Bappi Lahiri may have brought disco and hip hop to Bollywood, but now he wants to distance himself from it.
“I have introduced all modern music to Bollywood,” the Disco King told Lounge over the phone with his trademark modesty. “Now I want to bring melody back. Melody is lacking in today’s music. Everyone is doing hip hop and disco, which I pioneered long ago. True Indian music is going away.”
Lahiri is putting the finishing touches to two upcoming film projects—Spaghetti 24x7, with Mithun Chakraborty and his son Mimoh, where he’s worked on a distinct “Indian folk with rock” sound, and It’s Rocking Dard-e-Disco, in which he stars as himself. “I’m trying to give something new to the industry,” he says. These days, Lahiri appears mostly as a guest vocalist in other composers’ songs, or contributes one-off pieces to film soundtracks.
The 57-year-old music director is equally famous for his flamboyant tracksuits (adorned with gold jewellery) as well as tracks such as Jimmy Jimmy aaja aaja and I am a disco dancer (both from the 1982 Mithun Chakraborty starrer Disco Dancer). “My 1993 song Lena hai lena hai from the movie Bomb Blast was the first time rap was used in a Bollywood number,” he says. Playback singer Bali Brahmabhatt was tasked with delivering this rap, which features the lines I am gonna get you by hook or crook/Just give me a chance, just give me a look.
Pioneer: Lahiri was the first to bring electronica-inspired disco sounds and bass patterns to Bollywood. Vijayanand Gupta/Hindustan Times
“No matter how much people may make fun of him, or accuse him of plagiarism—he truly is the person who bought disco music to Bollywood,” says pop singer Usha Uthup, who sang several of Lahiri’s songs in the 1980s. “You have to call a spade a spade. There is no doubt—he was the first to use those kind of sounds, those kind of bass patterns here.”
Lahiri has just released a set of tribute songs to Michael Jackson (the slow, ballad-esque Don’t say goodbye and the more straightforward dance track Michael O Michael). “Michael Jackson will always be the King of Pop—he is so influential to music around the world, and I thought I should do something for his death anniversary out of India,” he says.
But when asked about Jackson’s influence on his own music, Lahiri turns defensive. “Everyone asks me this. My style is totally different,” he says. “Only one song in my 462 films has taken influence from MJ.” The song, Jeena bhi kya hai jeena from the 1984 film Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki—takes “the basic beat” from the Jackson song Thriller. “The scene was enacted like the Thriller video—with the ghosts and everything,” he says.