Blues Train – His Master’s Voice – NE 1006 India 1969
I’ve decided to feature two 7’s this time around, as this some what lost and elusive coupling from Usha Iyer, who these days is more commonly known as Usha Uthup, should not be separated. Obviously I’m still hanging on to that recent India experience, that happily refuses to leave from beneath my skin.
Usha Iyer was born on November 8th, 1947, into a Tamil brahmin family that hailed from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, in Madras (now Chennai). She has three sisters, all of whom are singers, and two brothers, herself being the the fifth of six children. As a child, she lived in the police quarters at Lovelane in Byculla in Bombay and attended a local school (her father Sami Iyer, later became the police commissioner of Bombay). When she was in music classes at school, she was a bit of a musical misfit, because “she didn’t fit in” with a voice like hers. But thankfully her music teacher did see something, and recognised her passion and determination, and would encourage her with simple instruments like clappers and the triangle.
Even though she was not formally trained in music, she grew up in an atmosphere of music. Her parents used to listen to a wide range from Western classical to Hindustani and Carnatic. “Along with Beethoven and Mozart, we listened to Bade Ghulam Ali, Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva, K.C. De, Pankaj Mullick, Manna De, Shyamal Mitra M. S. Subbulakshmi, and a host of other great classical and modern masters,” reminisces Usha to The Tribune India. Her next door neighbour was S.M.A. Pathan, who was then the deputy commissioner of police. His daughter, Jamila, inspired Usha to learn Hindi, wear salwar kameez and take up Indian classical music. This fusion approach helped her to pioneer her unique brand of Indian pop in the 70s. Her first public singing occurred when she was nine. Her sisters who were already exploring a music career, took her to a musician called Hamir Sayani who gave her an opportunity to sing on the Ovaltine Music Hour in Radio Ceylon. She sang a number called Mockingbird Hill, and several more appearances followed through in her teenage years. A 20 year old Usha started singing in a small nightclub in Chennai called Nine Gem, which was in the basement of the Safire Theater complex . Her performance was so well received that the owner of the nightclub asked her to stay on for a week. She also began singing in Calcutta at night clubs such as Talk of the Town, now known as Not Just Jazz By The Bay, and the infamous Trincas.
Trincas – In 1969, when performing at nightclubs and restaurants was considered taboo, Usha became the highest-paid crooner in Chennai, Kolkata and New Delhi. But in the beginning it was nervous times for Usha. Trincas, originally a Tea Room owned by the eponymous Mr Trincas, was converted into a nightclub in 1959, an run by Om Prakash Puri and Ellis Joshua. It went on to become the launch pad for many acts of the Indian live music scene. The hip club was more in trend with Anglo-Indians, fair-skinned and blonde haired glamours, so when Usha asked if she was allowed to perform in her sari, she was relieved to get managements full support. On 1 October 1969, some of the stereotypes surrounding female nightclub singers in India were shattered. That is when a young Usha Iyer took the spotlight at the crowded restaurant, wearing her sari and her hair lit up in flowers, and singing Little Willie John’s Fever. The first reaction of the crowd was one of disbelief, but they quickly fell in love with her and the club and patrons accepted her whole-heartedly! Also in those days, female singers in bars had to get a permit from Lalbazar, the police headquarters, with strict guidelines forbidding interaction with guests or soliciting. It basically meant that she wasn’t allowed to socailise with guests or sit at their tables. However Usha did break the rule once, and that was the moment she found her husband Jani.
This early recording period of Usha Iyer is very difficult to track, with even her official website failing to mention anything about these “Flintstones” recordings. I can tell you that in 1968, Usha recorded what was supposedly her first 45, released on the His Master’s Voice label (45-N.79858), where she was labelled as just Usha. Hecke Kingdom, who cut a distinctive figure on the Bombay jazz stage in the 1950s and ’60s with his enormous baritone saxophone, recorded the sessions with his Jazz Quartet. The two compositions were covers, the first was Hank Williams Jambalaya and then flipped with The Kingston Trio’s Green Back Dollar, and are apparently the only tracks he recorded on vinyl during his whole career.
