Mumbai: Filmmaker Milan Luthria says he feels fortunate to have collaborated with Bappi Lahiri for two chartbuster tracks “Bombai Nagariya” and “Ooh La La” from his films and says the veteran, who passed away Tuesday night, will live through his music.

The 69-year-old composer, who popularised disco music in Indian cinema in the 70s and 80s and also some soulful crooning, died following multiple health issues on Tuesday night at the CritiCare Hospital in Juhu.

Lahiri was the brains behind the inventive ’80s pop and disco sound for Bollywood, with hit film albums like Mithun Chakraborty-starrer “Disco Dancer”, Amitabh Bachchan’s “Namak Halaal” and “Sharaabi” and Sridevi-Jeetendra-starrer “Himmatwala”, which shaped the Hindi pop culture music.

His Bollywood work faded in the ’90s — a comparatively lacklustre decade for the veteran — but he bounced back in 2006 as a singer with Luthria’s “Bombai Nagariya” track from the director’s 2006 comedy thriller “Taxi No. 9211”.

The filmmaker said for the Vishal-Shekhar composed track, which was an ode to the beautiful, cruel irony of Mumbai, the team was looking for a “different sounding voice”, unlike anything dominating the music scene back in the day.

“We were brainstorming and came up with his name. I called him and he agreed to come to the studio of Vishal-Shekhar right away. He was excited, as he had not sung for a while. I remember it was raining heavily that day, there was almost a foot of water outside their recording studio.

“He came in, heard it and said, ‘Can I do it the way I want to? I just want to be a little free in the way I sing’. We agreed and in an hour and a half, we were done! It was amazing — his control over his voice, range, the variations he gave us. He was so happy, excited, almost like it was his first song,” Luthria told PTI in an interview.

This was the first time Lahiri sang for a composer, outside of his own songs that he would score and sing.

The track opened the film, which featured Nana Patekar and John Abraham.

“Bombai Nagariya” was a runaway hit, catapulting Lahiri back onto the charts after his last known Hindi album “Justice Chowdhary” in 2000.

Luthria recalled how the video of the song featured a photo of Lahiri, which they had found on the side of a bus in the city.

The filmmaker also used the composer’s hit track “Chahiye Thoda Pyaar” from 1979’s “Lahu Ke Do Rang” for a sequence in the film, featuring Abraham with Priyanka Chopra in a special appearance.

“‘Bombai Nagariya’ track suddenly shot him back to fame. He came back to pop culture all of a sudden. In the end of the film, I also used his song ‘Chahiye Thoda Pyaar’, which worked very well. He called me (saying) he was thrilled, grateful that he was back in the limelight. Then he started doing a lot of these talent shows,” he added.

Lahiri appeared as a judge on the popular TV show “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa L’il Champs” in 2006 and went on to feature on another edition of the series.

In 2011, Luthria reached out to the veteran again for the “Ooh La La” track from “The Dirty Picture”, also composed by Vishal-Shekhar.

The peppy song, featuring Vidya Balan as actor Silk Smitha and veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah, became an instant chartbuster.

“We wanted a voice that gave us a throwback to the ’80s, so he had to be there. He just liked to be allowed a little bit of freedom, because he had so much experience, he could turn the notes a little bit around.”

The filmmaker said Lahiri asked him if he could “tweak” the lines that appear in the middle of the song, that go “Gira ke apna pallu baar baar”.

“We said, ‘Sure, no problem’. He was so happy to be back in the recording studio. He was chatty and affectionate. After this song, he called me again and said I was his lucky charm that he had started doing concerts all over the world!”

Luthria said it was Lahiri’s personality — his trademark gold chains that he wore for luck and his sunglasses — gave him the larger-than-life statuture of a pop icon.

The songs, a wonderful mix of intimate but accessible melodies, added to the charm, he added.

“More than anything else, it was his personality which was like a pop icon. He was one of the finest musical talents of our country. He was the only composer who took on the Big Threes in the ’70s and ’80s — Laxmikant-Pyarelal, RD Burman, and Kalyanji-Anandji. In the 1990s, there was Anu Malik, but Bappi da held his own.

“He had unique, personalised melodies like ‘Raat Baaki’, which were also extremely commercial. I feel blessed and fortunate to have worked with him. He will live through his music,” he added.

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