By Chaitanya Padukone
Eminent Bollywood composer, arranger, rhythm-badshah Babla turned 79 and entered his ‘80s. When I called up Babla-ji (also the brilliant pioneer of fusion disco-dandiya) to wish him on his birthday, the young-at-heart musical icon whom I personally know for past three decades, enthused, “Somehow I have never given conscious importance to the ageing factor. You are as old or young as you wish to be. Because age is just a number, which you cannot rewind or press the pause key, “ smiled the witty senior sangeetkaar whose ‘late’ wife Kanchan was a fantastic playback and live concerts-singer. Not one to rest only on his past laurels, Babla also has an ambitious mega-musical project lined up, which is awaiting release. This project which is more towards the classical zone is distinctly different from what my dad Babla-ji has done so far in his career . It has the active involvement of leading music luminaries,” reveals his talented composer-rhythm-master son Vaibhav Shah whose three year old little daughter Kaira is already displaying smart-signs of a budding scale-savvy singer.
Interestingly, Vaibhav is among the rare exceptions in the Bolly-music industry, who prefers to get work-assignments on his own merit-caliber and not cash in on his famous family lineage to get instant work. “ Much later on, when the producers figure out my family credentials on their own, they then appreciate my independent merit-oriented approach. But at the same time, it’s my honour and pride that I am Babla-ji’s son,” shrugs Vaibhav who has assisted in the music of several big-banner movies like ‘Housefull 3 and 4’ and even hi-tech work-from-home devotional music dedicated to the revered Saint Swami Narayan. Versatile Vaibhav has even done musical programming of most of the songs for an upcoming big-banner musical period movie.
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Interestingly, when you hear Babla’s actual full-name ‘Laxmichand Virji Shah’, it may sound like a hardcore business baron or a top stock-broker. While he is known for assisting and arranging music in Bollywood film scores with legendary Kalyanji-Anandji sangeetkar duo, who are his elder siblings, international impresario Babla is also known for playing awesome global-rhythm patterns including ethnic folk-music-beats for his live concerts in India and exotic foreign locations like Fiji islands and West Indies. With his wizardry at innovative rhythm-playing ( on bongos, conga, tumba, rototoms etc ) and composing he has been highly ‘instrumental’ in dozens of landmark film songs including ‘Main Hoon Don’, ‘Tum Mile, Pyar Se’, ‘Khaike Paan Banaraswala’ , ‘Pyar Zindagi Hai’ and the seductive pulsating numbers ‘Yeh Mera Dil ’, ‘Dil Jalon Ka, Dil Jalaake’ and ‘Laila O Laila’ and even composing soulful songs such as ‘Zindagi Ka Safar’ ( Safar-1970) and the iconic title- music of ‘Johnny Mera Naam’ .
When quizzed, as to what is lacking in most contemporary film songs which fade out so fast, as compared to the evergreen timeless retro-songs of yesteryears, the outspoken Babla analyses. “ Currently, the in-vogue trend is to remix and recreate old hit songs. Original classy melodies have become rare. Most songs these days lack hummable catchy melody and recall-value. Even the lyrical-verses of most of the romantic songs are not that inspiring or impactful, if compared to the haunting sentimental lyrics of ‘golden-era’ retro-songs. Currently filmy gaane have ‘no-breaking’ pauses during the singing flow, which is quite essential. It used to an important factors in our retro-songs. All these and other factors contribute to the popularity of movie songs,” analyses the veteran composer Babla who maintains that matching right rhythm can highlight the dhun-melody which in turn makes the song a masterpiece ( like in ‘Laila O Laila’)
( The writer Chaitanya Padukone is an eminent award-winning senior film & music journalist and author of memoirs book R D BurMania)