Now it seems there was a popular “house” band at Trincas that went by the name of The Flintstones, and by the sounds of it, they were very impressionable and were a group that really left quite a heavy stamp on the face of the late 60’s-early 70’s Indian rock music scene. As this is also the time that Usha was playing at Trincas, I have to assume that this is the same band that appears on these two featured 7″ records. Apparently this cult band were the big deal, could consistently pack out the venue and could get some pretty wild dancers in action. There must have been some pretty crazy nights there on Park Street, with other psychedelic rock acts also appearing such The Combustibles, The Savages, The Fentones, The Playboys and other bands with names like Black Cactus, The Urge and The Hurricanes.
From what I can work out, band members of The Flintstones were Eddy Ranger (lead vocals), Noel Martin (bass), Claton Saunders, Rhett May, and possibly Gautam Chatterjee, who was also playing at Trincas with another band, The Urge. It was the seventeen year old Clayton Saunders, who it seems was a musical genius from a young age, formed this band that took India by storm. Not long after this lively Indian rock spell, he would move over to my home country of Australia, and became successful with the country bands Hotspurs and Stoney Creek. At the tender age of 11, Saunders became the youngest talent to perform regularly on All India Radio’s renowned program The Children’s Hour. Rhett May also left the band and headed for Australia, and was in a band called Lucifer in the 1970s, and he is still quite active in the music scene releasing records today. Noel Martin still to this day, plays at Trincas, with his band Sweet Agitation, which was formed in 1984. I did track down evidence of another Flintstones 45 which was released in 1968, again on the HMV label (45 POPV 8085), with the tracks titled Be Mine and Happy By My Side, a mover credited to Clayton Saunders, that one could believe to have come from a Beatles track list, from their more raw early days.
The Caluatta Telegraph reported in 2008,”After 1972, the band’s popularity and also that of other live bands waned because of two reasons: anglo-Indians were leaving Calcutta and the popularity of the first discotheque in Calcutta, In & Out in Park Hotel. For a cover charge of merely Rs 10, patrons could hear DJs play the celestial music of Jethro Tull, ELP, Yes and Grateful Dead. These records were hardly heard in Calcutta then. No one would any longer pay to hear the cover versions”.
Thankfully someone back then did have the sense to bring Usha and The Flintstones into the studio, to lay down a handful of tracks. Today we can gratefully be transported back and experience if but a taste of those exciting vibrant times of that particular period of Indian psychedelia. On the first single, the A sided The Trip is absolute killer material from both Usha and the band. With it’s psychedelic brilliance, hard hitting break beats, snappy mod blues guitar work, and Usha’s beautiful acidic jazz vocals, it’s raw, dirty and dope, and for me, it feels like bathing in the richest soil of the Indian earth! As the only credit on the label is to Usha, again I have to assume the lyrics are hers. She sing’s of a faraway trip, leaving someone that was obviously close to her, behind, and whether it’s spiritual or literal, we don’t really have to know. For me this has to be her biggest tune, and to finally find it on a lost record that is about journey, is quite a trip. The flip to this big track is a cover of Tommy Roe’s 1960 number 1 hit song Dizzy, which for me is a bit too pop and doesn’t really suit the band’s dangerous edge. On the other hand, Blues Train, the second single featured here, we’re back on track, enjoying another dark journey with the brilliant combo. Like very many blues songs, this song is about loss, and this time it’s a tale of a dear soul to the story teller, that has taken their life. Usha sings of her desire to do what needs to be done, so they can be together again…”Every time I hear a train, I’ll be on the railway line, hang myself on a telegraph pole, then I’ll be with you body and soul. I know what to do, I’ve got to be with you tonight”. This moment of brilliance is tastefully complemented with the A-sided Summertime, which can be proudly added to the many amazing interpretations that exist, of Gershwin’s 1934 masterpiece.
In around 1974, Usha was invited by the legendary Goan composer Chris Perry to record an album of Konkani songs. Perry had just had a professional bust up with the ever so popular “Goan nightingale” Lorna Cordeiro, and was looking for a female vocalist who could fill that prodigious void. With compositions already to go, Perry approached her one day when Uthup was singing with the trumpet player at the Ritz near Eros cinema. The outcome was a successful record release comprising five Konkani songs performed by Usha including Meu Amor, Beautiful and the desirable Paka Paka!
