Celebrating the Disco Generation

BY KAUSTAV BHATTACHARYYA

The year was around 1982-83, this was pre-liberalization, pre-globalization India where imported tech gadgets were not readily available and I was excited since a movie would be screened in a VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) at a festive gathering. We looked with awe at the magic of popping in a thick cassette and images appear on the television screen.  Those days watching a movie meant queuing up or pulling strings to get a ticket for the prime shows at a cinema theatre for the first few weeks of screening. In one of the festive gatherings on an autumnal evening, I first heard disco songs and watched the gyrations of the ‘disco dancer’ or the disco style of dancing. For factual records, the ‘disco dancer’ was none other than the Bollywood hero ‘Mithun Chakraborty’. The experience of listening to those tantalizing tunes and watching the smart aerobatic shaking of the legs was just magical and surreal.  Honestly, even while I’m penning this down, those images appear in my mind vividly and tunes reverberate in my ears as if it was yesterday’s experience. Bappi Lahiri pioneered synthesized disco music to the Hindi film world and his Disco Dancer soundtrack shot through the ranks and assumed the pole position on the top of the Charts.  Hence this was my initiation into the world of Disco Music and the Disco King of Bollywood and India, the great sui generis, Bappi Lahiri

In many ways I belonged to the glorious decade of Disco in Bollywood films and Indian music in the 80s.  This ‘disco generation’ story would be incomplete without the mention of the singer Nazia Hussain whose song ‘Aap Jaisa Koi’ produced by Indian-born British music producer Biddu, and along with the peppy sizzling tune of the classic song ‘Disco Deewane’ went a long way in ushering in of the Disco era of Indian music.  The disco number ‘Aap Jaisa Koi’ was immortalized by the 1980s blockbuster hit ‘Qurbaani’ with Zeenat Aman at her finest glory as the actress.  Both these tunes were played in birthday parties, weddings, social family gathering in respectable middle-class homes. 

Growing up with Disco King Bappi Lahiri’s music

In the city of Kolkata(then Calcutta) where I spent my growing up years, there used to be a tradition of community festivals like the famous Durga Puja with loudspeakers blaring music and through the 80s one heard some of these Disco tunes. Some of the prolific ones were ‘Jawane Janeman’ and ‘Jhoom jhoom jhoom baba’ or for that matter the techno styled song ‘Disco Station’ sung by one of India’s eminent singer Asha Bhosle from the movie Haathkadi featuring Reena Roy- full blinking lights, dazzling floor lightning and a train carrying passengers. Yes, a disco song setting in a railway station but then Bollywood is just superb in its imagination.

Those were the years of innocent infantile adolescent schoolboys which is unfathomable in this era of high-speed internet, pervasive social media and widespread travel; incidentally few of us left the country prior to our early 20s and visiting another region or state of India was itself a stupendous adventure.  As these delinquent teenagers, many of us got thrill in whistling or humming these Disco songs in the class and were then adequately punished and reprimanded; there were no iPads or smartphones to keep us entertained!!!

Those were the days when most of us attended all-boys schools and the only romantic escapades were singing along or ‘karaakeing’ romantic songs like ‘Yaad Aa Raha Hai Tera Pyar’ (your love is being reminded of) or ‘Pyar Karne wale’(an encomium to all the ones in love not lovers, hard translation but it means one who is loving) only to be admonished severely by elders and teachers.  I still recollect, with a naughty glimmer in my eyes even in my middle-ages, that one song which was our ‘agent provocateur’, that famous ‘Jimmy Jimmy aja aja’(come come Jimmy Jimmy) and how some of my friends would taunt the opponent in football matches while scoring a goal or in field hockey dribbling the ball.

Needless to add, our ‘propah’ ‘pukkah’ teachers of Anglo-Indian schools reprimanded us with enough fervour and lament at our appalling conduct and reminded us that we were supposed to be ‘Gentlemen’ albeit along the models of an English Country Squire one. I am sure many of these teachers would be aghast at my temerity of recounting such ‘chokra’(a pejorative term for a laddie who has unrestrained manners and no dignity of conduct) behaviour with such relish of nostalgia in an esteemed British publication called Country Squire Magazine. Well then, that’s the travails of Globalization and we are dedicated to Indo-British relationship 2.0 and what better start than ‘Disco Dancing’.

There arose that trademark Disco look with the glittering metal belts not tucked in, long hair till shoulder, snazzy brightly coloured shirts and those form-fitting, high-waist funky trousers- be it of denim or other textile material.  However, there were constant comparisons with the Western disco music and aesthetics by our ‘chattering classes’ in drawing rooms and yes plenty of conversations since Satellite television hadn’t yet appeared on the scene. The Bollywood Indian disco had all the trappings or exterior furnishings of the Western counterpart in terms of the blinking lights, dazzling coloured dance floors, flashy attire, funky trousers with bell bottoms, gaudy headbands and that synthesized music. Comparisons were made between John Travolta and Mithun Chakraborty in their dancing styles by few of the movie connoisseurs. I would vehemently argue and rise to the defense of the Indian ‘Disco’ as being distinct from the Western counterpart and a colourful construct or even a Heritage after 40 years of existence.  Indian artistry and its cultural elites are open-minded and cosmopolitan enough to draw upon external influences but its assimilated and adopted enough to create a totally new art form.

Bidding adieu to the sui generis music maestro

While penning this memoir and nostalgic article, I just dreaded this end where I have to finally bid adieu to the ‘star’ of that Disco movement, Bappi Lahiri, the ‘King of Disco’.  So far, I celebrated that heady swinging Disco world and the generation to which I belong but time has arrived to mourn and sign off with a heavy heart to the icon and symbol of our Disco generation for ushering in and sustaining this glorious epoch of the 80s entertainment world. Sadly, Bappi Lahiri left us on the 15th February, 2022 after a spell of illness. Born as Alokesh Lahiri (Bappi being his popular stage name) in the state of West Bengal in 1952 to a musical family, both his parents were musicians/singers practicing Classical music and Kishore Kumar- the musical maestro was his maternal uncle.

Bappi Lahiri debuted his musical career with the composition for a Hindi film in 1973.  Over the past five decades he has had a spectacular career with plenty of successful box office hits and a wide repertoire of musical forms from Ghazals, Sentimental duets, melodies apart from the ingenious Disco. His unique sartorial style was imbued with splendour replete with gold chains, plenty of flashy bejeweled finger rings, dazzling cardigans and dark shades.  Let’s all the fans wish a peaceful journey to Bappi Lahiri to the other world!! Meanwhile on our Earth we play and celebrate the wonderful Disco legacy left behind and yes, we are all the ‘Disco Dancers’ generation!!

Kaustav Bhattacharyya is a PhD from Cass Business School, London, an entrepreneur and an Anglosphere enthusiast.