There’s Only One King of Disco, Bappi Lahiri


There’s Only One King of Disco, Bappi Lahiri

Illustration: Akshita Monga

I remember reading an interview, not so long ago, where Bappi Lahiri declared that he created disco music in Bollywood. I wholeheartedly agreed. I mean, obviously, Donna Summer, ABBA, the Bee Gees, Boney M, and Saturday Night Fever pale in comparison to that vision in black and gold. As far as India is concerned, Bappi Da will always be the father of disco.

In fact, whenever someone so much as says the word “disco”, the first (and maybe even the only) thing that comes to my mind is “I am a Disco Dancer” (Disco Dancer). I am a big Bappi worshipper, so much so that I have a dedicated Bappi Lahiri playlist on my iPod, with “Yaar Bina Chain Kahan Re” (Saaheb) to “Ooh La La” (The Dirty Picture), and it helps me through traffic and workouts. Much as I love Michael Jackson, I’ll take “Jimmy Jimmy” over “Remember the Time” any day. That’s what three decades of listening to Bappi Da does to you.

I was first introduced to the brilliance of Bappi Da in 1989 with Love Love Love. I was barely five but dragged my parents to watch the film because I was still in the Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak haze. The film was quite a let-down, but the songs made a special place in my heart. I would sing “Ruko Ruko Toh,” while going round-and-round the courtyard on my tiny bicycle with training wheels and off-key scream “Hum to Hain Dil ke Deewane” every chance I got.

As I grew older, I heard more of Bappi Da at birthday parties – possibly the only bright spot for a ’90s kid, whose celebrations were marked by a bog standard homemade cake, bright orange drinks made with packaged concentrated mix, samosas, and blaring music. In most parties that I attended, “Tamma Tamma” (Thanedar) was your one route to acting out your daytime fantasy of being Sanju/Madhuri.

Bappi Da gave India’s emerging, mostly English-medium-educated middle class the perfect taste of disco and pop, mixed with the wonderful familiarity of Bollywood. There was of course a niche that was busy humming along to Elvis, The Beatles and others, but for most of us, singing along to a Bappi Da song was more fun than trying to understand the lyrics of MJ or Madonna’s compositions. While the “cool” kids were singing “Ice Ice Baby” around me, I was perfectly happy twisting to “Naachenge Hum Disco Dandiya”.

Did you know that Bappi Da is one of the very few musicians Michael Jackson agreed to meet during his 1996 India tour?

While Bappi Da’s disco avatar will always be my favourite, there’s more to this musical genius. The same man who gave us the nutty “Taki o Taki” (Himmatwala) is also responsible for the grave “Manzilein Apni Jagah Hain” (Sharabi). While we have the mildly upsetting “Ooi Amma Ui Amma” (Mawaali) on one her hand, we also have the gorgeous “Chalte Chalte Mere Yeh Geet Yaad Rakhna” (Chalte Chalte) on the other. As my expert-in-Bengali-cinema mother-in-law recently remarked, “You can never label Bappi Da as one or the other. He is amazing at everything he does.” This seems to be a sentiment that most Bongs around me seem to share, for no Durga Pujo or wedding celebration since 2014 has been sans “Tune Maari Entriyan” (Gunday).

In a career spanning over 40 years, Bappi Lahiri has done it all. More than 600 films and 5,000 songs. He is a singer, actor, music composer and record producer. He has collaborated with Indian and international bands and singers, introduced and mentored some of Bollywood’s most popular and sought-after playback singers and worked with mainstream Hindi film singers and ghazal artistes. In addition to popularising the use of synthesised disco music in Indian cinema, Bappi Da is also credited with helping create the Indi-pop wave and keeping it strong by actively allowing remixes of his hit numbers.

How can you not love him? Don’t @ me with “You Are My Chicken Fry” (Rock Dancer). And please don’t pretend this was not your guilty pleasure song that was trotted out every antakshari. And while I admit that “Atariya Pe Lotan Kabutar” (Dalaal) is crass to the core, it made many of us sit up and take notice of a film that might have otherwise quietly flown under the radar.

That’s the thing about Bappi Da, he makes the impossible possible. And no one is immune to him and the many charms of “Jimmy Jimmy”, not even the King of Pop. Did you know that Bappi Da is one of the very few musicians Michael Jackson agreed to meet during his 1996 India tour? Also, did you know the only time Samantha Fox agreed to make an appearance in Bollywood was for a Bappi Da song (“Traffic Jam” from Rock Dancer)?

His fan following transcends nationalities. On a recent trip to Moscow, a cabbie, in broken English, asked my husband if he’s from India. When he said yes, the driver was visibly excited and switched the otherwise regular EDM tracks that had been playing all this while to the original “Jimmy Jimmy”. It played on loop and everyone sang along. That right there is the power of Bappi Da’s disco music.

This is proof that no matter what your mood, there’s a Bappi Da composition to go with it. Our desi disco legend is absolutely irreplaceable. Today is his birthday and I don’t know about you, but I’ll be dancing – unironically – to “Koi yahan aha nache nache”.