For those of us who went to school in the 1980s, Bappida was the coolest, hippest music composer because he had almost singlehandedly dragged India into the disco age. Just as RD Burman captured the fusion of Indian, jazz and rock better than any other music composer, Bappi Lahiri blended desi and disco and booked his place as the #1 music composer of the last decade of socialism in India. Sandip Roy’s piece in the Indian Express is an eloquent obituary of this unabashedly larger-than-life Indian:
“Imitation was the sincerest form of flattery at a time when Levis jeans rip-offs were being sold as Lavis in India and Campa Cola was filling in for Coca Cola. We weren’t snooty about copies. We just wanted a good one with “the great Indian taste” as Campa Cola claimed. That was where Bappi-da shone. He was a bit of a magpie but whether it was Europop, Bengali kirtan, Rabindrasangeet or folk, he gave it his own Bappi Lahiri spin. He was like baby Gopal caught with a lump of stolen butter. Except, instead of protesting “Main nahin makhan khaya”, he disarmingly said, “It is a tradition. Salil Chowdhury also copied Mozart. S D Burman also copied, R D Burman copied a lot.” And we collectively chuckled and kept grooving to “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy” ( aka “T’es OK” by the French group Ottawan).
We sometimes forget that the man who gave us “Taaki re taaki” also gave us songs that sounded very “un-Bappi” — the lilting “Awaaz di hai” in Aitbaar or the poignant “Zid na karo” from Lahu Ke Do Rang. Or the genre-bending 12-minute “Ke pag ghungroo”, regarding which Kishore Kumar complained that he had been made to sing four songs for the price of one. Alokesh (Bappi) Lahiri was a serious musician. His father Aparesh Lahiri gave Bengalis one of their greatest patriotic hits — “Ekbaar biday de Ma”. Lata Mangeshkar apparently suggested that Bappi Lahiri train under the tabla maestro Samta Prasad. He composed his first song at the age of 11 and at 14 he had a Bengali film, Dadu, under his belt as a music director. The “un-Bappi” songs may be examples of his unrealised potential but, in the end, he knew what the box office wanted. This was a time of pelvic thrusts and non-stop gyrations on screen. And he kept delivering the music to accompany the moves. He once said that his mother, the singer Bansuri Lahiri, baulked at some of his songs but he told her, “I am like a shopkeeper who has to sell what people want from his shop.” If he himself had regrets, they were hidden behind his trademark shades.” RIP Bappida.
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