Bappi Lahiri with Yash Chopra, B R Chopra, Sunil Dutt and Raaj Kumar. Image Courtesy: Cinemaazi archives
Before he hit the big time with Disco Dancer, revolutionizing the sound of Hindi film music, and going on to rule the box office after Himmatwala, Bappi Lahiri created delectable melodies in films now largely forgotten. On the composer’s birthday, Cinemaazi editor Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri looks at a few of these lost melodies…
Bappi Lahiri – even thirty years after his last major hits in Thaanedaar (1990), Ghayal (1990) and Dalaal (1993), this wonderfully gifted composer and singer continues to be discussed more for his sartorial kinks, his accented delivery, the deleterious effect of his music in the 1980s and his undeniable penchant for being ‘inspired by’ Western music. Lost in the cacophony surrounding these aspects – often bordering on plain derision for the composer – is an important fact. In the decade before he hit the big time with Disco Dancer (1982) and then went on a down-south spiral with Himmatwala (1983), Tohfa (1984) and others of the ‘tathaiya’ genre, Bappi Lahiri created what I believe are some of the most underrated gems in Hindi cinema. Compositions so mellifluous and steeped in such melody and effervescence that it seems utterly unfair that these find little mention in his oeuvre.
A number of these songs were rendered by Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar – singers whose names crop up regularly with other big composers of the era like R.D. Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji – but some of whose finest yet unheralded numbers rest with Bappi. Then there was Yesudas, known more for his collaborations with Salil Chowdhury and Ravindra Jain – but whose output with Bappi Lahiri, even if obscure, is as brilliant if not better. Finally, there are the songs that the composer has himself sung and the melody and joie de vivre that mark these compositions have all but been drowned out in the ‘noise’ accompanying his bona fide hits.
In the decade before he hit the big time with Disco Dancer (1982) and then went on a down-south spiral with Himmatwala (1983), Tohfa (1984) and others of the ‘tathaiya’ genre, Bappi Lahiri created what I believe are some of the most underrated gems in Hindi cinema
Debuting in the Bengali films Daadu and Janatar Adalat, when he was not yet twenty, Bappi Lahiri broke through in Hindi with Nanha Shikari (1973), produced by the Mukherji brothers (Deb, Joy and Shomu). Though the film went nowhere, its songs (penned by Yogesh, S.H. Bihari and Gauhar Kanpuri), particularly the Mukesh-Sushma Sreshtha number ‘Tu hi mera chanda, tu hi tara’ and the two Kishore numbers ‘Nanha shikari’ and ‘Tu hi meri manzil’ made enough of a mark to herald Bappi as a music director to watch out for.
He announced his arrival with Zakhmee (1975, lyrics by Gauhar Kanpuri), following it up with Chalte Chalte the next year. If the former gave a glimpse of his versatility with diverse numbers like Lata’s wistful ‘Aao tumhein chand pe’, the sexy Kishore-Asha duet ‘Jalta hai jiya mera’ and Kishore’s angst-laden ‘Zakhmee dilon ka badla’, Chalte Chalte (lyrics by Amit Khanna) is of course still remembered for its iconic number rendered by Kishore Kumar.
The Unsung Lata Mangeshkar
However, in the midst of these popular songs, quite a few escaped the radar, including Lata’s sensual rendition of ‘Abhi abhi thi dushmani’ in Zakhmee – one of the many forgotten songs that Bappi composed for her. Chalte Chalte had the plangent ‘Dur dur tum rahe’ and the playful duet with Shailendra, ‘Pyar mein kabhi kabhi’.
Over the next few years, Lata Mangeshkar would go on to sing some beautiful songs composed by Bappi. These included the soaked-in-love ‘Doob raha hai’ (Toote Khilone, 1978, lyrics Kaifi Azmi), the lilting ‘Bheega bheega mausam’ (Suraag, 1980s, lyrics Kaifi Azmi), ‘Sooni sej saja doon’ (Jyoti, 1981, lyrics Anand Bakshi), ‘Dooriyan sab mita do’ (Saboot, 1980, lyrics Amit Khanna), ‘Shamma jale’ (Paapi, 1977, lyrics Naqsh Lyallpuri), ‘Tum samne baithe raho’ (Iqraar, 1979, lyrics Kulwant Jani).
However, in the midst of these popular songs, quite a few escaped the radar, including Lata’s sensual rendition of ‘Abhi abhi thi dushmani’ in Zakhmee – one of the many forgotten songs that Bappi composed for her.
