Disco is a thing of the past, but one of its foremost Indian practitioners keeps returning and reverberating in mysterious ways.
In the past decade, Bappi Lahiri’s tunes have been referenced (Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki in Gangs of Wasseypur), remixed (Tamma Tamma Loge in Badrinath Ki Dulhania) or parodied (the 7Up commercial) across the board – and this excludes the umpteen Russian tributes to Jimmy Jimmy.
Old Hindi film situations disappear and new ones emerge, but the 67-year-old composer manages to fit them all. Most recently, Lahiri’s much-loved Yaar Bina Chain Kahan Re (Saaheb, 1985) pops up in the trailer of the gay romance Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, proving once again that there’s a Lahiri song for every situation.
Lahiri’s dance ditties can be repurposed by an imaginative director – as is the case with Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki. The title track of the 1984 movie is a dance song with a revenge theme, which makes its apt for the scene in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1 (2012) in which Sardar Khan hilariously torments his rival Ramadhir Singh with the tune.
Yaad Aa Raha Hai Tera Pyaar (Disco Dancer, 1982), another dancefloor scorcher, is angst-bitten stuff in which the hero recalls his dead mother. The lyrics allow the song to also be used to remember a former girlfriend, as is the case with Golmaal 3 (2010). Did director Rohit Shetty just sneak in a subversive comment about Indian men?
Although Lahiri is not immediately associated with romantic numbers, he has a number of hits in the category, ranging from the syrupy sweet (Pyaar Kabhi Kam Nahi Karna from Prem Pratigyaa, 1988) to the playful (Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhi Aisa Ho Jaata Hai from Chalte Chalte, 1976) to the steamy (Aaj Rapat Jaye from Namak Halaal, 1982).
Lahiri’s most memorable “pyaar” songs are, of course, dance-oriented. There’s De De Pyaar De (Sharaabi, 1984), inspiring a 2019 film of the same name, and Chahiye Thoda Pyaar (Lahu Ke Do Rang, 1979), used memorably in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008). Both are stalker-ish songs in which the Hindi film hero serenades a woman trying to run in the opposite direction. The situations have nearly vanished, but the tunes live on.
Lahiri’s best tunes are not only for dancing men. His best female-solo dance tracks underline different shades of female desire, apt for come-hither scenes.
It cannot get more direct than Come Closer (Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki) featuring Salma Agha’s foxy vocals. There’s Mere Jaisi Haseena Ka Dil (Armaan, 1981), which is the female response to De De Pyaar De or Chahiye Thoda Pyaar: I am the pretty one here, let’s see how you win my heart. A rustic variant of the song is Humko Aajkal Hai Intezaar (Sailaab, 1990) which is 100% something Meenakshi from Aiyyaa (2012) would have grooved to in her fantasies.
Anticipation of romance marks both of Asha Bhosle’s duets in Namaal Halaal. What’s the song that plays when a handsome young man locks eyes with a beautiful woman? Jawaani Janemann. Raat Baaki declares that the night is young, a lot is left to happen, let it happen. There is room for mystery, making it useful for a thriller like the 2017 Ittefaq remake. A lot can happen at night, like murder.
On the opposite end of the urbane synthpop of Raat Baaki is the delightfully raunchy Gutur Gutur (Dalaal, 1993). Has there been a more frank Hindi film song about a one-night stand? An English translation barely does justice to the lyrics: “The pigeon got on top, had his fill, and flew away.”
At the end of all anticipation is Kishore Kumar’s droopy singing in Inteha Ho Gayi Intezaar Ki (Sharaabi). It’s the song that plays when you wait for the “haseena dilruba” all night, and she never comes, so all you can do is wallow.
A sombre kind of waiting, timeless and eternal, is afoot in Kisi Nazar Ko Tera Intezaar Aaj Bhi Hai (Aitbaar, 1985). The superb ghazal-like tune, sung by Bhupinder Singh and Asha Bhosle, is a prime example of Lahiri showing what he’s capable of besides overworking the synthesiser.
Staying on the course of pathos, there is Manzilen Apni Jagah Hai (Sharaabi), a sad song to croon when life doesn’t go according to plan. Anjaan writes, “The road might go one way and the destination another, what can a traveller do if his feet betray him?”
Lahiri had a seriously prolific career averaging up to 15 films a year through the 1980s and the early ’90s. If you were to catalogue each and every one of his compositions, there could be a tune for practically every film situation on the planet. Future filmmakers can look at Bambai Se Aaya Mera Dost (Aap Ki Khatir, 1977) for a Bombay song, Thodi Si Jo Pee Li Hai (Sharaabi) for a got-drunk song, and endless disco hits (Bole Bole Dil Mera Bole, I Am A Street Dancer) for Tanishk Bagchi to survive on.
One track that defies genre and can be dropped into a situation that’s seems cool, in a Quentin Tarantino way: Mausam Hai Gaane Ka from the cult spy movie Surakksha (1979). Lahiri blends a simple synthesised beat with vocoder-distorted vocals and guitars straight out of a Spaghetti Western. The song is simply too funky to not be resurrected somewhere.