If we want to talk about some of Usha’s LP releases, an interesting record that needs to be mentioned here, is the album she recorded with producer Nabil Sansool while touring in Nairobi, Kenya in 1978. Titled Usha In Nairobi, this album is infamous and sort because of one particular killer version of Fever that Usha lays down! It a crazy good, spacey trip hop-drum n’ bass version way ahead of it’s time, and perhaps one of the best versions I have ever heard of that fine tune. The band involved is said to have gone by the name of The Fellini Five, with the line up including Fausto La Venia on drums, Pino Solitro on guitar, Massimo Sperduti on keyboards and on percussion was Fausto La Venia. The songs Malaika and Kirie Kirio, were released as a Kenya 7″ from this recording on EMI. Earlier in 1969, Usha also released an alternate version of Fever, on her jazzy Scotch And Soda LP (Odeon SMOCE 2006) along with other versions fine standards including Sunny and A Taste Of Honey. Bombay’s finest beat band, The Savages provide accompaniment on Midnight Hour and also on a cracking version of California Dreaming, while on all other tracks, The Ronnie Menezes Quartet are her support. Now don’t get confused with the other Fever track she recorded with Bappi Lahiri for the film Love In Goa a few years later in ’83.
Segwaying into some of her film scores, Usha was quite big within the Bollywood circuit, which I’m only going to briefly touch on here. This particular road started back in the early 70’s in Dehli when she sang at the Oberoi hotels. By chance, a film crew that included actor-director Shashi Kapoor, visited the nightclub, and obviously liked what they saw, because she was offered a chance to sing for an upcoming film score. As a result, her Bollywood career started with singing along side Asha Bhosle on Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Originally, she was supposed to sing Dum Maro Dum along with Lata Mangeshkar, however it seems there was some internal politics going on with others singers that didn’t allow that to happen, and as we all know the role went to Asha Bhosle (who deservedly won the 1971 Filmfare Best Female Playback Award). As mentioned on the previous R D Burman post, Usha’s incredible Listen To The Pouring Rain from the 1972 Bollywood adventure-comedy film Bombay to Goa, is classic Usha mastery!
Another big and dynamic film track from Usha is the title song for Dard Ka Rishta, named Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. Released in 1982, and produced and directed by Sunil Dutt (and starring Smita Patil, Reena Roy and Ashok Kumar), the track is said to have been inspired by the 1955 Henry King directed film of the same title. Yet another Burman masterpiece, with killer breaks, rapid space funk keyboards and Usha leading it all with her best Shirley Bassey sass! A must have LP for all Indian soundtrack collectors!
Usha also had a platform into the disco dance scene which was sweeping the whole world at that time, although truth be told, India was a little behind by a few years. Her best for me is Auva Auva Koi Yahan Nache from Bappi Lahiri Disco Dancer masterpiece. And in true Bappi “borrowing”tradition, this time he channels The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star, so wickedly! In 82, Bappi and Usha were at it again with another disco rework, this time bravely mashing up Gibson Brothers’ Que Sera Mi Vida, with dare I say it, Donna Summer’s classic, I Feel Love on the Aarman soundtrack, titled as Ramba Ho-Ho-Ho Shamba Ho-Ho-Ho. There’s a far hotter and somewhat psychedelic version of “Love” on Usha’s earlier ’78 album You Set My Heart On Fire, which you’ll get far more respect from in the dance halls. I can’t leave this disco convention without mentioning Chhupke Kaun Aya, a pretty great hair flick towards to Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.
Usha has performed for so many young and old adoring fans, and has sung in 13 Indian languages as well as 8 foreign languages. Her name and her distinctive big voice is attached to many famous Bollywood productions, and has also made a quite a few on screen performances. This iconic Indian star has also received numerous awards not just for her musical talents, but also for her devotion to charities and for mainly just trying to make the world a fair and better place.
Usha has continued singing unlike many of her contemporaries who have long stopped as they felt out of sync with the new age style. “I don’t like to live in the past. Nostalgia is fine”. She recently to told The Indian Express. She has given people in far flung cultures an unexpected image of an lndian woman: strong,independent, humorous, intelligent and loaded with talent. Jani and Usha who today reside in Kolkata, West Bengal, enjoy life with their daughter Anjali and son Sunny, and today Usha will occasionally appear on stage singing alongside with both her daughter and her granddaughter.
References and recommendations…
Track 1- Let’s Dance Together Track 2 – Cha Cha Cha!