Chalte Chalte also made Bappi Lahiri a name to reckon with as a playback singer with ‘Jaana kahan hai’, a song that even forty years later never fails to evoke the dew-fresh longings of first love. Bappi had earlier done a cameo in Kishore Kumar’s home production, Badhti Ka Naam Dadhi, which also had him lending his voice to Kishore Kumar’s baton in ‘Yeh jawani din char, pyar kar mere yaar’.
Aap Ki Khatir, directed by Sudhendu Roy and starring Vinod Khanna and Rekha, gave Bappi his first mega-hit as a singer. For a song that has become almost idiomatic and remains one of the most popular ‘picnic party’ songs even now, it is baffling that ‘Bambai se aya mera dost’ (lyrics by Shaily Shailendra) was not included in the film when it released. But its popularity on the long-playing record drove the film-makers to picturize the song and include it right at the end of the film, as a ruse to ensure that viewers stayed to watch till the end. It remains the one enduring memory of the film – apart from of course Vinod Khanna who has rarely looked more dashing.
For a song that has become almost idiomatic and remains one of the most popular ‘picnic party’ songs even now, it is baffling that ‘Bambai se aya mera dost’ (lyrics by Shaily Shailendra) was not included in the film when it released.
Bappi Lahiri never looked back as a playback singer after this and though most Hindi film buffs will name ‘Yaad aa raha hai’ in Disco Dancer (1982, lyrics by Anjaan) and ‘Yaar bina chain kaha re’ (Saaheb, 1985, lyrics by Anjaan), some of his best songs have all but been lost in the mists of time. These include two phenomenal ones in Rajshri Films’ Manokaamnaa (1980): ‘Tumhara pyaar chahiye’ and ‘Log saare rahi’ (lyrics by Indeevar), songs so wonderfully rendered as to put at rest the most hardened sceptic. The film flopped and its music, comprising four other numbers by Aarti Mukherjee, got buried.
Mithun Chakraborty’s 007-inspired Gunmaster G-9 ‘cult classics’ Surakksha (1979) and Wardat (1981) contain some delectable songs sung by the composer. Again, like his compositions for Lata, what strikes you about these numbers is the variety they offer within the ambit of the Western beat-inspired world so typical of Bappi Lahiri. ‘Dil tha akela akela’ (with Lata, Surakksha, lyrics Ramesh Pant) and ‘Tu mujhe jaan se bhi pyara hai’ (with Usha Uthup, Wardat, lyrics Ramesh Pant) are essentially romantic ballads at heart. ‘Mausam hain gaane ka’ and ‘Tum jo bhi ho’ (both Surakksha, lyrics by Faruk Kaiser and Ramesh Pant respectively), ‘Dekha hai maine tujhko’ and ‘Din ho ya raat tu pyar kiye ja’ (both Wardat, lyrics by Ramesh Pant) are foot-stomping numbers that can make the most leaden-footed man shake a leg.
No wonder Kishore Kumar is supposed to have said – you had better be on time for Bappi Lahiri’s recordings, lest he rendered the song himself (Disco Dancer’s ‘Yaad aa raha rai’ being an example).
The range that Bappi was capable of comes across as he traverses the zany notes of ‘Deewana deewana’ (Aangan Ki Kali, lyrics Shaily Shailendra) and ‘Yaari hai phoolo se meri’ (Shiksha, 1980, lyrics Gauhar Kanpuri), with as much ease as the Ennio Morricone-sounding ‘Rahi hoon main kahan meri manzil’ (Wanted, 1984, lyrics Anjaan) and the heart-breaking lament of ‘Jaoon kahan re guru’ (Hum Rahe Na Hum, 1984, lyrics Kaifi Azmi), a criminally neglected composition. Equally mesmerizing was his rendition of ‘Dil mein ho tum’ (lyrics Faruk Kaiser) in one of Vinod Khanna’s early comeback vehicles, Satyamev Jayate (1987). No wonder Kishore Kumar is supposed to have said – you had better be on time for Bappi Lahiri’s recordings, lest he rendered the song himself (Disco Dancer’s ‘Yaad aa raha rai’ being an example).
The Rare Associations
The one singer rarely spoken about in the same breath as Bappi Lahiri is Yesudas. Yet, their association has resulted in peerless classics. The singer, who probably does not have one mediocre song in his Hindi film repertoire, reserved some of his best for the composer. These include that priceless gem ‘Maana ho tum’ (Toote Khilone, 1978), that stands equal to any of the singer’s renditions for Salil Chowdhury and Ravindra Jain. With Kaifi Azmi donning the lyricist’s mantle, Toote Khilone remains one of the composer’s most inspired albums, unfortunately forgotten along with the eminently forgettable film.
