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For all of India, Bappi Lahiri symbolized the disco world of flashing lights, synthesizers, garish costumes and bling. Though Bappi Lahiri did not directly create music in Tamil, Unnai Azhaithathu Pen in Rajini-starrer Thaai Veedu had his stamp. So did Annai Enum Aalayam in the film Apoorva Sahodarigal. They were clearly inspired by the Lahiri wave.

Until then, music composers were content to let their work speak for them. Bappi Lahiri was the first celebrity music director who aspired for the rock star status in India. His flashy clothes, pudgy frame and jewellery were deliberate. Bappi Lahiri symbolized the disco era in Indian film music, probably the first time a western genre was completely imported into Indian films. His composition I Am A Disco Dancer from Padum Vaanampadi had a significant impact on Tamil film music many years after its release.

Apoorva Sahodarigal

Even if all of India was swept away by the disco wave, Tamil Nadu was a bit of a holdout. It adapted disco but did not allow it to overwhelm the living elements of Tamil folk, classical and light music. Ilayaraja stood like a rock against that wave.

Bappi Lahiri came from a musical family. His parents were classical music singers. One of his uncles was playback singer Kishore Kumar. His playing of the tabla when he was three years old marked out a musical future for him. But he was going to tread a path of his own, departing from all that he grew up with.

Bappi started scoring music from the age of 19 for films. Chalte Chalte in 1976 brought him attention. Namak Halal (Velaikkaran in Tamil), Disco Dancer (Padum Vanampadi), Himmatwala, Sharabi and Bewafa were smash hits. The prolific Disco King entered the Guinness Records with 180 songs in 33 films in 1986.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyHnOICJN_E

Disco Dancer made Bengali art film actor Mithun Chakraborty into an A list Hindi film star in the same league as Amitabh Bachchan and Jeetendra. Until then a composer of melodies and perky numbers, Disco Dancer made Bappi jump genres. His Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja was a cross country hit. Michael Jackson met with him during his visit to India because of I Am A Disco Dancer.

Bappi Lahiri was the first celebrity music director who aspired for the rock star status in India. His flashy clothes, pudgy frame and jewellery were deliberate. Bappi Lahiri symbolized the disco era in Indian film music, probably the first time a western genre was completely imported into Indian films. His composition I Am A Disco Dancer from Padum Vaanampadi had a significant impact on Tamil film music many years after its release.

The disco fever that started with this film ruled Indian film music up until the 1990s. At a time when many Hindi film hits were remade, Disco Dancer was remade with comedian Nagesh’s son Anand Babu in Tamil and NTR’s son Balakrishna in Telugu.

Bappi Lahiri’s songs formed the basis for the numbers in Tamil films such as Thaai Veedu, Apoorva Sahodharigal, Kizhakku Aappirikkavil Sheela, Tarzan and others. Devar Films that had started to specialize in remakes signed up Bappi Lahiri for Thaai Veedu.

Kizhakku Aappirikkavil Sheela

In Telugu, Bappi helped Chiranjeevi achieve superstardom through Gang Leader, Rowdy Alludu, Big Boss, Rowdy Inspector and so on. Krishna, Venkatesh and Balakrishna benefited from Bappi Lahiri music. In 2020, Ravi Teja’s Disco Raja honoured Bappi Lahiri. Music director M S Madan made Bappi sing Ram Pam Pam.

Tamil music directors joined in the disco trend that Bappi had helped to create. Even Ilayaraja was no exception to this. Ilamai Idho Idho in Sakala Kala Vallavan, Vachukkava Unnai Nenjukulla, Pooppotta Thavani, Megam Kottattum, Hey Unnaithan and other songs carried the disco beat. Kokkarakko and Edakku Madakkana in Kalaignan were disco numbers but did not have the Bappi flavour.

Bappi Lahiri came from a musical family. His parents were classical music singers. One of his uncles was playback singer Kishore Kumar. His playing of the tabla when he was three years old marked out a musical future for him. But he was going to tread a path of his own, departing from all that he grew up with.

While guitar, saxophone and keyboard were part of the Hindu film music scene, in the hands of Ilayaraja their use was different. By merging contemporary western music with Tamil folk music, Ilayaraja created a unique blend in perky music. Other composers fell in line with that fusion instead of the Bappi style. Composers like T Rajendar did not quite take to disco either.

While the Bappi fever reached Andhra Pradesh’s border with Tamil Nadu, Ilayaraja’s genius did not allow it to penetrate the nook and cranny of Tamil Nadu. Tamil producers did not make an attempt to bring Bappi here, and the Disco Raja had enough work in Bollywood in any case. Bappi Lahiri even made music for a Malayalam film, Good Boys, but he was largely an outsider in Chennai. One could say this was a loss to Tamil film music.

Bappi Lahiri has said in an interview to Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan that Ilayaraja was blessed by the almighty himself and saluted the music he made, calling it revolutionary. He said he was too busy at that time to come to Chennai.

Though he didn’t create music, his voice rang in Tamil. In 2012, for the film Karuppampatti. Bappi Lahiri sang the song D I S C O Disco Disco Naughty Naughty Raja in Tamil https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmpJ33jjYS8

This was the Tamil film world honoring Bappi Lahiri. But the song did not become popular.

Bappi today defines retro in Hindi films. In Tamil Nadu, he ruled the ears of those who followed Hindi film music at that time.

Adieu Disco Raja! Your music is safe with us.


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