Bollywood Baatein: The other side of Bappi Lahiri

Very often Bappi Lahiri rued that his most skilled compositions were assigned to oblivion when the films that contained the songs flopped

Bollywood Baatein: The other side of Bappi Lahiri

Subhash K Jha

Bappi Lahiri’s musical aptitudes were distinctly schizophrenic. If on the one hand he could compose the glibtongued ‘I am a disco dancer’ and ‘Ramba ho ho’, on the other hand he had a very sacred secret repertoire of masterly melodies that he was rightly very proud of, and which caught only the connoisseurs’ attention.

But many who saw through Bappi’s oceanic talent believe that ‘Dard ki ragini’ from the horribly misfired O.P. Ralhan film Pyaas and ‘Sooni sej saja doon’ in Jyoti would outlast ‘Thoda resham lagta hai’ in Jyoti, and not only because ‘Sooni sej’ was filmed on Hema Malini and ‘Thoda resham’ on Aruna Irani.

Bappi-da and I had a discussion on this. About the more catchy ‘Thoda resham lagta hai’ (he didn’t like my calling it chalu) outcharting the exquisite Sooni sej.

Said Bappi-da, “Aapko sun ke tajjub hoga, but ‘Thoda resham’ was more difficult to compose than the raga-based ‘Sooni sej saja doon’. I gave the same respect to both compositions. I’ve always been more comfortable doing the softer ballads. If you listen to my early Hindi songs like ‘Rahe na rahe chahe hum tum’ and ‘Chalte chalte mere yeh geet yaad rakhna’, you will see the influence of my father Aparesh Lahiri who composed the immortal desh-bhakti song ‘Ek baar bidoi de'.

“But when I started there were stalwarts like Sachin Dev and Rahul Dev Burman composing great ballads for Lataji, Kishore mama and Rafi Saab. I couldn’t compete with them. I quickly gravitated to ‘Jalta hai jiya mera bheegi bheegi raaton mein’ (Zakhmi) and ‘Bombay se aaya mera dost’ (Aap Ki Khatir).”

As for that breath-taking raga-to-riches treasure chest ‘Dard ki ragini’, easily one of Lataji’s finest songs in the 1980s, it wasn’t even used in the film Pyaas.

However, the brilliance of the ballad blends into the cacophony even as Bappi-da got branded the Disco King, a label he enjoyed to the hilt.

In the film Chalte Chalte if he had the catchy ‘Pyar mein kabhi aisa ho jata hai’ (LatajiShailendra Singh) and ‘Jaana kahan hai’ (Sulakshana Pandit-Bappi) he tucked in a timeless tune like ‘Door door tum rahe, pukarte hum rahe’ in Chalte Chalte, which will outlive the other chartbusters of the film. A bluesy, pain-drenched ballad filmed on Simi Garewal, the song goes a long way in displaying Bappi’s unplumbed virtuosity.

In even the smallest of films, Bappi springs a serene sonorous surprise such as ‘Pyar manga hai tumhi se na inkaar karo’ in a 1978 non-starter called College Girl. It’s a Kishore Kumar ballad as gently undulating as and comparable with ‘Chalte chalte’. But then one clicked, the other sank, although the College Girl ballad is a favourite Valentine’s Day track among the 40-plus generation of Bappi-philes.

Yesudas’ ‘Mana ho tum behadd haseen, aise bure hum bhi nahin’ in the film Toote Khilone incorporated elements of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet love-theme by Nina Rota. But the influence is gentle. Shabana Azmi to whom Shekhar Kapoor sang this song in 1978 film says she felt “quite special” to have someone sing this to her, “almost like Guru Dutt singing ‘Chaudhvin ka chand ho’ to Waheeda Rehman”

Many years later when Shabana Azmi’s great poet-father Kaifi Azmi wrote the theme song of the Shabana starrer Bhavna, ‘Tu kahan aa gayi zindagi’, Bappi not only adorned the lyrics with a stupendous composition he also sang one version of the tune. It is one of Bappi’s most evocative accomplishments doing as much justice to Kaifi Saab’s poetry about the ravages of time as Sachin Dev Burman had done decades ago in ‘Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam’.

But my most favourite Bappi creation is from a 1977 Hindi-Gujarati bilingual Phir Janam Lenge Hum directed by Mehul Kumar. I rank ‘Sooni sooni raahen rahon pe nigahen’ as not only the best composition of Bappi’s repertoire but also one of the best in the Melody Goddess’ cluttered repertoire.

How did Bappida do it? I’d ask him every once in a while, on WhatsApp. He would get emotional and say, “Who remembers this song except you?”

Very often Bappi rued that his most skilled compositions were assigned to oblivion when the films that contained the songs flopped. Take Mukul Anand’s desi version of Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder. Titled Aetbaar it featured two intricate ghazals by Asha Bhosle and Bhupinder— ‘Kisi nazar ko tera intezaar aaj abhi hai’ and ‘Awaaz di hai aaj ek nazar ne’—none of any recall value.

That’s the story of Bappi’s softer, more creative work. It got buried in the noise.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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