The one singer rarely spoken about in the same breath as Bappi Lahiri is Yesudas. Yet, their association has resulted in peerless classics.
Mahesh Bhatt’s Lahu Ke Do Rang (1978, lyrics by Faruk Kaiser) was another triumph of an album that had a great Yesudas number, ‘Zid na karo’, arguably amongst the best of the singer. Though it is the two Kishore Kumar numbers in the film that have stayed in memory – 'Muskurata hua, gul khilata hua mera yaar' and 'Chahiye thoda pyaar, thoda pyar chahiye' – it is ‘Zid na karo’ that should occupy pride of place along with that classic Md. Rafi-Anuradha Paudwal duet ‘Mathe ki bindiya bole’. The latter remains a rare classical number shot on Helen, and one of the many ignored ones that showcased Bappi’s dexterity with folk/classical when he let go of his Western inspirations.
The Tarachand Barjatya/Rajshri Productions' Ek Baar Kaho (1980) and Shiksha had the Yesudas classics ‘Char din ki zindagi’ (lyrics by Maya Govind) and ‘Teri chhoti si ek bhool’ (lyrics Gauhar Kanpuri) respectively. With songs like ‘Ek baar kaho mujhe pyar karte ho’ (Bappi with Sulakshana, lyrics by Dev Kohli) and Jagjit Singh’s memorable ghazal ‘Rakh ke dher mein’ (lyrics by Mohinder Dehelvi), Ek Baar Kaho, like Toote Khilone, is another Bappi album that deserves a re-listen given its variety.
Basu Chatterji’s Apne Paraye (1980), based on Sarat Chandra Chatterji’s Nishkriti, offered Bappi Lahiri the chance to dip into his Bengali heritage as he came up with two kirtan-based songs brilliantly rendered by Yesudas, ‘Shyam rang ranga re’ and ‘Gao mere mann’. Based on the Bengali kirtan, ‘Rai jago go’, the latter is steeped in the essence of rural Bengal and plays out with a surge of khols – arranged by Sudarshan Adhikari – the bamboo alto flute and the sarod.
Basu Chatterji’s Apne Paraye (1980), based on Sarat Chandra Chatterji’s Nishkriti, offered Bappi Lahiri the chance to dip into his Bengali heritage as he came up with two kirtan-based songs brilliantly rendered by Yesudas, ‘Shyam rang ranga re’ and ‘Gao mere mann’.
Bappi Lahiri’s winners with Yesudas also include the now-forgotten class-acts ‘Yeh zindagi chaman hai’ (Kismet, 1980, lyrics by Anjaan) and ‘Zindegi se khelo na’ (Shart, 1986). Even at the height of the unbridled noise of his ‘tathaiya’ years, he gave Yesudas the uplifting morning-raga based ‘Dheere dheere subah hui’ in Haisiyat (1984, lyrics Indeevar).
The other singer one rarely associates with Bappi Lahiri is Bhupinder. Yet again, like Yesudas, the singer’s limited oeuvre has a few glittering gems now barely remembered as Bappi Lahiri compositions. The adoption melodrama Aangan Ki Kali, starring Rakesh Roshan and Lakshmi, had the charming Lata-Bhupinder duet ‘Saiyyan bina ghar soona’, a number as unlike Bappi as any. While Lekh Tandon’s 1983 film Doosri Dulhan had the introspective ‘Yeh kis bandhan mein’ (lyrics by Amit Khanna) impeccably rendered by Bhupinder, it is Mukul S. Anand’s shoddy take on Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, Aitbaar (1985), that had two standouts. While the ghazal-esque ‘Kisi nazar ko tera’ (lyrics Hasan Kamaal) was the song that had connoisseurs raving as it had ‘semi-classical’ written all over it, ‘Awaaz di hai’ (lyrics by Hasan Kamaal) witnessed Bappi experimenting with waltz.
The Lost Kishore Kumar Melodies
Though some of Bappi’s biggest hits came with Kishore Kumar, starting with Zakhmee and Chalte Chalte and going on to Namak Halaal (1982) and Sharaabi (1984), a number of the composer’s work for Kishore have not had the success they deserved, with few people aware that these are actually Bappi Lahiri compositions. Again, here the range is enviable.
