As veteran music composer Bappi Lahiri prepares himself to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the San Francisco Global Movie Fest, he, over a phone conversation from Los Angeles, USA, talks to us about his glorious run of over four decades in Bollywood.
The composer, who made the world dance to his tunes of ‘I am a disco dancer’ (Disco Dancer, 1982), ‘Yaar bina chain kahan re’ (Saaheb, 1985) and even ‘Ooh la la’ (The Dirty Picture, 2011) feels “as a musician, you flow with the times.” Though other senior musicians criticise the current state of Bollywood music, Bappi is optimistic about the transition. “Change is the only constant. From ‘Chalte chalte’ (Chalte Chalte, 1976) to ‘Ooh la la’, it is this movement that I have been part of. Music has evolved just like everything else. I may be the Disco King, but my music transcends time and genres,” he says.
While he acknowledges that the process of making songs has changed, Bappi reminisces the olden days when he used to record with singers like Kishore Kumar (his maternal uncle), Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, among others.
“I have so many memories of those days. I remember, the last song Kishore Kumar sang was for Waqt Ki Awaaz (1988); it was composed by me. That day, we recorded the song, Kishore mama was in a great mood. He was cracking jokes and making everyone in the studio laugh, including Ashaji,” he says, adding, “That day, after finishing the recording around 6pm, he said, ‘Aaj maine tum logon ko bahut hasaya na… jab main nahi rahoonga tab tumhe meri bahut yaad aayegi (I made you all laugh so much today… when I’m no more, you all will miss me).’ I don’t know why he said those lines on that day. Next day, around 11am, he called me to say that he wanted to rest at home and he asked me to finish my recording well. Around 2pm, I got to know that he was no more. I can never forget that day, and his last words to me,” reminisces Bappi.
Ask him about his favourites, and singer-musician Bappi says that he idolises Lata Mangeshkar. “Lataji is like my mother. She is the only person I look up to after my parents. She is the Saraswati (goddess of knowledge, music and arts) of the music industry. I learnt the tabla because of her,” says Bappi, adding, “Ashaji and Usha Uthup are also my favourites. But from the current lot of singers, I love Sunidhi Chauhan and Shreya Ghoshal.”
While Bollywood doesn’t use ‘disco sound’ (Bappi had brought in the disco culture in Hindi films) anymore, owing to the surge of electronic dance music (EDM), the composer feels that only good music has shelf life.
Talking about the trend, he says, “Trends come and go, but good music always stays. The best of EDM creations will also be here — just like we hum old songs with as much energy and love today.”
Apart from music, what makes Bappi stand out from the crowd is the amount of gold jewellery he wears. When asked the reason behind it, the composer says, “My parents had bought a gold chain for me even before I was born. From then on, it has been part of me. There is no specific reason, but it is one of my most indispensable traits.”