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Ghazal, Disco and Mohini

Ghazal, Disco  and Mohini
I am a disco dancer
Zindagi mera gaana, 
main Kisi ka deewana
To jhumo, to nacho.
Aa mere saath nacho gao… 

Released in 1982, the hit composition, ‘I am a disco dancer’ may be 34 years old but it remains popular even today. 

 In the song, lyricist Anjaan creatively uses Disco as an acronym, and gives his own distinct interpretation of each letter that makes up the word Disco. The lyricist defines D as dance, I as an item, S as a singer, C as chorus, and O as an orchestra. 

 The seven minute song along with the list of other popular songs from the film Disco Dancer may have resurrected the career of Mithun Chakraborty, but it also introduced a new talent in playback singing in form of Vijay Benedict, and provided a new direction to music composer Bappi Lahiri. 

 The song also introduced a genre of music which in a way, came to define the decade of the '80s. Using loud western beats in music compositions now, was not just a creative necessity but also turned out to be of paramount importance for the box office success of the film.

 Taking a cue from the acronym coined by Anjaan, the producers and music composers realised that a generation that had accepted the intense angry man and larger than life image of a protagonist now demanded the kind of music which would suit such characters.

Loud electronic western beats came closest to matching that image. The style of music introduced in the late 60s by RD Burman saw its popularity and market value surge in the '80s. 

Every music director in this decade had to adapt to the mood of the public and make changes to their style of music.

The era of the '80s ushered in a new genre of music from the beginning itself. Where RD Burman came with his composition for film Shaan (1980), Traditional music directors like Kalyanji- Anandji , Laxmikant Pyarelal and Rajesh Roshan also tried to use this style of music in their composition for films like Qurbani and Karz and Yaarana respectively.

It was Bappi Lahiri, who gauged the mood quickly and positioned his style accordingly.

A music director who started his career with traditional Bengali music and extended it to Bollywood by composing for films like Patita, Lahiri, eventually had to use the disco genre extensively to find his place in the competitive industry.

Having tasted success from the film Surakshaa in 1979, Lahiri continued his good luck streak by composing exemplary pieces of music for movies like Wardaat (1981)), Namak Halal (1982), Sharabi (1982), Disco Dancer (1982), Kasam Paida Karne wale ki (1984), Himmatwala (1983), Dance Dance (1987), Commando (1988).

In effect, the industry which was acquainted with only  a few playback singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, and Kishore Kumar, now also started accepting new kids on the block like Alka Yagnik, Nazia Hassan, Kavita Krishnamurthy, SP Balasubramaniam, Alisha Chinai, Sapna Mukherjee,Runa Laila, Mohammad Aziz, Manhar Udhas and Vijay Benedict.

 So where the '50s witnessed a trend of Nehruvian socialism, the 60s celebrated romanticism, the '70s saw Kishore’s enthusiasm and the '90s nursed a new found passion for  liberalism, could the '80s be generalised as a decade of 'disco deewane'?

While Bollywood in the '80s may have found a profitable music medium for the masses, hailing from Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, the man who had started his career as a stage singer was excelling in another style of music in the same decade- Ghazals.

It did not take long for Jagjit Singh along with his wife Chitra Singh to find their audience. While the duo gained popularity through stage shows and recordings in private for digital recording systems, Bollywood producers soon used their popularity and style of music for the offbeat films.

Musical contribution by Jagjit Singh in films of Arth (1982) and Saath Saath (1982) remains a hit even now among listeners. If Jagjit Singh was casting his magical spell, ghazal singers like Pankaj Udhas, Talat Aziz, Hariharan, Iqbal Siddhiqui, Peenaz Masani also, had their set of admirers.

Music composers like Jaidev and Ajit Varman also continued with this style of music and tried to ensure that the Indian influence in the composition did not wane.

While the '80s witnessed a growth of genres like disco and ghazals, it has never been able to get that same kind of respect as the musical decade of 60s, '70s and even the '90s. Often experts try to club the music of '80s with '90s and try to explain it all at the same level.

Describing the music in the '80s, film music expert Pankaj Rag says, “The reason behind the music of '80s not getting its due is because of the fact that the melody which was missing in commercial films was  found in offbeat movies and private albums and therefore an alternate ghazal wave started. 

