If you’ve listened to the shows, you’d probably know I have a thing for disco, and also Indian/Bollywood music, especially Usha Uthup and ABBA Hindi I posted exactly (spook!) 5 years ago, and strange covers in general. Well I discovered this video and ended up delving (again) into the brightly coloured world of silver costumes and star light filters – Disco Bollywood.
Disco arrived in Bollywood circa 1979, and stayed until the mid-late 80’s, ignoring the fact that it had become mostly passe in the rest of the world, and of course like other Bollywood classics, they were quite light-fingered, and genre blind, happily switching from rock to disco to country and back again, sometimes in the same song. Also the locations and subjects could be a little odd for usual disco songs, making them less Saturday Night Fever and more psychedelic fever dream hallucination. Indeed, some of the sequences are crowbarred into horror or thriller/action films, so indeed are a sort of dream sequence – but also leads to subjects and contexts you’d never really associate with disco.
See the Disco Station Disco featuring Reena Roy with Asha Bhosle singing from ‘Haathkadi’ – the funkiest if not oddest train station you’ll ever see. And also randomly laughing, or crying, which seems to be another feature (I’m guessing more lost in translation than the schizophrenic way it comes across!).
You can’t really talk about disco in Indian movies without mentioning Disco Dancer, which is a classic of both camp and musical proportions. Scored by Bappi Lahiri who was the king of Indian disco, most people know it via samples of Parvati Khan’s Jimmy Jimmy Aaja (trans: Jimmy Jimmy come, it’s the part of the movie where the hero Jimmy – Mithun Chakraborty who stars in most of these movies – saw his mother fried by a rigged guitar and had his legs broken suffers stage fright, and Rita the love interest sings this song to shake him out of it).
And yes it owes a lot to Ottawan.
And there is the camp classic I Am A Disco Dancer (Zindagi Mera Gaana) by Vijay Benedict – which owes a lot to Ottawan…again!
Talking of ABBA Hindi, that was sisters Salma and Sabina, aka Salma Agha. Born in Pakistan she grew up in London, she eventually became a Bollywood star via a chance meeting and she was one of the few actresses to sing her own playback as well as dance and lipsync after the producers heard that ABBA album. In her hit film ‘Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki’ from 1984, you might recognise this song ‘Jeena Bhi Kya Hai Jeena Teri’ with an ever-present Mithun. Both dance and song bears a resemblance to a certain massive 1983 hit for Michael Jackson…
Of course being Bollywood it’s brimful of Asha, her being the premiere singer of approximately 12,000 songs and the most recorded artist of all time. Here we have her singing ‘Jawani Janeman Haseen Dilruba’ from ‘Namak Halaal’, in a classic disco boogie with a lavish set with quite a few Westerners watching. As you might have guess this 1982 film is a comedy.
And you might be noticing a kleptomaniac trend here – as Usha Uthup again sings ‘Main Gul Badan’ from 1984’s Locket with Rekha performing – Donna Summer ‘Love To Love You Baby’ anyone? (with I Feel Love synths). Also that set…hmm..where have I see it before? 😉
I talked about strange juxtapositions…well, here’s one from 1974 in the film ‘Geeta Mera Naam’ with again Asha singing. Not exactly disco, but as you can see from the subtitles it’s a serious song done in a very traditional but bouncy style, as well as the strange S&M subtext and weird bubble foam rapey interludes. Are we supposed to be titillated or horrified?
Others that follow this strange furrow is anything on Bollywood Bloodbath and the strange Krishna version of Tielman Brother’s religious disco song ‘Jesus’. Yes, christian disco WAS a thing, strange given it’s black gay roots, then again it was pilfering gospel. I even have Christian disco concept albums, it wasn’t just Jesus Christ Superstar, sadly.
Another strange juxtaposition is when a dance sequence pops up and it seems to be nothing to do with the plot. I’m sure in ‘Rocky’ (1981) there might be some explanation for the alien spaceship arrival and Spacelab bar in ‘Aa Dekhe Zara Kis Mein Kitna Hai Dum’, but somehow I doubt it. This was sung again by Asha with Kishore Kumar, but this time written by R.D. Burman. Well not completely…Jeff Lynne might have a few words about the War of the Worlds steals! Oh is that Village People at the end? No, it’s extras dressed as them!
Talking of the Village People – this one by Zohed Hassan ‘Ooie Ooie’ rests rather a lot on their YMCA. I have no idea why there is a massive Rubik’s cube in the background…I think this is from a 1982 movie called Star?
Another set(up) that doesn’t seem to actually anything to do with the plot (looking on Wikipedia, it’s a revenge thriller. Eh?), but has an amazing set (it’s like being in Sesame Street’s Pinball Count) is Asha again with Udi Baba from ‘Vidhaata’ (1982). Wild West gunslingers eyeing each other up? 1960’s silhouettes and bubbles? 1950’s Jailhouse Rock porticos? The singer dressed as if she’s in a 1920’s cabaret? A giant James Bond golden gun? A completely random knock-off Superman cameo?…it’s like someone fired the reality bomb from Watchmen at it. The song is amazing space disco, though, it might pop up in my next mix. And more set deja-vu…I’m guessing they have one ‘nightclub’ set they redress each time?
It would be remiss not to mention some of the other singers apart from the usual Asha/Lata family, and Usha Uthup. One that came in during the 80’s was Alisha Chinoi, whose tracks certainly fit that current fashion for Kung Fury 80’s cheese. I bet you can’t get Zooby Zooby out of your head (from 1987’s Dance Dance). And yes, that is ‘Brother Louie’ by Modern Talking!
And bonus – not really disco, but here’s a funky number from 1972 with R.D. Burman writing and unsually singing with Asha ‘Duniya Mein Logon Ko’ from ‘Apna Desh’ and Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz on dancing duties. It looks like Austin Powers meets Bollywood, and is about as strange…and I wonder if it was the inspiration for that Christopher Walken Fat Boy Slim video – except rather than flying they get pulled along the floor like it’s Poltergeist or something?
Oh and ‘one for the road!’ ‘dark, handsome, dreamy!’ (Hotel Mein Botal by Sharda from 1984’s Paapi Pet Ka Sawal Hai, so cheesy I had to check it wasn’t a Lollywood or Kollywood film!).
Edit: I just keep finding these…it turns out that the sneaky sampling didn’t end in the 80’s, with this Pet Shop Boys – Heart nicking tune, Saat Samundar Paar from Vishwatma (1992) sung by Sadhana Sargam and I think danced by Divya Bharti…oh with a little Spaghetti Western in there, which might sound odd but I know of at least one other Bollywood track that lifts Morricone!