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Siraj Syed



Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. Festival Correspondent, Film-critic, Feature-writer. 

 

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Siraj Syed reviews Biddu’s autobiography, Made in India: Lone Trojan’s Adventures of a Lifetime

Siraj Syed reviews Biddu’s autobiography, Made in India: Lone Trojan’s Adventures of a Lifetime

That life-time has now seen 72 summers. Karnataka-born world musician Biddu Appaiah, with Coorgi nativity, has chased his recent summers from London, to Spain, to Mumbai to Goa, every year. For one who strongly believes that musicians should retire at 65, including greats like Paul McCartney, he has just about lived up to his conviction. The only creative work he has done in the last seven years has been penning notes, not of the musical kind, but for three books—an autobiography and two novels. Having been given a copy of Biddu; Made in India—Adventures of a Lifetime, I have taken a life-time to review it. (Like Biddu often does in his book, and then confesses, I exaggerate). Reading it, albeit so late, was an adventure all right.

Indian film-buffs, at least an overwhelming majority of them, hadn’t heard of his name till they heard the airplay of, and bought the records of, Qurbani, a commercial hit produced and directed by and starring the original King Khan, Feroz. Zeenat Aman gyrated to ‘Aap jaisa koi,’ with Pakistani-British teenager Nazia Hassan for playback. Picturisation did no justice to the track (it was hardly enough to chase away my blues after a dismal last paper for my Bachelor of Laws examination, though the film was my first taste of a drive-in cinema, newly constructed in Bandra, Mumbai), but the massive popularity of that number contributed significantly to the film’s success. Biddu says in his book that he had no interest in taking on the assignment, but fellow Bangalore boy Feroz, who had heard his earlier compositions, emotionally blackmailed him, using the nostalgia-Bangalore buddy ploy, and the track was recorded in London, in 1979.

A surfeit (word inspired by Biddu’s text) of albums followed, the most record-smashing ones being the breakout Disco Deewane (Nazia and Zoheb, the sister-brother duo) and the anthem with a killer Ken Ghosh video, Made in India (Alisha, unleasha, doing the rounds, 21 years on), Young Tarang, Hotline, Johnny Joker, Naujawan, Dil ki Rani. Biddu even co-produced a film with his friend Suresh Bhojwani, under the Double B Films banner, called Star. Although Star starred his look-alike, Kumar Gaurav, and the music (‘Boom boom’ et al) boomed around, the film proved a losing proposition, and the production house was shut down. Of the few other films he worked for as music composer, Maut ki Sazaa and Rise of the Zombie (two adapted versions of Biddu’s number, ‘Aao na pyar karen’ in the film's sound-track) came and went, Shootout at Lokhandwala hit bulls-eye with his ‘gun’ song, while... whatever happened to Ramu To Diwana Hai?

Biddu tells you that the producer-director-hero-lyricist-music director Chandru Asrani sought him out in London, and showed him his 90% complete film, which had been under production for about 14 years, and in which the colour changes from b&w to Eastmancolor, and, he was convinced, the actors change too! Chandru wanted him to add two songs to the dated-before-completed film. History is jumbled up here, but the film is itself history. Film journalists were invited home one evening by Chandru, where he played the songs of the film, at an informal get-together, at his flat at Khar, Mumbai, sometime in 1988-89. Some were in the voice of Mukesh, who had passed away over a decade ago, and a couple were sung by Mubaarak Begum. He even had a Kishore Kumar track, another Indian playback great, who had left this world by then.

It appears that Biddu got the surname wrong. Chandru was the younger brother of Arjun Hingorani, who was a producer-director and mentor to Dharmendra. Chandru Hingorani had assisted Raj Kapoor for a few years, and even got him to put in a Special Appearance in Ramu Tu Diwana Hai. Question is, what happened to the two numbers that Biddu had composed for the film? There are at least three song clips on YouTube from the film, but not even by a Himalayan level of musical ignorance can anybody attribute them to Biddu. (The hyperbole is inspired by Biddu, who, in the book, describes a woman as ‘any taller and her nose would bleed.’)

In the 60s, he spent some years in Kolkata and some more in Bombay, doing odd-jobs and performing at Churchgate hotels like Ambassador and Venice. It was at the Venice, in the late 60s, that I remember having seen his poster, as the Lone Trojan, remnant of a band that had disintegrated. The jazzy, south Bombay crowd might have had the bulging pockets required to frequent such fancy restaurants (pre-dating credit/debit cards), not a poor Byculla boy, like me. The poster, I must say, caught my fancy. Next, I actually met him at Famous Recording Studio, Tardeo, where he was trying to play one of his recordings to a giant of a music director, who had come for his own recording, to that popular venue.