It was only in the late the '80s and towards the beginning of the '90s that the music directors and producers again started finding profit in melodious songs.”

Rag added that the reason this decade saw many new talents emerging was because the other experienced professionals had either passed away or working with them was no longer commercially viable. “Mukesh passed away in 1976, Mohammad Rafi in 1980, Kishore, Lata and even Asha became more choosy in selecting the songs in the mid '80s and sang for selected producers and music directors. 

In the categories of music directors while Laxmikant-Pyarelal dominated in this era, Bappi Lahiri, Kalyanji-Anandji and Rajesh Roshan also were quite popular. RD Burman all of a sudden completely lost out. For a music director who had dominated the '70s and even gave some good music in the '80s  , RD Burman had as many as 23 flops starting from the mid '80s and was completely sidelined by producers.” 

Another trend which came to alter the music scenario in the '80s was the introduction of audio tapes at a  large scale. Where this emerging technology provided a new platform for the musical artists to display their art, it also gave more reasonable accessibility in choices of music for the listeners, and opened a new platform for entrepreneurs to look for viable business opportunities.

Quick to observe the change was Gulshan Kumar, who used to be a juice seller from Daryaganj but rose quickly to prominence with his mega music empire of T- Series.  Initially having started with religious songs, Kumar dabbled into recording  Bollywood songs and private albums of ghazals, songs for musical artists. 

“Gulshan Kumar was undoubtedly the leader in the audio business. He realised the power of masses and the importance of providing new talent with a chance. Rather than being dependent on Lata Mangeshkar for a song, Kumar realised that the same song could be recorded in Anuradha Paudwal’s voice and then sold at a much cheaper price which is affordable to many,”mentioned Rag.

Rama Bhalla who has a wide collection of audio cassettes from the '80s, as well as the '90s, says, “Audio cassettes at that time used to cost around Rs 20-25. T - Series made it even more reasonable. This was also a time where we could buy a blank tape and record songs of our choice, a different piracy of its kind.”

The discussion of the '80s music is incomplete without talking about the evolution of Mohini. For long, item numbers in Bollywood meant Helen, Aruna Irani and occasionally Padma Khanna. 

Soon, this trend changed and the '80s saw the mainstream actress also performing item numbers. Zeenat Aman with the young voice of Nazia Hassan and Biddu’s composition of  Aap Jaisa Koi from Qurbani may have set the trend but it was quickly followed by Bollywood Divas like Rekha, Dimple Kapadia, Meenakshi Seshadri, Padmini Kohlapure, Mandakini, Neelam Kothari, Kimi Katkar and Sonam. Not only the female actors but even the male stars became a top draw for item numbers starting from Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Jeetendra, Mithun Chakraborty and Govinda.

In the late '80s and the early '90s, Sridevi and Madhuri led the pack. While Sridevi can never be forgotten for her portrayal in Hawa Hawai, Chaalbaaz, a new dancing sensation of Mohini came to light in 1988 with the combination of Saroj Khan, Alka Yagnik and Madhuri Dixit to create Ek do teen.
 
Talking about  the '80s music,  24-year-old Akshay Kohli who has mostly followed this era through television, youtube, FM channels and music apps says,“The '80s for me was absurd, unreal and yet it was fun. 

Even though you may complain about the sound quality, you do feel like dancing and even singing these songs. I really liked those times when the villains , actress and actors were not timid about making a fool of themselves. In reality, I feel they enjoyed themselves to the fullest in this period and in turn the audience enjoyed their acts too.”

The music in the '80s may have not got the respect it deserved from the audiences and the music experts for its own shortcomings, but the fact, however, remains, that in the rich legacy of Bollywood industry, the '80s also had its part in creating a cycle of entertainment which the lovers of Hindi Cinema should be made aware of. 

It made us privy to the softness of ghazals and the loudness of disco. As is reflected in the lyrics of one popular song of the '80s, something new and refreshing must always come and take out the old:

Gajar ne kiya hai ishara, 
Ghadi bhar ka khel hai yeh saara
tamashaye khud ban jayenge tamasha
Badal jayenga yeh nazaara
Piyush Ohrie

Piyush Ohrie

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