Revisiting Bappi Lahiri’s songs with more stillness, the lesser known side to India’s Disco King-Entertainment News , Firstpost

In even the smallest of films, Bappi Lahiri springs a serene, sonorous surprise such as ‘Pyar Manga Hai Tumhi Se’ in a 1978 non-starter called College Girl.

Bappi Lahiri’s musical aptitudes were distinctly schizophrenic. If on the one hand, he could compose the glib-tongued ‘I Am A Disco Dancer’ and ‘Ramba Ho 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 Lahiri’s oceanic talent believe that ‘Dard Ki Ragini’ from the horribly misfired OP Ralhan film Pyaas [1982, where Zeenat Aman played a sweeper] and ‘Sooni Sej Saja Doon’ in Jyoti [1981]  would outlast ‘Thoda Resham Lagta Hai’ from Jyoti, and not only because ‘Sooni Sej Saja Doon‘ was filmed on Hema Malini and ‘Thoda Resham Lagta Hai‘ on Aruna Irani.

Bappi Lahiri and I had a discussion on this. About the more catchy ‘Thoda Resham Lagta Hai’ [He did not like my calling it chalu] out-charting the exquisite ‘Sooni Sej Saja Doon.’

Said Bappi Lahiri,Aapko sun ke taajub hoga [you will be surprised to learn] Subhash ji. But ‘Thoda Resham’ was more difficult to compose than the raga-based ‘Sooni Sej Saja Doon.’ I  gave the same respect to both compositions. The fact that Mata Saraswati [Lata Mangeshkar] sang both is a testimony to my undiscriminating  sincerity. 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 deshbhakti song ‘Ek Bar Bidai De Ma.’ But when I started, there were stalwarts like Sachin Dev and Rahul Dev Burman composing great ballads for Lataji, Kishore [Kumar] mama, and [Mohammaed] Rafi saab. I couldn’t compete with them. I quickly gravitated to “Jalta hai jiya mera bheegi bheegi raaton mein” [Zakhmee, 1975] and ‘Bombay Se Aaya Mera Dost’ [Aap Ki Khatir, 1977].”

As for that breathtaking raga-to-riches treasure chest ‘Dard Ki Ragini,’ easily one of Lata Mangeshkar‘s finest songs in the 1980s, it was not even used in the film Pyaas. However, the brilliance of the ballad bled into the  cacophony even as Bappi Lahiri  became branded the Disco King, a label he enjoyed to the hilt.

In the film Chalte Chalte [1979], if he had the catchy ‘Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi’ [Lata Mangeshkar-Shailendra Singh] and ‘Jaana Kahan Hai’ [Sulakshana Pandit-Bappi Lahiri], he tucked in a timeless tune like ‘Dur Dur Tum Rahe’ in Chalte Chalte, which will outlive the other chartbusters of the film. A bluesy, pain-drenched ballad filmed on Simi Garewal, ‘Dur Dur Tum Rahe’ goes a long way in displaying Bappi Lahiri‘s unplumbed virtuosity.

In even the smallest of films, Bappi Lahiri springs a serene, sonorous surprise such as ‘Pyar Manga Hai Tumhi Se’ in a 1978 non-starter called College Girl.

 It is 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 Behad Haseen’ in the 1978 film Toote Khilone incorporated elements of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet love theme by Nina Rota. But the influence is gentle, like talcum powder on a baby’s bottom. Shabana Azmi, to whom Shekhar Kapur sang this song in the 1978 film, says she felt “quite special” to have someone sing this to her, “almost like Guru Dutt singing ‘Chaudhvin Ka Chand’ to Waheeda Rehman.”

Many years later, when Shabana’s great poet-father Kaifi Azmi wrote the theme song of the Shabana-starrer Bhavna, ‘Tu Kahan Aa Gayi Zindagi,’ Bappi Lahiri not only adorned the lyrics with a stupendous composition, he also sang one version of the tune, the other was of course sung by Bappi Lahiri’s Mata Saraswati. It is one of Bappi Lahiri’s most evocative accomplishments doing as much justice to Kaifi’s poetry about the ravages of time as SD Burman had done decades ago in Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam’ [Kagaz Ke Phool, 1959].

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

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

Luckily, ‘Saiyaan Bina Ghar Soona’ and ‘Tumhe Kaise Kahoon Main Dil ki Baat’ from the film Aangan Ki Kali [1979] were both raga- based hits. Lahiri was rightly proud of his songs in Aangan Ki Kali. Rajesh Roshan had scored a sixer in Julie just two years earlier. This was the Julie actress Laxmi’s follow-up in Hindi. Though the  film did not work, the songs somehow escaped the fate of anonymity.

Very often, Lahiri 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 Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder. Titled Aetbaar   [1985], it featured two intricate ghazals by Asha Bhosle and Bupinder — ‘Kisi Nazar Ko Tera Intezaar’ and ‘Awaaz Di Hai Aaj Ek Nazar Ne’ —none has any recall value.

Another beautiful ballad that Lahiri created with Asha Bhosle was ‘Pyar Kabhi Kum Nahin Karna’ for the Mithun Chakraborty-Madhuri Dixit-starrer Prem Pratigyaa [1989]. Since the film did not do well, the wispy willowy song is forgotten.

Lahiri once said to me, “If people remember ‘Pag Ghungroo’ and ‘Aaj Rapat Jayen’ in Namak Halaal, and ‘De De Pyar De’ and ‘Jahan Chaar Yaar Mil Jaye’ in Sharaabi, it is because a big superstar Amitabh Bachchan sang them on screen. Kishore Mama sang the soft ballads ‘Manzilein Apni Jagah’ and ‘Inteha Ho Gayi’ in Sharaabi, and they were big hits too, again because of the Kishore-Amitabh combo. What  about my songs in Ek Baar Kaho [1980]? I poured my heart and soul into them, and no one remembers them.”

Bappi Lahiri had a point.A small Rajshri Films with Shabana Azmi and Navin Nischol in the lead, Ek Baar Kaho, a rather sensible adaptation of the Hollywood films Come September and An Affair To Remember, had Lahiri scoring one of his gentlest scores, topping the lilting list was “Rakh Ke Dher Ne.’ “I do not think Jagjit Singh sang any other composition of Lahiri. But ‘Rakh Ke Dher Ne’ ranks as one of Singh’s most poignant ghazals, on par with the best of Jagjit Singh.

Bappi Lahiri

Finally, Salma Agha. Lahiri did some truly pulpy songs with her in the two Chakraborty- starrers Dance Dance [1987] and Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki [1984]. But flip the record. Look on the other, quieter side: there is Agha singing Lahiri’s ghazal ‘Aaj Phir Aaine Ne Poochha Hai,’ in Jagmohan Mundhra’s Kamla [1984]. It is the best song Agha sang in India, better than anything in Nikaah [1982].

“You think so? But nobody knows it. And what about Salma Agha singing ‘Tum Saath Ho Zindagi Bhar Ke Liye‘ for me in a film that never got released, Sheeshay Ka Ghar?” Lahiri once asked me.

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

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based journalist. He’s been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out.

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