Rahul Dev Burman was born on June 27, 1939 in Kolkata, to the Bollywood composer/singer Sachin Dev Burman and his lyricist wife Meera Dev Burman. According to some stories, he was nicknamed Pancham da because, as a child, whenever he cried, it sounded in the fifth note (Pa), G scale, of music notation (the word Pancham means five, or fifth, in Bengali, his mother tongue). Another theory says that little Rahul received the nickname because he could cry in five different notes.
When Burman was nine years old, he composed his first song, Aye meri topi palat ke aa, which his father used in the 1956 film Funtoosh. Sar jo tera chakraaye was included in Guru Dutt’s 1957 soundtrack for Pyaasa, and was also another father/son collaboration this time sung by Gumnaan singer Mohammed Rafi. In Mumbai, Burman learnt to play the sarod by classical musician Ali Akbar Khan and also the tabla by Samta Prasad . He also considered composer poet and a playwright, Salil Chowder as his guru. He served as an assistant to his father, and often played harmonica in his orchestras.
RD Burman’s first released film as an independent music director was Chhote Nawab (1961). Popular Bollywood comedian Mehmood was the producer and first approached Burman’s father for the music, however he had to turn down the offer, saying that he did not have any free dates available. At that very meeting, Mehmood noticed Rahul playing tabla in a back room, and signed him up as the music director for the film. Burman’s first hit movie as a film music director was Teesri Manzil (1966), which starred Shammi Kapoor, who is hailed as one of the most entertaining lead actors that Hindi cinema has ever produced, and was married to actress beauty Geeta Bali. The scored had six songs, all of which were written by Majrooh Sultanpuri, and sung by Mohammed Rafi. Four of these were duets were with his future wife and superstar Asha Bhosle (apparently they first met when she was the mother of two and he was in 10th grade having dropped out to pursue music). I advise you to search for the brilliant Hassina zulfo walli clip, where you witness some amazing set designing, which is actually quite typical in this wonderful film genre. Nasir Hussain went on to sign RD Burman and lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri for six of his films.
In 1971, Burman composed the music for Dev Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Asha Bhosle won the Filmfare Best Female Playback Award for the infamous electrifying Dum Maro Dum (Take Another Toke), from this film, which was a huge hit and proved to be a seminal rock number in Hindi film music. Dev Anand did not include the complete version of Dum Maro Dum in the movie, because he was worried that the song would overshadow the film. The hit film was a star-making vehicle for the model and beauty queen, Zeenat Aman, who won over the heart’s of world audiences, in her role as the westernized hippie, Janice.  The film was a huge success for her, going on to win the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award, as well as the BFJA Award for Best Actress. She would become one of the highest paid Hindi actress between 1976-80 and appeared on every Hindi film magazine’s cover during the 1970s. Hare Rama Hare Krishna dealt with the decadence of the Hippie culture. It aimed to have an anti-drug message and also depicts some problems associated with Westernization such as divorce, and is said to be loosely based on the 1968 Richard Rush movie Psych-Out.
Bombay to Goa is a 1972 Bollywood adventure-comedy film directed by S. Ramanathan, and is actually a remake of a 1966 hit Tamil film Madras to Pondicherry. The movie is known particularly for its catchy tunes and includes Usha Iyer’s incredible Listen To The Pouring Rain which is a cool mashup of tunes such as Temptation, Fever and ends with a frenzied Be-Bop-A-Lula! In 1976, the Vijay Anand directed spy thriller, Bullet was released with yet another exciting soundtrack. This time Asha Bhosle is back providing the vocals on the trippy Peene Ke Baad Aati Hai Yaad Bhooli, again with suitable bizzaro film sets to match! Oh to be on that set when this was all happening!
The 1978 Hollywood and Bollywood joint production film Shalimar starred Dharmendra, Shammi Kapoor, Prem Nath, Aruna Irani and once again Zeenat Aman (pictured right). Also in supporting roles in their first and only Bollywood film was, English actor Sir Rex Harrison, and American actors John Saxon and Sylvia Miles. The film was released in two versions; Hindi in India and also an English version in the US, known as Raiders of the Sacred Stone (and supposedly also as The Deadly Thief). All versions however were unsuccessful, although later gaining cult status. In this Indian crime adventure, the world’s best jewel thief invites his illustrious peers to try to steal the world’s most priceless jewel, the Shalimar ruby, from his home on a remote private island. If they fail, they will die.
