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How does a music composer stay relevant in Bollywood for over four decades? Bappi Lahiri has some answers, delivered with typical bombast
Mera gaan, mere mujik aaur public ka peyar bahut mila. Bahut mila. Bappida chirodiner hain. (I have received a lot of love from the public. Bappida is forever. )" If you know anything of the overblown Bappi Lahiri persona of the '80s you will not be surprised by the fact that he refers to himself by his own name. Or that 20 years after his biggest hit he sees himself as the eternal beloved of the movie going public.
The '80s are back with a vengeance in Bollywood - and in ad creatives - and Bappi has regained some of his glory. Himmatwala's version 2 features two of his biggest hits from the original - Taki taki and Nainon mein sapna. And before that there was Oo lala from The Dirty Picture.
Milan Luthria, who used Bappi in Taxi No. 9211, and his retro-centric films, Once Upon A Time In Mumbai and Dirty Picture, compares Bappi to Sunil Gavaskar - he has, says the director, the same ability to reinvent himself in any age. Bappi's bouncy Oo lala, a typical 'South studio' Hindi film song shot amid ridiculously exaggerated sets, worked wonderfully.
"In Taxi No. 9211, we gave him that song Bombai nagaria. It was just instinct. We just wanted to have fun in the song. He is an ageless talent. His voice has a unique pitch, it brings a smile to your face. And he has proved himself as a great composer over the decades. That kind of talent never goes away. He finished singing Oo lala in flat 15 minutes. Can you imagine that?" asks Luthria rhetorically.
That Bappi continues to be saleable while his contemporaries faded away long ago should be an indicator of both the goodwill he enjoys in Bollywood as well his easy adaptability. "Bappida is a man without any malice. I know him inside out and one cannot serve music with a corrupt mind. He struck a chord with Chalte Chalte and his career is still strong after 40 years. He is saleable come what may, " says music composer Pritam.
Bappi points out that he has been in Mumbai since he turned 19. Today, 500 films and 40 years later, he knows the needs of the industry like the back of his hand. "Indian music in general and Bollywood in particular has been my home. My first work was Nanha Shikari (1973). But the turning point came with Tahir Hussain's Zakhmee (1975), for which I composed music and doubled as a playback singer. "
Bappi bloomed with the arrival of the disco zamana. He managed to become the perfect musical fit for the typical Mithun Chakraborty dance flick. The two together became the face of the '80s disco mania which is enjoying a revival of sorts in films and clubs today. "If you talk about retro music in Bollywood, two things appear clearly to you - Bappida and Mithunda. The beats and jhankars of numerous films and the dance steps of Mithunda - these memories will always be there. Retro music in Hindi films cannot be discussed without mentioning Bappida, " says singer Babul Supriyo. "Bappida got pop and filmy music closer to each other. His voice still sells and he has maintained his style. His hunger and passion have sustained his long career, " says music director Shantanu Moitra.
Bappi himself is very excited about his second life in Bollywood. "Remember the Oo lala, oo lala number?" he asks over the phone. In his excitement at discussing the song, he almost starts crooning. Since that song, he has also done one for Special 26 (Dhar pakad composed by M M Kreem), Jolly LLB (Law lag gayee, Krsna) and of course, Himmatwala. "Bappida has bounced back, " he declares in inimitable Bappispeak.
The composer is willing to look back and analyse his slide. "I had a great time in the late '70s and the '80s belonged to me. Things went slightly awry in 2000 and a few years after that. There was a time between 2000 and 2007 when one film had two-three music directors. I found it difficult to cope with that situation. However, I carried on with my songs and albums, " he reminisces.
In the intervening years, Bappi kept himself busy. He sang for A R Rehman in Guru (Ek lo ek muft with Chitra). His 1989 album Habiba and Bappi Magic - The Asli Baap Mix (2004), featuring his hits such as Gori hai kalaiyan and Jimmy Jimmy, did well in the market. In 2005, he composed the background score for art director Jahnu Barua's Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara.
If you ask him why he clicks across decades he answers you with the titles of his hit songs. "I sang a song in the film with Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar: Nothing is impossible (Zakhmee). That's your answer, my friend! Also you can find your answer in another song of mine, Kabhi alvida na kehna (Chalte Chalte).
Sermon For Gen X:
If you are into music, make it your passion, not a fashion. Fame and paisa will follow.
What keeps Bappida ticking:
"My style, simplicity and my ability to understand the pulse have made me so relevant for the past 40 years. When I was not giving music, I sang for other music directors and that too gave me fame and satisfaction. I never felt low or down and this never-say-die attitude, I suppose, saw me through.
Past versus present:
All ages have their own charm. There is nothing wrong with this age. In every zamana, there have been greats. The only thing is that, in the past we did things dil se, today, everything is so mechanical I have fond memories of utilising the services of 100 musicians on a single floor for Lataji and Kishoreda at a live concert. Those days and that era will never return.
Lata Mangeshkar Asha Bhonsle Kishore Kumar Mohd Rafi Kumar Sanu
A R Rehman's 'Dil se' (title track) 'Kal ho na ho' 'Chalte chalte'
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