(Producer K.B. Lall was remaking his 40s hit Lal Haveli as Phir Baje Shehnai, and Naushad was doing the music. This was a mammoth project, with an all-star cast, and was likely to take 3-4 years to complete. My brother Riaz was assisting Lall, in getting the script typed and corrected, and often took me along to meet Lall. Impressed by the success of recent 30 days- of-shooting quickie films like Ittefaq, he was toying with the idea of making one himself, with me in the lead, while PBJ took it s own time to shape. I was a good-looking 18 year-old then. So there I was, attending LallSaahab’s film-song recording, when Biddu made his bid).

“Please, Sir, listen to my song once. I am sure you will like it,” he requested. I wonder if he knew that Naushad was a champion of Indian classical music, and used Western orchestration in his film scores only as an exception. I was surprised when Naushad agreed, and the track was played. One of those memory lapses that become more common with every passing day, when you are 65, prevents me from recalling which number it was. All I remember was that Naushad looked nonplussed, and the only expression I could see on his face was a slight, sideways twitching.

Biddus’s subsequent exploits in the Middle East will take some believing, and his brush with a drug-smuggling case will have your heart in your mouth (heart, I said, not that crystalline/amorphous poison), especially when you consider he was a teetotaller, did not take drugs, did not even smoke. That is where you will learn of the deeds and misdeeds of actor-producer-director-writer I.S. Johar’s son Anil, who was one of Biddu’s bosom pals and stayed a couple of buildings away from his gig-joint in Mumbai.

Biddu and I had a longish meeting in Mumbai, when he was promoting Johnny Joker, where Shweta Shetty sang all the tracks, except a duet with him (the album is not one of my Biddu or Shweta favourites). Two things struck me then—he is not as bad with his Hindi as one would expect from his constant self deprecation on the subject, and he can read and write passably well; secondly, his poker-faced humour and sizzling half-similes are thoroughly disarming.

Coming again to the book, there are nuggets about Carl Douglas and Kung-Fu Fighting (some in-fighting included), Tina Charles and Dance Little Lady Dance, and my own favourite, Blue Eyed Soul. Biddu’s British English, almost archaic phraseology included, with metaphors and tongue-in-both-cheeks narrative, will keep you both entertained and on an adventurous high. I took a long time to start reading the book, but I finished it much faster, going at the Western four-four beat.

I feel the book would have been better off without the political bit at the end, where he discovers the lineage of a fiery leader through a Whitehall source, and corroborates it with the help of Google. That’s not Biddu. No, it’s not boring, as he fears, only redundant and highly debatable. And the cover design by Rashad Patel is passable at best.

Pssst: Don’t miss out on Joan Collins, The Bitch, The Stud, Embassy, and the singer who had to ask Biddu what colour shoes she was wearing. Another gem is the rationale behind naming naming his son and daughter Zak and ZaZa. “It will teach them to be patient. In school, when the roll call is taken, they will be the last names on the list to be called out,” he explains in the book.

Rating: *** ½

Curse of the God-man

Written before his autobiography but published a year later, because, ...“my publishers said they would only publish it if I wrote my autobiography. So I sold myself to the devil.”

He recalls, “Four years ago, it struck me that I didn’t want to do music anymore. I wanted to open a restaurant or write a book— but the story of my novel hit me sooner.”

Curse of the God-man, a mix of “adventure, mysticism, romance and murder” is set in 1950s India and is the story of a tea plantation in Darjeeling, terrorised by a tiger.

Second Novel

“Set in the Bombay of the 80s, it's a story of a family that comes from outside Mumbai and settles in the city as rag pickers. The father of this young boy kills himself because he thinks he's an utter failure. The kid grows up on his own, and then something very significant happens, which I am certainly not telling, but suffice it to say that between the ages of 17 and 25 the boy goes through a period and process of sexual awakening.” (Six years in the writing? No trace yet. Publishers may want to send this one and Curse of the Godman, for review).

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Su and Sheba

Su, Biddu’s wife for 46 years, of is a strong devotee of Meher Baba, of Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, a mystic, who died in 1968. Biddu is not religious, does not even believe in God, but believes in spirituality, and does yoga. At one time, he was an avid and expert swimmer, as well as the owner of a dog called Sheba, who meant so much to him, and is now in dog heaven. He insists that most of his inspiration came while taking Sheba out for a walk.

Sex, drugs and alcohol

Let me warn you--there’s lots and lots of ....oops, it should be the other way round, almost NO SDA. Am I saying that a puritan pop-star (note the contradiction, not the alliteration), whose fame spans the UK, USA, India, Japan, China and HongKong, the Philippines, and more, has penned an immensely readable autobiography, without any of the staple ingredients?  Meet Biddu. Clean and lean, with funny bones wrapped in an Afghan coat, with a hat and boots to boot.

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Made in India—Biddu: Journey of a Lifetime is published by Harper Collins (2010), distributed by Read Out Loud, in 249 pages, paperback, and priced @ Rs. 295. It is also available globally as an ebook.

(All album images from my personal collection).

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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