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Staying alive, and how

Biddu’s adventures take him through a journey where he makes a movie with his ‘look-alike’, Kumar Gaurav (a “more handsome version” according to Biddu), called Star, writes Pankaj Vohra.

books Updated: Feb 19, 2010 23:24 IST
Pankaj Vohra

Made in India: An Autobiography
n Rs 399 n pp 252

While still in school, I happened to hear ‘Look out here I come’ on All India Radio’s Friday popular request programme, A date with you. The song sung by an unknown singer having a strange name, Biddu, was soon to become one of the biggest hits. The single with this song on one side and ‘Daughter of love’ on the other sold like hot cakes. However, one did not get to hear about this talented singer till he was resurrected in Feroz Khan’s blockbuster Qurbani where his composition — sung by the late Pakistani pop sensation Nazia Hassan, ‘Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye’ — took everyone by storm.

In between, Biddu had also composed ‘Kung fu fighting,’ a hit sung by Carl Douglas (who hoodwinked him) that few people knew to be a Biddu creation. He went on to have many great successes to his credit, including the super-selling album, Disco Deewane, with Nazia and Zoheb Hassan, and Made in India, sung by Alisha Chenoy.

The story of this convoluted voyage to success both in the East and the West has been narrated in Biddu’s own words. It’s a witty, humorous autobiography that captures a journey that started from Bangalore and moved to London. The story begins in the 1960s when Biddu and his friends, Skinny and Ken, skip school to make music. At the outset, Biddu is an Anglophile (his inspirations being Tony Brent, Cliff Richard and Engelbert Humperdinck a.k.a. the Chennai-born Gerry Dorsey) who wants to make it big in London, the pop music capital of the world.

Biddu’s tale is of a titanic struggle with great funny bits. The trio of Biddu, Skinny and Ken finally runs away from home to Calcutta to perform at Trinca’s, the popular restaurant on Park Street. They call themselves ‘The Trojans’ — which makes visiting Americans crack up as it reminds them of the American condom brand, Trojan. “We may as well have called ourselves the Prophylactics,’’ quips Biddu.

The group, with its members still in their teens, pelts out Beatles and other songs to grand applause and merriment. From then on, they tour: a three-month gig, travelling third class to perform at the Ambassador at Churchgate in Bombay. Later, the trio disbands, Ken returning to Calcutta to his girlfriend, Pam, and Skinny returning to Bangalore. They obviously lack Biddu’s tenacity and he is the Lone Trojan. Some people even end up thinking his name is Lone.

The book has some interesting details of how Biddu finally makes it to London. He writes about the making of ‘Kung fu fighting’ and how Feroz Khan finally convinces him to do a song for his movie using the Bangalore connection. The song, ‘Aap jaisa koi…’, with the gorgeous Zeenat Aman on the screen, becomes the biggest hit of its time. Biddu writes about how HMV contacts him in London to make a ‘private album’ (read: non-filmi album), something uncommon in India. After much hesitation, HMV even agrees to pay him royalties. The result is Disco Deewane.

Biddu’s adventures take him through a journey where he makes a movie with his ‘look-alike’, Kumar Gaurav (a “more handsome version” according to Biddu), called Star. The film flops because the director, Vinod Pandey (ex-BBC), is obsessed with ‘arty’ flourishes. Finally, he hits upon the idea of Made in India, inspired by the nationalistic streak he sees in some Pakistani musicians for their own country.

Biddu narrates the tale about his house being bought by Mustafa Khar, the controversial Pakistani made more famous by his wife, Tehmina Durrani’s book, My Feudal Lord. There is also a startling-cum-interesting encounter with a gentleman where he learns that Ayotollah Khomeini’s father was British who later converted to Islam and his mother was an Indian Kashmiri. The book concludes on the following note: “I am a citizen of the world, but inside, truly deep inside, I am still made in India.” Made In India makes great reading and provides delightful glimpses of the multi-faceted personality of this gifted musician.