The Shalimar soundtrack is packed with Burman gems! While the credibility of the film plot may be somewhat questionable, Burman’s work on the score is genuinely masterful and simply like nothing else. The Title Music has to be the number one all time opener to come from the Bollywood genre, and how I wish it was circulated on a 7”. Intense off beat jazz constructions, over operatic vocals, this masterpiece is a tip of the hat to greats like Morricone and John Barry, and I don’t say that lightly.
One of the film’s on going musical themes, is the delightful Hum Bewafa Hargiz Na Thay, which at one time comes with a pretty extraordinary beach tribal dance scene filmed at night. And Mera Pyar Shalimar with Asha Bhosle’s dreamy vocals is pure ecstasy. Sylvia Miles who had won two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress in the movies Midnight Cowboy and Farewell My Lovely, apparently snatched the role of Countess Rasmussen, from the intended Gina Lollobrigida, Italian sex symbol of the fifties and sixties. She plays a far fetched trapeze artist-master thief, who seems to have a love for doing an over excessive amount of somersaults and cart wheels that’s really ever necessary. In one scene where the countess is attempting a break in and theft of the Shalimar jewel, one of Burman’s big jazz tracks Countess’ Caper, plays over the top, doing it’s best to add drama, but really only adding even more lunacy to the moment.
Moving on to the feature 7”, of the 2 tracks, Baby Let’s Dance Together, sung by the mysterious Kittu, is the standout for me. A laid back super chic funk oozing pure class, this song criminally only gets a brief look in during the film, as a background track to an enticing bedroom scene from Sheila Enders to S.S. Kumar, that quickly ends in an argument. Who the vocalist Kittu is, I can’t really tell you, as the only other song credit I could find from her, was for the track I Have a Crush On You from the 1980 Ek Baar Phir, film directed by Vinod Pande. The second track on offering is the quirky work out, One Two Cha Cha Cha, which actually has the responsibility of opening the film even before the aforementioned diabolical Title Music. Vocals provided by Usha Uthup, accompanied nicely with the expected Burman Moog and sitar, the opening set up brings us into a day lit seedy gambling club, with Sheila Enders approaching an eager flare filled dance floor, who she will provide a personal instructional dance routine for. What a way to open a spy thriller. That’s the way ah ha, ah ha, I like it!
Burman’s genius workings for this soundtrack did not go unnoticed, resulting with 3 Filmfare nominations…Best Music – R.D. Burman, Best Male Playback Singer – Kishore Kumar for the song Hum Bewafa Harghiz Na, and Best Female Playback Singer – Usha Uthup for One Two Cha Cha, which funnily enough ended up being won by Asha Bhosle for the Kalayanji Anandji track Yeh Mera Dil Yaar Ka Diwana from the exceptional Don score. The highly regarded LP comes in a few variants, the best in my view is the fold out cover with the intricate die-cut inserts nicely formatted with film stills. If you need to have a few important Bollywood soundtracks in your collection, this one’s on the top of the list and isn’t too difficult to find, although as with most Indian records, it pays to hold off until you can find a nice conditioned record.
Burman would go on to release more killer soundtracks, and a handful with accompanying 7″s. Getting into some serious stuff, I want to bring up The Burning Train score. When I first heard the opening score I really struggled to believe it wasn’t a contemporary production. I love this period of Burman! Released in 1980, directed by Ravi Chopra, the film featured a huge all-star cast . The plot revolves around a train named Super Express that catches fire on its inaugural run from New Delhi to Mumbai. It’s out of control, the drivers are dead, and many lives will certainly expire if somehow the burning train isn’t stopped. I’ll be a bit more elaborate on this film when the time comes (and it will) to post that particular soundtrack. But this is R.D. Burman on FIRE as the title track clearly displays, as well as the Latin flavoured Meri Nazar Hai TujhPe if you even needed more proof.
