This Week, That Year: Bappi Lahiri and the birth of a Disco Dancer

This Week, That Year: Bappi Lahiri and the birth of a Disco Dancer

On Thursday, November 27, Bappi Lahiri turned 67. If one were to ask me to pick a song from his kitty that would best embody India’s ‘Golden Man’, I’d single out the title track of B Subhash’s Disco Dancer. The film opened on December 10, 1982 and remains unforgettable for its psychedelic lights and flashing shimmering cat suits, disco beats and pelvic thrusts which instantly takes one back to the swinging ’80s.

The film was born during a visit to Bappi da’s Juhu apartment for a music sitting. “I was toying with a couple of ideas, wondering which one to direct, when Bappi ji’s wife (Chitrani) came into the sitting room with a puja thali. The window was open and as I looked out, like a bolt from the blue, a thought flashed through my mind: Why don’t I make a film called Disco Dancer ?” recounts B Subhash ji, who, at the time, was shooting for 'Taqdeer Ka Badshah' .

His hero, Mithun Chakraborty, was going through a professional low and one day, to cheer him up, the filmmaker told him he would make a film called Disco Dancer with him which would make him an evergreen star. Almost immediately, Mithun’s spirits lifted and when B Subhash ji’s publicist, Jagdish Aurangabadkar, turned up on the set, he nudged him into announcing the project.

“I told Jagdish to inform a leading film weekly of the time that I would be not just directing Disco Dancer , based on my own story, but producing it as well, with Mithun in the title role, Bappi Lahiri as the music director and Anjaan as the lyricist. On Friday, when the paper carried the news on the front page, excited distributors from all over India wanted to buy the film instantly. And so the musical journey which brought the disco wave to India, started,” narrates B Subhash ji.

He recalls how, when they were recording the title song, which continues to be his callertune, began with Mithun urging the audience to sing with him, the musicians around them came up with appropriate words for the letters D…I… S…C..O. “D for ‘dance’, I for ‘item’, S for ‘singer’, C for ‘chorus’ and O for ‘orchestra’,” he beams, all praise for his composer, who was at his creative best yet always open to suggestions.

“One day, at a sitting, I admitted I didn’t like one of the songs. But by the time we broke up, it was almost midnight and we had a recording with Kishore da Kumar early next morning and given how busy he was, we couldn’t afford to cancel. I didn’t think we could come up with an alternative at such short notice, but Bappi ji and Anjaan worked through the night and the next day, were ready with ‘Ae Oh Aah Zara Mudke’,” he marvels.

The high-tempo, synthesised, electronic 'Yaad Aa Raha Hai', which has been described as a disco anthem for all ages, was to be sung by Kishore Kumar, who even drove to the recording studio in Cuffe Parade, only to discover that the elevator was out of order. Since he was suffering from a heart ailment, he left, telling Bappi da to record the song, he’d dub it over the next day.

“I was listening to the song on a cassette when driving home. Bappi ji had sung it so emotionally that I felt we should retain his version and told him to convey this to Kishore da. He was unsure, but called back to said that his Kishore mama wanted to hear his rendition before taking a decision. Once he did, he agreed that Bappi ji’s voice should not be dubbed,” B Subhash ji flashbacks.

They introduced Parvati Khan to Hindi playback with “Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy... Aaja”. She was married to the film’s cinematographer, Nadeem Khan, and had just returned from London, upset because a song with Biddu had fallen through. “Dr Rahi Masoon Reza, her father-in-law who had written the film with Deepak Balraj Vij, requested me to give her a song. We decided on 'Jimmy Jimmy', one of the three songs in the climax, with 'Goron Ki Na Kalon Ki' and 'Yaad Aa Raha Hai'. “It was a stroke of genius on Bappi ji’s part to move from mono track to double voice. This enhanced the vocals and made the song unforgettable,” said B Subhash ji, agreeing that Bappi da always had the Midas touch.