Culture & Society

Sands of Time - Part 17: The Journey From Baapi To Bappi

Both Aparesh and Banshori were beaming with pride, mixed with a little trepidation, perhaps? Will their beloved Baapi - that was Alokesh’s daak naam, a Bengali pet name - be able to deliver the goods?

Bappi Lahiri.
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Year 1956. Aparesh Lahiri and his wife Banshori Lahiri were at Calcutta’s iconic Eden Gardens stadium for an important performance. Their son Alokesh, all of 4 years, was supposed to debut on stage, and play the tabla for a live audience for the first time. Both Aparesh and Banshori were beaming with pride, mixed with a little trepidation, perhaps? Will their beloved Baapi - that was Alokesh’s daak naam, a Bengali pet name - be able to deliver the goods? As it turned out, they didn’t have a cause to worry. Alokesh aka Baapi was a wizard on the tabla…his fingers waltzed on the drums as if that was the sole reason for his existence. 


Aparesh Lahiri was quite the prodigy himself. Starting his career from All India Radio, he moved on to composing, writing and singing. He is said to have turned music director for almost a hundred Bengali movies, give or take. As a playback singer, Aparesh Lahiri lent his voice to many Hindi films made in the 40s and 50s, including Faisla (1947), Bimal Roy’s Pahla Aadmi (1950) and Amiya Chakrabarty’s Badshah (1954). For Badshah, he collaborated with Shankar Jaikishan on the song Jaage mera dil soye zamana. All of this, while living in Calcutta and trying to carve a niche in Bengali music. He was a key figure in the evolution of radio in Bengal, and trained many a talent in his day, who went on to surpass him in fame and popularity. 

 

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Aparesh Lahiri.


If Aparesh was an icon, Banshori was no less. In a Khayal contest held at the famous Dover Lane Music Conference, she came first. Along with her expertise in khayal singing, she was also adept at thumris. In the year 1962, she turned music director with the film Dilli Theke Kolkata.


It was around 1956 that the Bengalis discovered a “new talent” by the name of Lata Mangeshkar. Upon realising that her Bengali diction was near-flawless which made it almost impossible to gauge that she was not native to the language, composers went on a tizzy. During this time, Aparesh Lahiri composed two songs for her, both of which were to go down in history. The first one was Phande poria boga kaande re from the film O Amar Desher Maati (1958). The second one has achieved its own cult. It’s called Ek bar biday de maa ghure ashi, from the film Subhash Chandra (1966). The song was part of folklore, believed to be composed in memory of Khudiram Bose, the 18-year-old revolutionary who went to the gallows. The song was earlier performed by Dhananjoy Bhattacharya for the film Biplabi Khudiram. Partly because of Lata’s lilting rendition and partly because of the legend associated with it, the ’66 version from Subhash Chandra became immensely popular and made Lata Mangeshkar a household name in Bengal. It was in this film that Alokesh got his first screen credit, as “Baapi Lahiri”, assisting his father. 

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A young Bappi Lahiri.

It was Lata Mangeshkar who suggested that this boy should be put under the mentorship of tabla exponent Pandit Samta Prasad. Baapi started learning under his tutelage, and kept getting better and better at playing the tabla. Then it was the piano that captured his imagination, so he learnt that as well. But what he was itching for was to start composing. He had seen his father and mother compose music. They lived in a south Calcutta complex called Graham’s Land, and young Baapi witnessed crowds outside the house to catch a glimpse of the legends Aparesh and Banshori Lahiri. 

 

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Bappi Lahiri with mother.


The opportunity came when he was 12 years old. Baapi Lahiri composed a song for his father that went: Shidi bhanga onker moto e jibon. This was a non-film album and Aparesh Lahiri sang it, beaming with pride. When he turned 19, Baapi got his first break as a music director for the Bengali film Daadu (1969). He shared credit with fellow composers Kalipada Sen, Subodh Roy and Anil Dutta. But Baapi had set his sights higher. He was eyeing a dhoti-clad sexagenarian Bengali who had been making waves in Bombay for more than two decades: Sachin Dev Burman. S.D. Burman was his idol, and Baapi packed his bags set sail for Bombay, with his parents. From here on out, Aparesh and Banshori Lahiri were to dedicate themselves to a life of witnessing their son reach new heights. 


Ram Mukherjee, Shashadhar Mukherjee’s nephew and Rani Mukherjee’s father, was mounting his family studio Filmalaya’s latest outing, Nannha Shikari. It is then that Baapi came to his notice, and he took him to meet Kishore Kumar. The eccentric genius agreed to sing for this young, untested music director on one condition: that he should act in Kishore da’s new film Badhti Ka Naam Daadhi, and so it was settled. But there was one more thing to take care of. Following his belief in numerology, Ram Mukherjee made a slight modification to Alokesh Lahiri’s daak naam. He introduced an extra “p” in his name, whereby Baapi Lahiri came to be known as Bappi Lahiri.

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