If it was one Burman really excelled at, it was drawing in audiences into films with exciting title tracks, and Hindi action thrillers such as the 1980 Shaan (Pride) provided the perfect platform. This film was directed by Ramesh Sippy after the super success of his previous venture, Sholay. He drew inspiration from the American Western and spaghetti western films, and took its lead from the James Bond films with fancy sets and beautiful costumes. Shaan took three years to make and it was expected to match the success of Sholay but failed to do so, however, it ran to packed houses in its re-runs and ended up making a lot of money. Eventually, it was declared to be the highest grosser of 1980 by IBOS. Once again the opening track Doston Se Pyar Kiya with the mighty Usha Uthup on vocals, is exciting and abstract, and perfectly wigged out! Thanks to Burman, the film recieved a Best Music nomination at Filmfare, this being its sole nomination. For the Bollywood Rocky film, also released in 1980, Burman gave us some killer breaks and spaced out “borrowing” with the War of the World’s inspired Aa Dekhen Jara.
In 1983, Chor Police, the directorial debut movie of Bollywood actor Amjad Khan, includes one of my all time favourite Bollywood dance numbers, Aaj Mera Dil. In yet another Bhosle-Burman classic, we have once again another killer dance sequence, this time it’s the Indian beauty Parveen Babi as Seema, drawing the audience right in with her hypnotizing moves. Audacious and daring, starting with a slow and wonderfully psychedelic intro, simple exotic moog lines are soon swooped over by spaced out guitar riffs, perfectly syncopated percussion and Asha’s “from another world” vocal lines…this is one of Burman’s best!
Burman also made an international “non-film” album not many know about, a Latin-American-Indian monster, nowadays quite sort. Released in ‘87, Pantera was financed by his father, and as well with his friend Pete Gavankar, who wanted the aspiring musician to explore the music scene outside India. The idea at first didn’t really appeal to the reluctant Burman, for it was well known those days that producing a record usually took months in that part of the world, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to move away from his home land. In 1981, Gavankar borrowed 15 tunes from RD, who had composed them in a matter of seven days and handed the tapes to his sister Nilu, who was connected to pop groups in San Francisco. Nilu played the tunes to an upcoming musician Jose Flores who immediately liked five compositions and recorded them. Back in India, Burman heard the tracks, and it charged him up enough to go to San Francisco and record an album. It was carnival season when Pancham landed in San Fran’on June 15, 1984. The atmosphere there inspired him so much that he composed the tracks Carnival and Caminando almost immediately. One evening, they visited a disco where Burman’s and Jose’s joint collaborated In Every City was played. He recalls how all the people started dancing, and then how they all clapped at the climax. He was so moved he almost cried. All the artists on Pantera were significant musicians, and it also included vocalists from diverse backgrounds – a Japanese, a Puerto Rican and an African-American.
Rahul Dev Burman was quite ahead of his time, and his music came with a harmony, uniqueness and an integrity. Often been credited for revolutionising Bollywood music, he successfully blended Latin sounds, cabaret, psychedelic vibes and disco and funk styles. He experimented with an array of new sounds with great execution, and developed songs that went to become massively popular with the audience. But even after 331 released movie scores, he was awarded a total of only three Filmfare Awards, one of which was awarded posthumously (for 1942: A Love Story). 
In 1995, Filmfare Awards constituted the Filmfare RD Burman Award for New Music Talent in his memory. Pancham da’s death in 1994, after a massive heart attack, left a void in the Indian film music industry, but even over two decades later, his lilting melodies and soulful tunes continue to inspire and influence musicians and music aficionados alike. Hindi film music is forever indebted to him.
Top picture…Sachin Dev Burman with his son, Rahul Dev Burman. Image owned by Penguin India (rediff.com)
B&W picture…Hare Rama Hare Krishna Director-Actor Dev Anand with Rahul Dev Burman (thequint.com)
 Zeenat Aman did her schooling in Panchgani and went to University of Southern California in Los Angeles for further studies on student aid, but she could not complete her graduation. Upon her return to India, she first took up a job as a journalist for Femina and then later on moved on to modeling. One of the first few brands that she modeled for was Taj Mahal Tea in 1966. She was the second runner up in the Miss India Contest and went on to win the Miss Asia Pacific in 1970.
Dev Anand offered Zaheeda (his second heroine in Prem Pujari) the role of his sister in Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Not realizing the importance of this secondary role, Zaheeda wanted the lead female part (eventually played by Mumtaz) and she opted out. Zeenat Aman was chosen as a last-minute replacement. Her hip looks in Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973) as the girl carrying a guitar, singing Churaliya Hai Tumne Jo Dil Ko (over Asha Bhosle’s voice) has won her more popularity and the hearts of millions of fans.
