Bappi Lahiri: ‘King of Bollywood disco’ has rejuvenated Indian cinema | Bollywood

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At the height of his fame in the 1980s, “the disco king of Bollywood”, Bappi Lahiri, who died this week, was composing nearly 15 soundtracks a year.

Born in Kolkata in 1952 into a musical family (his parents were classically trained musicians and playback singer Kishore Kumar was his uncle), Lahiri’s first soundtrack was for a 1973 film titled Nanha Shikari.

But Lahiri, also affectionately called Bappi “Da” (Bengali for brother), is best known for his writing on the film Disco Dancer (1982). The film broke all records and led to an unprecedented boom in disco music in India and disco-themed Bollywood films. Its soundtrack helped the film become a worldwide hit and to this day it remains the Soviet Union’s highest-grossing foreign film.

The score focused heavily on synthesizers, drum machines, string slaps, and playful, sexy vocals. The most famous song of the film, Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja – featuring little-known Indo-Trinidadian singer Parvati Khan – can still be heard on radio and in commercials and was sampled by British-Sri Lankan rapper MIA on her 2007 album, Kala.

Elsewhere on Disco Dancer, Nandu Bhende, lead singer of underground psychedelic rock band Atomic Forest and Velvette Fogg, sang his first Bollywood number, Krishna Dharti Pe Aaja too. The famous singer Usha Uthup was the guest of Auva Auva Koi Yahan Nachea Hindi remake of Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles, while Bappi himself produced and sang Yaad Aa Raha Hai.

On Namak Halaal’s soundtrack (1982), Lahiri continues his electronic and funk adventures. Her flagship track, the Donna Summer-esque Jawani Jan-E-Manwhich featured actor Parveen Babi dancing and singing to the voice of Asha Bhosle, became another seminal Bollywood anthem.

That same year, Lahiri also helped Runa Laila, a young Bangladeshi singer known primarily as a ghazal and movie playback singer, to create a new pop avatar as Superuna. The groundbreaking album merging disco, reggae, funk and Hindi vocals was a commercial and artistic success.

Lahiri’s output was prolific and in 1986 he entered the Guinness Book of World Records for recording over 180 songs for 33 films. It’s no surprise that, like the man whose soundtracks gave a youthful injection to Indian cinema in the 80s and 90s, Lahiri had a sense of style as strong as his music: black shades, gold chains , gold rings, ornate jackets and jumpsuits.

With the rise of hip-hop and break-dance culture in the second half of the 80s, Lahiri took up the challenge and experimented with electro sounds on I am a break dancer (Pyaar Karke Dekho), Break Dance (Kahan Hai Kanoon) and I am a street dancer (Ilzaam), among others. Mithun Chakraborty and Govinda, two Bollywood mega-stars known for their dance moves, have become synonymous with Bappi’s compositions and vice versa. Govinda wrote on Instagram after Lahiri’s death that he wouldn’t have become a star without his music.

Lahiri entered the Guinness Book of World Records for recording over 180 songs for 33 films. Composition: Supreme Records/Polydor/Bappi Lahari

A favorite of cult horror and gore directors the ramsay brothersBappi has written scores for many of their low budget horror films including Guest House, Dahshat, Maut Ka Saya, Dak Bangla and Saboot. Meri Jan and He Met Me at the Guest House are prime examples of his mastery of the horror aspect using eerie Moog sounds and echo effects.

Although Lahiri is known for his disco styles, his repertoire and portfolio is not limited to that. He has also been praised for his ghazal, classical and folk compositions. For 1984’s Kamla, a film based on the theme of human trafficking and slavery, Bappi delivered a delicate mood compositions based mainly on Indian classical instruments.

Bappi’s career hasn’t been limited to scoring Bollywood soundtracks. He has also written music for many films in Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati and Bengali. He stays true to his Bengali roots and regularly releases Bengali language albums that break down genre barriers by fusing folk and funk. He launched his very young daughter Rema Lahiri in 1987 with the album Dance Songs For Children, which featured synth-pop flavored rhymes. The father-daughter duo have released another album, A dancing parties (1990), with a similar theme. In 1988, Lahiri also found time to release an Indian-flavored house track called Habiba.

His work as a mainstream composer died out in the early 2000s, but he continued to be relevant in Indian popular culture due to his appearance as a panelist on TV shows, among other guest appearances.

His death comes as India’s film industry grapples with the death this month of legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar, “the nightingale of Bollywood”. Lahiri was close to Lata since childhood and they worked on many projects together. He described her as “not just an icon, but a pillar of the Bollywood industry”.

One of their collaborations, Thoda Resham Lagta Hai from Jyoti’s soundtrack, was illegally sampled by Dr Dre on Addictive by American R&B singer Truth Hurts. Lahiri was eventually credited to the song after his record company sued Universal Music Group for over $500 million.

Bappi Da died on February 15, 2022 in Mumbai from a lung infection caused by obstructive sleep apnea and is survived by his wife, two children and grandchildren.

Nishant Mittal is a music collector found @digginginindewhere he celebrates the weird and wonderful archives of Indian music

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