When Alokesh Lahiri arrived in Bombay in 1969, all of 17, he had two things that helped him with the daunting challenge he faced in the industry of giants such as SD Barman, OP Nayyar and Kalyanji-Anandji - a solid training from his musician father and ambition the size of the city.
The transition from Alokesh to Bapi to Bappi happened gradually as his popularity and affluence grew with his innovative synthesis of disco with mainstream Hindi film music.
As Bappi Lahiri, beloved 'Bappida' to all in the industry - from spot boys to music directors - turns 60, he can look back on a unique legacy that defied Bombay's genteel film aristocracy and set the mood of plebeians to rowdy, foot-thumping, hip gyrating beat box numbers.
For a man who did not have the staggering talent of the Burmans when he debuted or the ingenuity of Nadeem-Shravan he had to compete with in the 90s, Bappida worked the industry with a system he had honed and perfected. He discovered and mixed world music to create an uniquely Indian brand of 80s film songs that resonated with energy and pulse.
His 'Yaar bina chain kahan re' (Saheb), 'Yaad aa raha hai' (Disco Dancer), Tamma tamma loge (Thanedaar) were burnt in the subconscious of every Indian who grew up in the 80s.
It was around this time that bling found Bappida and he started wearing heavy gold chains that were to become his trademark. The incongruity of the jewellery teamed with casual track suits and dark glasses screamed new money but also created a brand for this Bengali man who was unashamed to flaunt his success.
His scored his first music for the Bengali film Dada. Lata Mangeshkar and Usha Mangeshkar were at the vocals.
"I believed in God. I got my break in Hindi films with Nanha Shikari, in 1973, produced by Shombhu Mukherjee, husband of actress Tanuja and father of Kajol. I know I am where I am today by the grace of God. I know all of you want to know about my famed fetish for gold. But let me tell you, it did not start when I was a struggling beginner. It grew slowly, as I started gaining success in the Hindi film industry," he once said in an interview to the Outlook magazine.
He played the table from the age of three - it was a foregone conclusion that his musical background would be the dominant factor in the selection of his career. But it was Tahir Husain's Zakhmee (1975) for which he scored the music as well as sang, that catapulted him to success. Chalte Chalte and Surakshaa followed Zakhmee.
He launched Vijay Benedict and Sharon Prabhakar in Bollywood and made stars of Alisha Chinai and Usha Uthup in their early years. The turbulent and transitioning 90s saw the massive hit 'Gutur Gutur' from the film Dalal that made him a household name but also stirred a controversy over the lyrics of the song people considered vulgar at that time.
Though plagiarism charges have followed his successful career, his versatility cannot be denied. If he was scoring hits like 'Gori Hai Kalaiyan' and 'Jimmy Jimmy', he was also composing the background score for Jahnu Barua's 'Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara'.
His latest blockbuster hit 'Oola la la' from 'The Dirty Picture' is pure, unadulterated Bappi Lahiri - with the same appeal that made him a star in the 70s with Disco Dancer. Yes, he has a lot to be proud about.
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