Born c. 1956 in Calcutta, India; son of Aparesh and Bansari Lahiri (Indian classical singers). Addresses: Home--4 Lahiri House, Hatkess, Nagar, 4th Rd., Juhu, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.

The "Disco King" of India, Bappi Lahiri is as well known for his signature dark glasses, corpulent build, opulent jewelry, and white jumpsuits as he is for his music that combines Asian instrumentation and themes with the rhythms of 1970s American dance music. For the first 15 years of his musical career, Lahiri was known primarily as a composer of songs and music for the Indian film industry. His songs--performed by such Indian stars as Shailendra Singh, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Vinod Khanna, Sharon Prabhakar, Asha Bhosle, and Alisha Chinoy--are credited with popularizing disco and Southern Indian "vulgar music" that feature double entendres and innuendo. His prodigious output of film scores, sometimes more than 30 in a single year, earned him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. His biggest successes were his music for Disco Dancer, which included the hits "Jimmy Jimmy" and "I Am a Disco Dancer," and the Indian pop hit "You're My Chicken Fry."

Lahiri was born in Calcutta, the only child of Indian classical singers Aparesh and Bansari Lahiri. He began to accompany his parents onstage with a tabla (an Indian drum) when he was only four years old. "Even at that age I wanted to be famous, not only nationally, but I wanted international fame," he told Calcutta Online."The dream was fulfilled when the songs of the film Disco Dancer, in which I composed the music, won great acclaim in Russia and China. I received the Golden Award for the music in China." After composing the music for the film Dadu when he was 16, Lahiri relocated to Bombay to work in the Indian film industry, known as Bollywood. "I came to Bollywood at a very young age of 18. The first film in which I composed music was Nanha Shikari."

In 1976 Lahiri scored a major success with his compositions for the film Chalte Chalte, particularly the songs "Chalte chalte mere yeh geet yaad rakhna na, kabhi alvida na kehna hai" and "Pyar mein kabhi kabhi," which became immensely popular. The former was cowritten with lyricist Amit Khanna and sung by Kishore Kumar. The singer was so impressed with the tune, Lahiri recalled in a Screen India interview, that Kumar told him, "Bappi, this is an unforgettable song." The latter was composed for singer Shailendra Singh, of whom Lahiri noted in the same interview, "I fell in love with Shailendra Singh's voice and called up Shaily to ask him if he'd sing a song for me. He had a contract with Raj Kapoor that prevented him from singing for too many outside banners. But being a good friend, Shaily promised me that he'd sing my song. And he kept his word."

While primarily known as a songwriter throughout the 1980s, Lahiri broadened his appeal in 1989 by singing "Pyar kabhi kum hanin karma," a song composed by Prem Pratigyaa. The song was originally intended for Kumar, but, Lahiri told Screen India, "Kishore mama was to sing this beautiful composition from Prem Pratigyaa ('89). I had given him a cassette of the song and had been looking forward to the recording when he suffered a fatal heart-attack. He never returned to the studios again. Two weeks after his sudden death, I recorded the song. Mama had loved my voice. While I was singing I had tears in my eyes. The song became very popular and established me as a singer."

Lahiri's enormous musical output has earned him some negative publicity from critics who feel he plunders and sometimes egregiously plagiarizes other sources. In an essay by Peter Manuel, critic Subhash Jah notes his disdain for Lahiri's methodologies: "Off goes the composer, hunting for pop-rock tunes to pilfer from English, Swedish, African and Pakistani charts.... This, then, is the tragedy of film music today. A tragedy engineered by Bappi Lahiri almost single-handedly." While stating his belief that Indian film music suffers rhythmically and melodically by borrowing from Western sources, Manuel concludes: "[D]efenders like Lahiri argue that they are Indianizing the elements they borrow in creative syntheses, and that, moreover, modern Indian culture in general borrows liberally from the West. One could further add that, paradoxically, in plagiarizing Western pop tunes, Indian film-music composers are continuing the hoary and time honored tradition of parody in Indian music, dating back to the Sangit Ratnakar."

In a turn of events that some critics found ironic considering his own penchant for borrowing heavily from other sources, Lahiri sued rap musician and producer Dr. Dre (given name Andre Young), Aftermath Records, Interscope Records, and Universal Music Group in 2002, claiming that the song "Addictive" from the album Truthfully Speaking performed by an R&B artist named Truth Hurts (given name Shari Watson) and remixed by Dr. Dre, contained four minutes of Lahiri's original recording of the song "Thoda Resham Lagta Hai," composed by Lahiri with lyrics by Anand Bakshiji. Lahiri called the use of his composition "cultural imperialism." In an MTV interview quoted on Planet Bollywood online, Watson admitted that Dr. Dre "really took [Lahiri's song] to another level," adding that Dr. Dre "took another part of the Indian sample and added it to the beginning and to the middle."

Released in June of 2002, "Addictive" became a top-ten hit, and the album containing the song sold more than 600,000 copies. People called the tune "addictive" and "intoxicating," noting that it "sounds unlike any other song on radio." "We tried our best to reach out to the folks who owned the song," Watson told Entertainment Weekly. She claimed that Lahiri was "honored" that his song was used, something he denies. A lawyer for Lahiri confirmed that. "The curses, the sexual suggestions--these are against the Hindu faith. Their religious convictions have not been honored or respected," the lawyer responded in Entertainment Weekly. In early 2003 a federal judge in Los Angeles issued a court order requiring Lahiri's name listed as a composer on "Addictive"; in addition, further sales of the recording were prohibited until Lahiri's name was credited.

by Bruce Walker

Bappi Lahiri's Career

Composed score for Dadu, 1972; composed background score for Charitra, 1973; made singing debut in film Zakhmee, 1975; composed score for film Chalte Chalte, 1975; composed music for 33 films, 1986.

Bappi Lahiri's Awards

Filmfare Award, Best Music Director, 1984; Golden Lotus Award.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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