Zeenat Aman unfortunately had to deal with domestic violence in both her marriages. Sanjay Khan, her first husband, had reportedly bashed her up leaving a permanent scar on her eye, and vision problems. Her second husband Mazhar Khan also reportedly harassed the actress physically. A brave Aman dressed up as a village girl with a burnt face when she approached Raj Kapoor’s office, when he was finalising his heroine for Satyam Shivam Sundaram. He was so impressed and proud of her dedication, that he signed her right then.
 Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Vinod Khanna, Parveen Babi, Jeetendra, Neetu Singh, Vinod Mehra, and Danny Denzongpa.
So I just recently returned from a short but incredible trip into country India, which I’m just refusing to let go of at the moment. The experience was one I’ll never forget because of the people I met, the things I saw, and the sounds I heard.
Somehow, in the little city known as Pushkar, a small record shop appeared, something I was not expecting to see, and a lovely man named Shashi, sat behind the counter. Now my knowledge of Indian music is very thin, especially in the Bollywood genre, which is what a lot of the shop stock consisted of. But after a few days of drop-ins, and some great recommendations from the shop keeper, I started to comprehend the realisation that there were certainly some records that needed to come back home with me! While most of my wins were marvelous, colourful outlandish soundtrack LP’s, I did also manage to bring home a few 7″s, including this one by prolific and renowned “disco king” Bappi Lahiri, that I thought I should share.
Bappi Lahiri was born in Calcutta, West Bengal in 1952 into a family with a rich tradition in classical music. His father, Aparesh Lahiri was a famous Bengali singer and his mother, Bansari Lahiri was a musician and a singer who was well-versed in classical music and Shyama Sangeet. His parents were determined to teach their only child in every aspect of music, and by the tender age of three, Bappi began to play the tabla. At the young age of 19, Bappi began his career as a music director, and received his first opportunity in a Bengali film, Daadu in 1972. The first Hindi film he composed music for was Nanha Shikari in 1973, and only 2 years later it was Tahir Husain’s Hindi film, Zakhmee that brought him to the heights of Bollywood fame, also bringing forth a new era in the Hindi film industry. Bappi rose from strength to strength, and the music for his subsequent films Chalte Chalte and Surakksha were tremendously popular, placing Bappi on the pedestal of stardom, and making him the youngest music director of his time to have attained such intense success in such a short duration.
Surakksha, which I think translates as “Protection” in Hindi, was directed by Ravikant Nagaich and released in 1979. The film stars Mithun Chakraborty as CBI Officer Gopi, Ranjeeta Kaur, Jeevan, Jagdeep, Iftekhar, and Aruna Irani. Based as a spy thriller (with the hero’s code of Gunmaster G9, as opposed to 007), it was the first of a two of such films with Chakraborty in the lead, the other being the sequel Wardat. The success of Surakksha made Chakraborty a huge commercial star.
I have yet to watch this film in it’s entirety, so I’m just summarising the plot through other sources here. The evil Shiv Shakti Organization (SSO) intends to spread terror in India. The trouble starts when a plane manned by Captain Kapoor is attacked by a stream of deadly signals forcing the plane to land. The missing agent gets replaced by a look alike, but Officer Gopi, aka Gunmaster G-9, who was assigned by the Central Bureau of Investigation, is on to it! But there are obstacles, including Priya Varma, played by Ranjeeta Kaur, who’s out to investigate her father’s death, supposedly by Gopi, and who’s determined to seduce and enslave him. Gunmaster G-9 must also battle other women, venomous snakes, gangsters, kidnappers and even a robot-human. The fast adventures continue with wild stunts and car chases, but of course there’s always an opportunity to dance with scantily-clad girls, before there inevitable meeting with the patchy-eyed SSO chief Doctor Shiva .
