwala.

Mithun was a very talented actor. He was young and energetic. I remember he came when we were composing for Dance Dance. We composed the song Super Dancer in an hour. He used to come to my house, just listen and go. We are both Bengalis and we have a good rapport even today. Recently he made a movie Spaghetti 24/7 and I composed the music for it.

The decade of the 1980s was ruled by Bappi Lahiri. No other music director got that much work because everybody wanted Bappida.

My songs Rambha Ho, Hari Om Hari, Disco Station, Pag Ghungroo Bandh Mira Nachi Thi from Namak Halal, Sharaabi. I worked with three superstars in Giraftar: Kamal Haasan, Rajnikanthji and Amitabhji.

'If I sang just one song in the entire film, that would be a huge hit'

WATCH Bappi Lahiri recalls singing his first song. Video: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Singing his own composition

In most films, I have sung just one song and that has become a hit, like Aana Jaana Laga Rahega in Giraftaar and Yaar Bina Chain Kahan Re in Anil Kapoor's debut film Saheb. Those days, Kishore Kumar was the top singer, but if I sang just one song in the entire film that would be a huge hit.

I never insisted on singing a song in the film just because I was composing the music for it because there were top singers like Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi, who were legends. But after Bambai Se Aaya Mera Dost was a super hit, everybody started asking me to sing at least one song in their film.

The first song that I sang was Jaana Kahan Hai, Pyaar Yahaan Hai in Chalte Chalte. It was an average song, but still the producers asked me to sing Bambai Se Aaya Mera Dost in Aap Ki Khatir, which was such a big hit that it was played on the roads, in the cars. Then Mithun's Suraksha changed everything.

I thought I will not sing any song in Namak Halal. All the songs were sung by Kishoreda and Ashaji, but Prakash Mehra told me 'tu ek gaana ga'. That was Raat Baaki, Baat Baaki Hona Hai Jo Ho Jane Do. It was also a huge hit.

I told Prakashji I will not sing any song in Sharaabi -- this should be Kishore mama and Amitabh Bachchan all the way.

Kishore Kumar got two back-to-back Filmfare Awards for Pag Ghungroo in Namak Halal andn Manzilein Apni Jaga in Sharaabi. Both the songs were composed by me.

I even ruled the '90s with my songs, Gor Hai Kaliyaan from Aaj Ka Arjun, Tamma Tamma Loge, the biggest hit of Bollywood, Oh Lal Dupatte Wali Tera Naam To Bata from Aankhen, Sawali Saloni fromHum Sab Chor Hai.

But in the '90s, a new trend started. Two or three composers started composing songs for a single film. Now there are even guest composers, composing just one song. Even my son does guest composer kind of music.

I was not comfortable being a guest composer or composing music with two or three other composers. But in Hum Tere Hain Sanam, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, I composed just one song, Gale Main Lal Tie and that song did very well. I then thought there is no harm in doing this so I have also been a guest composer for a few movies.

My contemporaries sometimes criticise me, but if you have a fan following, then nothing else matters. You make a hit, everything is fit.

My song Ramba Ho Ho Ho was criticised by some composer. But it was a hit. Usha Uthup got a Filmfare nomination for that song. Even today that song is a hit at functions.

'Michael Jackson told me 'I love your song Jimmy Jimmy'

LISTEN To Bappi Lahiri speak about singing for other composers. Video: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Singing for other composers

Before Taxi 9211, I only sang for myself. But Vishal-Shekhar were my bhakts and they told me 'Your songs are always a hit, you have to sing for John Abraham'.

I sang that song and it was a superhit. Then A R Rahman called me to sing Guru Ek Lo Ek Muft for Abhishek Bachchan in Guru.

I just sing one super hit song a year, but this year I have sung many songs.

For Golmaal 3, I sang I Am A Disco Dancer because Mithunda requested me. He told me my voice is lucky for any film. The original song is sung by Vijay Benedict.

I have launched lots of singers: Vijay Benedict in I Am A Disco Dancer, Usha Uthup's first Hindi song Koi Yahan Aha Nache Nache, Sharon Prabhakar's Meri Jaisi Haseena from Armaan, Salma Agha's Jhoom Jhoom Jhoom Baba from Kasam Paida Karnewale Ki, Alisha Chinai in Tarzaan...

Parvati Khan singing Jimmy Jimmy was a worldwide hit. When Michael Jackson came to India, he told me 'I love your song Jimmy Jimmy'. I met him in 1996 at a party organised by a big dignitary. The first thing that Michael Jackson said to me was, 'I love your chain.'

I was going to work with him and the Jackson 5, but he passed away before that.

I did an album with Runa Laila from Bangladesh, Super Runa.

 

'All over the world Bappi's image means dark glasses, gold chains, huge bracelet, and my watch'

WATCH Bappi Lahiri explain his fascination for gold chains. Video: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Bling Bling Bappi!