There are the quintessential romantic numbers, once favourite with college students, ‘Pyar maanga hai tumhi se’ (College Girl, 1978, lyrics Shiv Kumar Saroj), ‘Mil gayi manzil door hui mushkil dil se mile hain dil’ and ‘Yeh naina yeh kajal’ (Dil Se Mile Dil) and ‘Haan pehli baar’ (Aur Kaun). The dulcet notes of Aangan Ki Kali’s ‘Na rona Munni na tu ro’ offer a delectable contrast to the philosophical gravity of ‘Kaise din jeevan mein aaye’ (Apne Paraye). Then there is the folk-based ‘Nanha sa panchhi’ (Toote Khilone) based on the traditional folk song ‘Dekhechhi roop sagor e moner manush’ that had inspired Tagore to compose ‘Bhenge mor ghorer chabi niye jabi ke amare’, with its minimalistic arrangement comprising the santoor, the sitar, the flute and simple percussion. Which again is a brilliant contrast to the lost melodies of ‘Kitne ranjhe tujhe dekh ke bairagi ban gaye’ and ‘Sapno ke shahar’ in Ahsaas.
Then there is the folk-based ‘Nanha sa panchhi’ (Toote Khilone) based on the traditional folk song ‘Dekhechhi roop sagor e moner manush’ that had inspired Tagore to compose ‘Bhenge mor ghorer chabi niye jabi ke amare’, with its minimalistic arrangement comprising the santoor, the sitar, the flute and simple percussion.
Even in Ramanand Sagar’s Casablanca-inspired Armaan (yes, the liberation of Goa replaces WW II Casablanca!), which boasted the chartbusters ‘Rambha ho’ (lyrics by Indeevar) and ‘Haan mere jaisi haseena’ (loosely inspired by ‘It never rains in Southern California’, lyrics by Anjaan), Bappi reserved the best for Kishore (both written by Indeevar): ‘Jeevan mitana hai deewanapan’ (a rare instance of Kishore as playback for Shammi Kapoor, filling in for Casablanca’s ‘Sam’) and ‘Pyar hi jeene ki surat hai’.
Disco Dancer in 1982 catapulted Bappi Lahiri to the big league. In the next couple of years, Namak Halaal and Sharaabi and the south India sojourn starting with Himmatwala made him the biggest composer of the era. Unfortunately, for him, as he rose to stratospheric heights, intimate compositions like ‘Dard ki ragini’ (Pyaas, 1983) and ‘Tu kaha aa gayi zindagi’ (Bhavna, 1984, lyrics by Kaifi Azmi) – two overlooked gems by Lata Mangeshkar – or Kishore’s introspective ‘Kya khabar kya pata’ (Saheb) and passionate ‘Sheeshe ki umra pyaale’ (Prem Pratigya, 1989, lyrics by Indeevar) fell by the wayside.
He could still conjure the mesmeric ‘Humko aaj kal hai’ and ‘Mukjho ye zindagi’ (Sailaab, 1990, lyrics Javed Akhtar), give Kumar Sanu some of his best songs in Zindagi Ek Jua (1992), create something as haunting as ‘Thahre hue paani mein’ (Dalaal, lyrics by Maya Govind and Prakash Mehra), but it would be the likes of ‘Gutur gutur’ (Dalaal, lyrics by Maya Govind) that would unfortunately decide his reputation.
R.D. Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal are undoubtedly the kings of the 1970s with one blockbuster score after another. What Bappi Lahiri lacked in terms of chartbusters during the era, he more than made up for with melody. And while RD and LP are credited with (though that is a lazy reckoning, given that RD’s music traversed the spectrum from Amar Prem to Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin) popularizing western and eastern music respectively in the era, Bappi, as seen in the songs mentioned above, fused both the West and the East with admirable ease. It is a travesty that his more popular scores have not only overshadowed these ‘lesser known’ efforts but have become the bedrock of his reputation.
Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is either an 'accidental' editor who strayed into publishing from a career in finance and accounts or an 'accidental' finance person who found his calling in publishing. He studied commerce and after about a decade in finance and accounts, he left it for good. He did a course in film, television and journalism from the Xavier's Institute of Mass Communication, Mumbai, after which he launched a film magazine of his own called Lights Camera Action. As executive editor at HarperCollins Publishers India, he helped launch what came to be regarded as the go-to cinema, music and culture list in Indian publishing. Books commissioned and edited by him have won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema and the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) Award for Best Writing on Cinema. He also commissioned and edited some of India's leading authors like Gulzar, Manu Joseph, Kiran Nagarkar, Arun Shourie and worked out co-pub arrangements with the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives, apart from publishing a number of first-time authors in cinema whose books went on to become best-sellers. In 2017, he was named Editor of the Year by the apex publishing body, Publishing Next. He has been a regular contributor to Anupama Chopra's online magazine Film Companion. He is also a published author, with two books to his credit: Whims – A Book of Poems (published by Writers Workshop) and Icons from Bollywood (published by Penguin Books).