Actress Prema Narayan who plays Maggie, is quite the attractive star who has quite an established Bollywood movie career, appearing in close to seventy films. Originally an English teacher in a convent school, she later opted for a modelling career and was crowned Femina Miss India World in 1971. Besides being noticed for her acting prowess she was also appreciated for her western-style dance numbers. A fine example of those said dance moves can be witnessed during the song Tere Jaisa Pyara Koi Nahin in Hotel. She was also a regular feature in lower-grade horror films including Mangalsutra, Saat Saal Baad and Ghabrahat. Mithun Chakraborty made his acting debut with the art house drama Mrigayaa (1976), for which he won his first National Film Award for Best Actor, and to this day has appeared in more than 350 films. Most famous for his lead role as dancer Jimmy in the 1982 super-hit film Disco Dancer, he is particularly recognised as one of the best “dancing-heroes” in Bollywood with his unique “Disco and Desi” fusion-style dancing that is immensely popular among the masses. The 1981 Gunmaster sequel Wardat, was even more high action with giant locust plagues attacks (brought on by evil men who plan to black market farmer’s grains), a new hunch backed super villain called Jambola, more gadgets and even flying cars!
The title track Mausam Hai Gaane KaAlong, includes the popular singer Annette Pinto, who would provide her voice talents on the Gunmaster sequel a few years later as well. Her dynamic voice really delivers a huge cinematic, almost Morricone-like characteristic quality to this opening titles track, and has to be the perfect introduction director Nagaich could have wished for! She went on to release many more sizzlers with other producers also, including Handsome Man from Mr. Bond in 1992 (composer-duo Anand-Milind and brother Anand Chitragupth), the hot disco Love Me Now for Hemant Bhosle and the film Barrister in 1982, and the cheeky Hello Darling with Rajesh Roshan, from the film Telephone in 1985. She also stars on the absolute incredible title track for The Burning Train from composer Rahul Dev Burman, where you feel like she’s channeling Yma Sumac! I will feature that one soon!
Surakksha also marked Bappi Lahiri’s entry as a singer, where he would provide his voice talents onto four of films compositions, including the second track on this EP, Dil Tha Akela Akela, which incredibly sounds like The Stones’ As Tears Go By! In fact throughout his career Lahiri has been accused of plagiarizing music produced by other composers without giving them any credit or royalties. I was actually surprised at first, when listening to a bunch of his records, at just how many covers he did, not realising that they were apparently original compositions. Ironically portions of his song Thoda Resham Lagta Hai were included in the song Addictive by American R&B singer Truth Hurts in 2002. Copyright holders sued Interscope Records and its parent company, Universal Music Group to the tune of more than $500 million. But lets not take any praise away from this talented producer/musican. His interpretation can sometimes be wonderful takes on well worn classics (have a listen to Meri Jaisi Mehbooba from Baadal) that can only make you squeal with delight.
Bappi Lahiri would go on to release literally stacks and stacks of LP’s, and so far my standouts-latest discoveries include Karate, Wanted Dead or Alive, Morchha and Dance Dance…or big sounding soundtracks! Along with Biddu (who had the international breakthrough in 1974 with Kung Fu Fighting with eleven million records sold), Lahiri helped popularise disco music Indian style. The pioneer of disco beats with his refreshing, vibrant, and rhythmic music had the entire nation dancing for decades. He has also worked with renowned singers like Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, had paved the path to fame for Alisha Chinai and Usha Uthup through his compositions, and has sung alsongside Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar. In fact a barrage of popular singers have sung songs composed by Bappi Lahiri in a career spanning for 40 years in over 600 films in over 5000 songs. Bappi received an award in 1990 from the then Indian President Giani Zail Singh for the best musical score in the film Thanedaar and was invited by Ex-Prime Minister of India, H.D. Deve Gowda, to compose a song for the World Football Tournament in Calcutta.
Lahiri disappeared from the Indian film industry in the 1990s though he tried a brief comeback in the Prakash Mehra produced Dalal starring Mithun Chakraborty with the song Gutur Gutur which was a big hit although it had its share of controversies due to its suggestive lyrics. Thereafter he focused on bringing out albums with remixes of his earlier songs, and to this day appears on guest spots for popular TV shows, with the occasional film role. Lahiri is famous for his constant desire to reinvent himself and face the challenge to keep up with the rapidly changing preferences of current generations. He is the complete entertainer and superstar with his multiple talents as a singer, music director, and percussionist! I feel I have only scratched the surface of what this man has done for Bollywood music, and the damage to dance floors he is responsible for all around India.