Many people make jokes about me. You will see so many artistes wearing fake gold and goggles and performing on stage and thinking 'Main Bappi Lahiri ban gaya.' I am a costly man for anyone to become me.

Some new actor was mimicking me at a Radio Mirchi event recently. He will take at least 12 to 14 years to wear gold like Bappi and watch and goggles.

My father and mother taught me to respect my elders. R D Burman was my senior and I respected him even though we are competitors. Laxmikant Pyarelal's Parasmani and Dosti were such big hits, so I respected him. Among the senior composers there are very few who are still alive, like me, Pyarelalbhai and Anandji bhai.

Everyone makes fun of me and jokes about me.

All over the world Bappi Lahiri's image means dark glasses, gold chains, huge bracelet, and my watch -- all bling bling. I am bling bling Bappi. My image is a hit, the public wants to see me like this.

At functions nobody looks at a music composer. But even if Bappi Lahiri goes to the airport, crowds gather to see him. No singer has this kind of fan following. All Asians are my fans. Asians everywhere love me. If I get love like this, then what is 40 years. If god wishes, I will work for 50 years.

I don't care about anyone making fun of me. Jab haathi chalta hai toh kutta bhokta hai (dogs bark when an elephant walks). I sang Ooh La La just now in America four times in one live performance. Let someone give a hit like this, then they can mimic Bappi Lahiri.

At first, I didn't wear so many gold chains. I just wore one gold chain with the taweez. Then I felt gold was lucky for me -- I decided myself, nobody told me. I am an astrologer. I get good vibes. But after Zakhmee, I started wearing gold chains because it was a huge hit.

All the chains on my neck have significance. My first chain was given to me by my mother, it is of Hare Krishna. This Ganpati baba you just saw is my guru's taweez on a gold chain, this is Tirupati Balaji, this big chain is given to me by Mrs Lahiri which has B written on it -- that is the only B, all the other chains are god's blessings.

I am the only Bengali Brahmin to wear the Sikh kadha from a gurdwara. I also have a bracelet from the Vatican City. I have a gold bracelet with Bappi written on it which is too heavy to wear -- it was gifted by my wife.

I am a very spiritual man. I respect all religions, and I think they teach the same thing.

I am a huge fan of Elvis Presley. He used to wear this big cross around his neck and big glasses and many bracelets. So I started wearing all these things. After my picture was printed in an American newspaper, you can see all the hip-hop singers today wearing a big chain, big bracelet, big rings -- they have also started this fashion.

I have created this image for myself; I created this total image in 1979 after my marriage (he was married in 1977 to Chitrani Lahiri).

My son is also a music director. He is doing good work. He started playing instruments when he was a kid. He is a good drummer. He helps me in my work and now he composes for films too, but there is no competition between father and son.

My daughter Rema was a child artiste in the album Chandamama. She is a very good singer. Mrs Lahiri says everybody sings and composes in the family so at least she should listen, and that's why she doesn't sing! But she has a good knowledge of music. She produced a Bengali film Lal Darwaza, directed by Buddhadeb Dasgupta which got a National Award.

'If Lataji's voice was not good, she wouldn't come for the recording'

LISTEN To Bappi Lahiri speak on singers. Video: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Working with big singers

Whatever Bappi Lahiri is today is because of Lataji's blessings. After my parents, the next most important person is Lata Mangeshkar. She is family. Kishore Kumarji and Rafisaab gave me lots of love.

I first requested Lataji to sing for me for a Bengali movie, Dadumai. I was just 16 years old. My father called her and said Bappi has become a composer. She said, 'Bappi has become a composer? He is such a small kid.' I felt a little awkward when I went to teach her the song.

One thing I noticed about Lataji is that she respects the composer in you. She didn't have any airs that she is Lata Mangeshkar and Bappi Lahiri is just a small time composer.

One should learn from these people how to respect music directors. If Lataji's voice was not good, she wouldn't come for the recording. In the morning if she found that her voice had the slightest problem, she would cancel the recording.

More than RD, Asha Bhosle has sung songs for me. She is an outstanding singer; she can sing cabaret, romantic and classical as well.

Yesudas and (S P Balasubrahmanyam are also great singers.

But after working with Kishore Kumar, Rafisaab, Lataji, and Ashaji, there is no fun in working with others, though they are all good singers. Those days were something else and they won't come back. Kishore Kumar was my mama, my mother's rakhi brother.

Now we have good singers like Sonu Nigam, Shaan, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghoshal, Alka Yagnik, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan. They are all too good, but I still feel a vacuum after working with the singers that I have worked with earlier in my life

Kishore Kumar was such a brilliant singer. If I added 50 per cent to any song, he would make it 100 per cent by his rendition. Listen to Pag Ghungroo and you will know his talent.

