Pahlaj Nihalani remembers Bappi Lahiri and a 15-film association

Bappi Lahiri, the prolific maverick, did 15 films with producer Pahlaj Nihalani. Photo: Publicity Photo

Bappi Lahiri, the composer-singer (and occasional actor, lyricist and producer) left us on February 15 two years ago. Often vilified for bringing down standards in music and ‘adapting’ foreign songs, Bappi, trained in Indian classical music and the offspring of Bengali classical musicians Aparesh and Bansari Lahiri, nevertheless had long associations with many a big name filmmaker.

Tahir Husain (Aamir Khan’s father), B. Subhash (with whom Bappi laregley made disco-oriented films), South whizkid Bapu, the Padmalaya fraternity of producers G.A, Seshagiri Rao, G. Hanumantha Rao and Krishna that spawned a new genre in film music with Himmatwala, K. Raghavendra Rao, K. Bapaiah and more all doid multiple films with the maverick musician.

But the maximum association Bappi had—in a mere 13 years from 1982 to 1994—was with veteran distributor Pahlaj Nihalani, with whom he started out right from the latter’s first film as producer—Haathkadi. 14 more films followed, including a presentation (Paanch Paapi). Aandhi Toofan, Ilzaam, Aag Hi Aag, Paap Ki Duniya, Shola Aur Shabnam and Aankhen were all major hits too, like Haathkadi.

The filmmaker speaks affectionately about his favorite composer in a chat. Excerpts from an interview follow.

You had a phenomenal association with Bappi Lahiri. What are your memories of him?

He was a most talented composer and a complete music director. He could come up with tunes very fast and would often give me 10 alternatives for one situation! The tunes would come non-stop and I would be hard-pressed for choice. And with him, there was no time barrier! We have worked sometimes even between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.! I would say that he was a rare genius!

I remember that when Majrooh-saab (lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri) grumbled about writing a song like Disco station for Haathkadi, wondering what and how he would do so, it took him some persuasion to agree to write the song. I actually met Majrooh-saab at 4 in the morning and he completed the song along with Bappi and me at 6 in the morning as the lyricist was leaving town for a while. We recorded it two days later.

That means that Disco Station was written first.

Of course! Bappi-da could work both ways and equally fast, whether the words were written to his tunes or he composed lyrics!

Veteran Pahlaj Nihalani worked with Bappi Lahiri in 15 films in 13 years, and was his most frequent filmmaker. Photo: Rajiv Vijayakar

To do 15 films together, there had to be personal tuning apart from professional.

Definitely! He was a humble man, very kind and would never discuss money with me. Our mental tuning was immense and he often seemed to read my mind.

You never worked with Majrooh again.

Yes, he got a bit busy. But Bappi-da had developed a great tuning with (lyricists) Anjaan-ji and Indeevar-ji. It was only after Anjaan-ji fell ill and could no longer do films that Indeevar-ji took over with Aankhen (which was our biggest hit), Andaz and Mr. Azaad. Otherwise, I saw no reason to change my team with every film.

After 1994, you never worked with Bappi again. Though no one else who came in could match the way you worked together, irrespective of who your films’ directors were.

There were reasons for switching to others, which were not connected with him.

You had a deluge of hit songs. But there was one film—Aandhiyan—in which no song proved popular.

You are wrong—the music did well, though not the film. Kumar Sanu sang for the first time for Bappi in this film. In fact the tune of my song’s mukhda, Duniya mein tere siva, sung by Anuradha Paudwal, was used by T-Series with minor changes as Jaanejigar jaaneman, credited to Nadeem-Shravan in Aashiqui in the same year!

One unique point: Bappi was popular as a singer right from Jaana kahaan hai in Chalte Chalte and Bambai se aaya mera dost in Aap Ki Khatir. But in 15 films with you, he never sang at all! Did he not want to sing any song?

Bappi never interfered with my views. I had watched Bambai se aaya and other songs of his and felt that his voice did not suit our heroes!

You did have a lot of unusual singers in your films, from Shobha Gurtu in Haathkadi and Dandia Queen Falguni Pathak in Aandhiyan to Zoheb and Nazia Hassanin Ilzaam. Who would decide the singers?

It was always a mutual decision.

Another thing: your music with him was very Indian.

True, I always preferred Hindustani music! Zindagi mein pehli pehli baar  (Mitti Aur Sona), Saajan aa jaao (Aag Hi Aag) and Bandhan toote na (Paap Ki Duniya) are the kind of melodies I love. I think that Hindustani culture and folk, and raags like the Pahadi work best with the common man. Western songs works more in the metros. If you hear Disco station, it has a very Indian feel and is not Western at all, explaining its cult status and difference from other disco numbers. In I am a street dancer (Ilzaam), the character was very Indian and so was the situation. It was Govinda’s introduction, and I think that though the song was Western and worked in the metros, everything else was Indian, so it also was a hit everywhere.

One unique song was Chori chori yoon jab ho aanken chaar, sung by Kishore Kumar in Paap Ki Duniya. That was alleged to be a lift from a Western number, Walk like an Egyptian, by the band, The Bangles..

I will tell you an interesting story about this. I was in Italy when I heard the song and loved it. I bought a cassette but forgot to take it along when I left my hotel for the airport. I told Bappi-da of a new kind of song when I came back home. At that time, Bappi had been on a tour of Europe, and when I described the song, he made me listen to the cassette he had bought for the same reason! It was a new kind of composition, very gentle, and we both thought it would suit Sunny Deol in a particular situation in the film as he would not have to dance too much—his weak area! It would be something new for him too. But what Bappi-da made from that original was very Indian, not a copy, but a wonderful song inspired by it.

A final question: when you turned producer, you had a cream of choices among composers. What made you opt for Bappi Lahiri in Haathkadi?

It so happened that I had distributed a small Mithun Chakraborty film called Tere Pyar Mein  in 1979, which was made at a low cost of Rs. 2.25 lakh! But its music alone had made Rs. 17-18 lakh!  Bappi had heard that I was planning a multi-star film with Sanjeev Kumar, Shatrughan Sinha, Reena Roy, Rakesh Roshan and Ranjeeta. He was doing largely small films then and came with his father, Aparesh-ji, to meet me at 7 in the morning as someone had told him that i was an early riser! As it happened, I was sleeping late that day. But when I met him, he just requested me that he wanted to do a big movie like mine and even told me that if would be okay if I did not pay him for it! It was thus clear that he was not a money-minded music maker and I told him that he would do the film and, of course, I would pay him too!





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