On February 15, legendary music composer Bappi Lahiri passed away at the age of 69. He had been suffering from health complications, having been hospitalized for a month at CritiCare Hospital in Mumbai. While he had been discharged earlier in the week, his health deteriorated over the last few hours.
Back in 2019, Lahiri had a heartfelt chat with Anupama Chopra, as he celebrated 50 years of his illustrious career as a musician. "Earlier, we used to listen to music. Now, we watch it. The time to listen has now gone," he had then reflected, matter-of-factly. Known to popularize disco across generations over the 70s, 80s and 90s, his songs continue to remain popular among cinema and music lovers – 'Raat Baaki Baat Baaki,' 'I Am A Disco Dancer' and 'Tamma Tamma' are just a few of the prime examples. Here are a few anecdotes the composer had shared with us that we recall in his memory today.
I go for concerts around the country and realize that even the littlest of kids dance to the songs that I had created in the 70s. I had composed the song, 'Chahiye Thoda Pyaar' for Mahesh Bhatt's directorial debut, Lahu Ke Do Rang (1979) – and the public continues to groove on it. Yeh remix hona abhi baaki hai (This one's yet to be remixed). While singing 'Tamma Tamma', I go, 'Tu premi,' and the public sings back, 'Aha!' Then there's a personal favourite, 'Intehaan Ho Gayi' from Sharaabi (1984), that again the audience can't get enough of. When you hear these tracks, it's as if they released only yesterday. The reason why they endure is that the songs I composed 25 years ago still sound fresh to the public. Perhaps that's why all these songs are getting remixed – everyone wants to take the Bappi Lahiri hook nowadays.
There's a picture of me from my childhood days where I'm sitting on Lata ji's (Lata Mangeshkar) lap. She's like a mother to me. My father (musician Aparesh Lahiri) worked on several songs with her. One of them was a super hit Bengali song: 'Ekbar Biday De Maa Ghure Asi.' At that time, I had played the table for that song at four years of age. Lata ji had heard the tabla and advised my father to make me learn music from Pandit Samta Prasad ji from Benaras, who eventually, from the age of 5, became my guruji. I went on to compose my first song at the age of 11, which my father loved and even lent his voice to.
In 1971, when I started working on my first album for Nanha Shikari (1973), Bombay had the kind of environment where there were so many incredible composers around such as SD Burman, Shankar-Jaikishan and OP Nayyar. Alongside, there was this group of newer composers like me, Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and RD Burman. Such was the music scene like at that time. It was like a chakravyuh. The fact that I managed to break through then was purely God's blessing. My first few films were good, the songs were good, but the music line was such that till the time you hit a sixer, you can't be a big composer. Suddenly, producer Tahir Hussain, one of the members of the RD Burman camp at the time, heard one of my songs from Ek Ladki Badnaam Si (1974), 'Rahe Na Rahe Chaahe Tum,' sung by Lata ji and Kishore Kumar ji. He became my Santa Claus, my lucky charm. He signed me for a film, Madhosh (1974), where RD Burman gave the music, and I composed the background score. He was so impressed that he then signed me for Sunil Dutt and Asha Parekh starrer Zakhmee. There, I composed the popular tracks, including, 'Jalta Hai Jiya Mera' and 'Aao Tumhe Chaand Pe Le Jaaye.' The album became a huge hit, paving the way for Chalte Chalte (1976) and Aap Ki Khaatir (1977). They came one after the other, and chal pada.
It was a record. No Bollywood song can be the same. It had a Kishore Kumar mukhda with Amitabh Bachchan doing the rap. It was Prakash [Mehra] ji's idea. I had the lines for the mukhda ready, that sounded like a Bengali folk song. The antara was completely a rap. It's gaining popularity now, but I had done this in the 80s. It was a strange but very new kind of song. Amitabh ji, who had no time to even drink water, was so dedicated that he came to my house twice to rehearse for the song. I, in fact, never told Kishore mama that Amit ji was singing the entire song and he was only singing the mukhda. When he asked me about the song, I ended up lying to him saying that he's the one singing it. The shoot was supposed to start at 9:30 am at Mehboob Studios and I reached at 10 am (I was always late). And there I saw Amit ji already sitting with the musicians, rehearsing for the song. Then, Kishore mama came, spotted Amit ji and got surprised. That's when I told him that they'll sing the song together. (laughs) It was an immortal experience – there were two mikes during the shoot, one with Kishore Kumar, one with Amitabh Bachchan.
There's a history behind disco. Director Ravikant Nagaich had come to my house, asking me to work on something new, something different. He told me he had signed a new Bengali actor, Mithun Chakraborty. He had won a National Award for Mrigayaa (1976) but he wanted him to 'dance like John Travolta and fight Kung Fu.' I had attended my first concert in America in 1979. There, at a night club in Chicago, I asked about a recording I got fascinated with, when the DJ told me that it was disco. It was club music. It was very new to me. The name, in itself, was intriguing. A John Travolta song was playing – Saturday Night Fever by Bee Gees. So, when Nagaich ji asked me to make something fresh, the beat of the disco came back to me, leading to the making of 'Mausam Hai Gaane Ka, Gaane Ka Bajane' Ka from Surakksha (1979), which became an instant hit. That's how it entered my life and became a rage. From thereon, I made folk to the beats of disco.