I have done some 30-40 live shows with him. He would dance to Taaki Oh Taaki, Ek Aankh Maaru Toh Parda Hatt Jaaye. I have learnt everything about live shows from him. If he came on stage, then everyone better pack up. No one could match him on stage.

Rafisaab, was an amazing singer. I still remember one song he sang for me in Zakhmee -- Nothing is impossible, ta ra ra ra ra ra.

I was a kid in the midst of a live 100 piece orchestra. No one knew Bappi Lahiri then. Kishore Kumar was on one side and on the other side there was Rafisaab, and I was in the middle. I was shivering because they were such great singers. They made me so comfortable when I was singing with them.

I consider myself lucky that I have worked with these great singers. They were all very sweet to me as they were all friends of my father.

Today's singers are also excellent. But because I have worked with the others, I cannot forget them. Like how can one forget Amitabh Bachchan? Amitabh Bachchan is Amitabh Bachchan.

After him everyone was good -- say Salman Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar -- all are very good. But Amitabh is Amitabh. He is senior.

'Plagiarism of Western music didn't start with Bappi Lahiri'

WATCH Bappi Lahiri defends himself against charges of plagarism. Video: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Being accused of plagiarism

Plagiarism of Western music didn't start with Bappi Lahiri. It was there during Shankar-Jaikishan, S D Burman. Mere Sapno Ki Rani Kab Aayegi Tu is also copied. I took Hari Om Hari from One Way Ticket. I admit it. But I have taken two lines from the mukhda (chorus) then changed the remaining.

Even the song Gum Hain Koi Toh was completely changed. In the 1990sm there was a song Jhuma Chuma De De and mine was Tamma Tamma Loge. Both songs were from an African folk song. Unknowingly, both Laxmiji (of Laxmikant-Pyarelal) and I both took it.

I can assure you that out of my 470 movies, I have done this in some 20-odd movies, I have taken only the mukhdas. Yes, I have taken because disco cannot happen with Indian classical music. Like with Mere Dil Gaye Jaa, Zu Zu Zoobi Zoobi Zoobi, you have to take this from Western music.

But I also got folk music into disco like De De Pyaar De and Yaar Bina Chain Kahan Re, both total Bengali folk. I brought them into disco music.

According to me, today music is like a Xerox photocopy. They copy the music as it is. I must have copied in only 20 movies and that too, only two lines from the original.

Today every song is lifted. Even my songs have been used, but I never say anything. If it is a hit I am happy.

In the last decade, at least 10-20 of my songs have been lifted and become super-duper hits. I haven't told anyone that my song has been copied.

The song from Himmatwala -- Naino Mein Sapna -- has the same tune, same orchestration, violin, everything. No remix. Sajid Khan has used the total song.

Even Taaki Ho Taaki has been used as it is. Yes, they have given me the credit as: Original song by Bappi Lahiri. These songs are immortal songs.

'I have been nominated for a Grammy three times'

IMAGE: Bappi Lahiri with his awards. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Controversy

I was upset when I did not get credit for my song Kaliyon Ka Chaman(Jyoti) which was used by Dr Dre (the American record producer and rapper). I spoke to them and they gave my credit.

I brought Samantha Fox to Rock Dancer. I worked with MC Hammer (the American rapper) on Will to Live, and I have also worked with Boy George and Apache Indian.

I have just recorded a single in Los Angeles -- Snoop Dogg and Bappi -- in which I have given yoga guru Bikram Chaudhary a part. Before this another album will release called Jhoom with a hot singer, LV from Los Angeles.

I have been nominated for a Grammy three times for World Peace Love and Harmony along with Gerald Albright and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, and the Jai Ganesha Bhakti album, Walking on Love Street, but I have never come in the top five. To come in the top five, I will have to work hard.

'I don't have time to act in movies because I have many music projects'

LISTEN To Bappi Lahiri's favourite songs. Video: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Acting in films

Recently, I acted in It's Rocking Dard-e-Disco. It was a great movie, but released at the wrong time. It came during the release of Jab Tak Hain Jaan, Today, movies work on promotions. I did my best in the small role of a Disco King. But unfortunately, the movie didn't work.

I have done small roles earlier, in Kishore Kumar's Badti Ka Naam Daadi and Kalakaar with Sridevi. I also did small roles in Guru, Dharma Karma and Bomb Blast. I did a bigger role in Main Aur Mrs Khanna with Salman Khan, and in Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om.

WATCH Bappi Lahiri recall his 40 years in show business. Video: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

I don't have time to act in movies because I have many music projects. Recently, my songs in a Tamil movie have become super-duper hits like Naughty Raja Raja from the movie Karuppampatti.

Forty-two years I have been in Bombay. I adore this city. I have sung about it in Bambai Se Aaya Mera Dost from Aap Ki Khatir and Lakh Lakh Roz from Taxi 9211.

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PATCY N / Rediff.com