Bappi Lahiri who turns 60 on November 27 speaks to Subhash K Jha on his musical journey.
What are your thoughts on turning 60?
I feel blessed and very happy. I am surrounded by my loved ones. I’ve completed 466 film scores. Out of these 400 are Hindi films. At least in Bollywood this record is unequalled. 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.
It’s hard to believe you are 60
Ha ha. I don’t feel old at all. I’ve been into music for 40 years. As I look back I feel I am the luckiest music composer in the history of Indian film music. Just look at the artistes I’ve worked with: my first song ‘Tu hi mere chanda tu hi mera tera’ in the film ‘Nanha Shikari’ was sung by Mukeshji. Then I worked with Mohd Rafi Saab, Asha Bhosleji, Kishore Kumar, P Susheela, S Janaki, S.P. Balasubramaniam, Yesudas.Most of all I had Lataji’s blessings from the beginning. Whatever Bappi Lahiri is today is because of my parents and Lataji. She’s my Saraswati. It was because of her support that Bappi Lahiri could establish himself in Mumbai. Otherwise who would have given Bappi a chance when stalwarts composers like Laxmikant-Pyarelal, R D Burman and Kalyanji-Ananadji were around?
How did Lataji help you?
I was 4 when in the Eden Garden locality of Kolkata where we lived, Lataji came home and blessed me. I still have a picture of me sitting in her lap.She sang many Bangla songs for my father (Aparesh Lahiri) who was a well-known composer in Kolkata . From then on she has supported me. She sang my first composition in a Bengali film Daadu. If she hadn’t sung for me I’d have been swept away by the competition.My first big Bollywood hit score was Aamir Khan’s father Tahir Hussain’s Zakhmee. In that Lataji sang Abhi abhi thi dushmani and Aao tujhe 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. Then there were melodies in the films Chalte Chalte and Aap Ki Khatir (which had the chartbuster Bambai se aaya mera dost) which are hummed to this day.That’s how it all began for me.
Strangely you reinvented himself as the disco king to become a super-successful composer in the 1980s in spite of scoring big with melodies earlier?
I’d like to say one thing. I’ve survived for 40 years because I’ve changed with the times. Now when I am turning 60 I am off for a world concert tour that would take me to Thailand, the US, South Africa…everwhere.Even now when I finish a concert I have to sing Chalte chalte mere yeh geet yaad rakhna, the title song from Chalte Chalte.So somewhere,even when I became synonymous with disco music I continued to compose soft melodies in films like Lahu Ke Do Rang, Patita and Hatya. But what can I do if in Paap Ki Duniya people preferred the massy Tu mera tota main tera maina to the classy Bandhan toote na? But my softer songs in Sharaabi were big hits. Kishore Kumar got two Filmfare awards twice for my compositions.
When did you get branded the Disco King?
It was in 1979 in a film called Suraksha where I comoposed Mausam hai gaane ka. That strarted my journey as a disco composer. 1980s and 90s were only Bappi Lahiri.The ‘disco’ style became unstoppable. Even today that style is in vogue.So many musicians come and gone but Bappi Lahiri’s songs are still being remixed. Even now as we speak the songs in the Himmatwala remake are mine. In fact I’ve even sung in the Himmatwala remake.My songs never dated.I even sang for A R Rahman in Guru and Himesh Reshammiya recently in a film called Shortcut Romeo.
You wiped out the careers of other composers including R D Burman?
Nahin nahin.Aisa nahin hai. I was accused of plagiarism. But with due respects to the other composers they also copied songs from the West. I don’t want to name them. From Zakhmi to The Dirty Picture,I’ve survived so long because of the love and good wishes of my fans.I’m releasing my third international number ‘Walking On Love Street’.Snoop Dog has sung for me.I may be 60. But 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.
Nowadays one is unable to distinguish the singer from the song?
I completely agree with you. I am a singer too.And I can feel the emptiness in the singing world. It’s a fact I can’t tell who’s singing a song these days.
What do you think about present day music composers?
That’s a tough one. They are all good. But they have no distinct identity in the way R D Burman, Madan Mohan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal or I had.Partly it’s the lyrics to blame.Earlier the singers had inspired lyrics by Anand Bakshi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Indivar and so many others. Even now when I sing ‘Inteha ho gayi’ on stage, a 1000 voices sing back the next two words, ‘Intezaar ki’. Now the poetry has disappeared.Nowadays we can’t tell what’s being sung in the stanzas. Having said that , let me reiterate that presentday composers like Salim-Suleiman, Pritam, Shankar-Ehsaan Loy are all talented. Vishal-Shekhar are like my siblings. We are bonded.Our Oooh la la continues to be a rage two years after it was released.In my entire career the only song I’ve sung four times on stage is Ooh la la.
Ooh la la is actually a reworked version of your song Ouui amma ouui amma?
Yes. But Vishal-Shekhar did a great job of it.
You have cultivated a particular image of the bejeweled disco king?
This image of mine came from my idol Elvis Presley. As child I’d look at his posters and pictures and imagine myself cultivating a similar image one day when I became a musician. Today it’s come to a state where Indians at international airports approach me anxiously when they don’t see the chains around my neck to ask me, ‘Where is your jewellery?’ . I am proud of the image.All the gold chains around my neck are inscribed with the names of particular deities.
How are you celebrating your 60th birthday?
No celebration this time because Balasaheb Thackeray passed away. For the first time in my life I am not celebrating my birthday. I remember Balasheb had come home for my 40th birthday when my parents were still around.It was the best birthday of my life.I can’t bear to celebrate turning 60 knowing Balasheb has just passed away.So I will be at home with my family: my wife, son, daughter and son-in-law and little grandson.That is my world. That is my love.