I was watching Doordarshan one evening and though I don’t exactly recall the period or the name of the programme, it featured the pop star Ajit Singh singing with a live orchestra. One number that made a very deep impression on my young musical heart was “ Chalte chalte mere yeh geet yaad rakhna “. Never heard of till then and full of melody that was typical to the music of early and mid 70’s, I soon came to know that the number sung by Ajit Singh was in fact a track from the film album titled “ Chalte Chalte” and that the original number was composed by Bappi Lahiri and sung by my favourite Kishore Kumar.
Those were still the days dominated by new sounds introduced by RD Burman and his scores for movies such as Caravan, Yaadon Ki Baraat, Jawani Diwani were making waves. These sounds and instrumentation inspired by global music, with generous contributions from Pancham’s own creativity and ingenuity, were unheard of by Indian music fans, who were by then only exposed a stray westernised composition by C Ramachandra, OP Nayyar and SD Burman!
In all this, young Bappi Lahiri had started making waves. While Chalte Chalte had hummable music but the movie was passable, other movies by Bappi were also not quite up to the mark, though his music had started carving out a niche for itself. Aap Ki Khatir introduced Bappi, the singer, to the audience who lapped up his Bengalicised diction and virtually made “ Bambai se aaya mera dost” a national anthem. I don’t recall any youth gathering , picnic or travel, when the groups were not singing this highly entertaining song! And he interspersed melodious Indian raaga and folk based music with generous doses of purely western music. I recall the rage amongst youth around the numbers such as Ramba ho samba ho and Hari om Hari. Usha Uthup was introduced by RD Burman much before in the movie Hare Rama Hare Krishna, but the aforesaid numbers by Bappi took her to dizzying heights! And who can forget the music of blockbusters like Namak Halaal ( pag ghungroo baandh Meera nachi thi and raat baaki) and sharaabi ( inteha ho chuki pyaar ki – my personal favourite, aaj rapat and manzilen apni jaga hai, apart from much hyped mujhe nau lakha mangwa de). And there were scores of such movies whose music lifted the mediocre movies to hit status. But I think the high point in Bappi’s career was Disco Dancer that gave him the coveted title of Disco King. A new singer, Vijay Benedict, belted out the title song that became a household favourite.
Bappi was like a factory churning out music and he replaced LP as the favourite music director of southern remakes. Who can forget the superhit music of Tohafa, some of whose songs have been remixed and presented again. Of course, Bappi’s most popular remixed number has been “ Kaliyon ka chaman”. A melodious but not an extraordinary number originally sung by Lata for a nondescript movie, the remixed number became a rage upon its release, being the most belted number by DJs!
Like all good things, with the demise of his favourite Kishore Mama, slowing down of singing by Lata and Asha and rise of new music directors like Anand Milind, Jatin Lalit, Nadeem Shravan and Anu Malik, music by Bappi in later years was mediocre. However, he made a grand comeback as a singer by singing Bambai Nagariya and later Ooh la la for the same composers, Vishal Shekhar. And he was a permanent fixture as guest in musical shows, especially for the episodes that featured his songs and the pride and satisfaction of having created such a vast repertoire was clearly written on his rather baby and innocent face. Who can also forget his love for gold, that adorned his body heavily!
I also had the fortune of seeing Bappida performing live with his orchestra, and his grandson, of whom Bappi seemed to be immensely fond of, reminded the audience of a young Bappi. It was electrifying experience watching Bappi singing his old gems
The news of Bappida’s sad demise this morning plunged millions of music lovers across the world into an even deeper sorrow, as they were yet to come to terms with the shock of Lata Didi’s death! A child prodigy, who played tabla and came from a musical family, Bappi leaves behind a legacy and work that will always remain in the hearts of millions of music lovers!
Rest in peace Bappi Da!