It’s nothing all that unusual these days to run across people who celebrate the music in Bollywood films. And I don’t mean just the people of India. In the past decade, there has been a small but steady flow of Bollywood film music compilations packed with fantastic funk, go-go, disco, and even the occasional traditional number. Even people who don’t follow Bollywood can probably drop RD Burman’s name, though they’ll likely call him “that guy from Slumdog Millionaire.” But there is another world, one populated not by Asha Bhosle or any sense of respectability. The Bollywood b-grade horror film is where we like to play, and it’s about time someone celebrated the music from those fantastically terrible movies full of rubber fright masks.
The people at Finders Keepers Records did a couple things differently from other record labels when they assembled Bollywood Bloodbath. For starters, they actually bothered to license the music. But more importantly, they eschewed the usual suspects, assuming that we all already had enough versions of “Chaiyya Chaiyya” and “The Theme from Don,” great songs though they and other Bollywood classics may be. Instead, Finders Keepers dug deep into the dank recesses of Bollywood’s b-grade horror films where the vaults are haunted by the likes of film makers like the Ramsay clan and where composers and singers like RD Burman and Asha Bholse — while present — take a back seat to men like Sonik Omi and the prolific Bappi Lahiri. In other words, these are back alleys, seedy streets, and sleazy nightclubs Teleport City calls home. Or perhaps more appropriately, these are the mansion foyers, foggy cemeteries, and nondescript city parks the no-budget horror films of India call home.
The music they’ve collected into Bollywood Bloodbath is a tour of every mad stylistic crevasse explored by Bollypop — from funk to disco to electro to experimental madness that sounds like a Halloween sound effects record as interpreted by Einsturzende Neubauten. Things kick off with “Sansani Khez Koi Baat,” a sort of dreamy disco-meets-psychedelia by pilot-turned-music director and allegedly terrible husband Hemant Bhosle, who manages to rope his superstar mom Asha into performing on his oddly compelling contribution. But it’s the next track, “He Met Me in the Guest House” from the film Saboot, where the compilation finds its signature superstar. Bappi Lahiri has long been a favorite composer here at Teleport City, ever since we first got our minds blown by his work in the international competitive disco dancing epic Disco Dancer. The man has worked the entire scale of Indian cinema — from blockbusters to low-budget actioners to sleazy Tarzan rip-offs, with more than a few horror film scores under his sizable belt.
His style is as all over the place as the movies in which his songs appear. “He Met Me in the Guest House” sounds like a Poverty Row spook show soundtrack collided with a space disco and brought along a 1960s Eurolounge vocalist. Saboot was directed by Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay, and the Ramsays were the great pioneers in Indian horror films. When the industry was defined by coy romances, melodramas, and a general air of conservatism, the Ramsays outraged people with films that wallowed in blood, sex, and all manner of crudeness. Critics and government officials raged against them, and the public pretended Ramsay horror movies didn’t even exist — which makes you wonder how each one of them was able to rake in so much cash. In retrospect, and given the film makers who would follow in their footsteps, Ramsay movies — and the music in them — are pretty polished and generally enjoyable. Lahiri was one of their go-to musical directors. There are five Bappi songs on Bollywood Bloodbath and in fact all of them are from Ramsay films, including the aforementioned Saboot as well as Dahshat (“Meri Jaan” and “Disco Title Music From Dahshat“) and Maut Ka Saya (“Aafat” and “Dance music from Maut Ka Saya“). They’re all excellent examples of Lahiri’s electro-tinged disco pop and represent what is probably the apex of Bollywood horror movie music.
Among the higher profile examples of Indian spook film music comes from the musical team of Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar and Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma — commonly known simply as Laxmikant-Pyarelal — whose first appearance on this disc is the song “Aa Jane Jaan” from the 1969 film Intaqam (there are a lot of films called Intaqam, by the way). The song basically sounds like someone remixed a more traditional Indian movie song with a composition by exotica pioneer Les Baxter. And if you get a chance to see the scene in which it appears — boy oh boy! Indians in blackface and jungle native get-ups while the incomparable queen of Bollywood dance numbers Helen writhes and pelvic thrusts to and fro. The movie itself is less of a horror film and more of an old school mystery/revenge movie, but if Helen is wearing a sequined bikini and wiggling her hips, who am I to complain? Laxmikant-Pyarelal show up a couple more times on the disc — with the jungle exotica of “Theme Music from Anita,” which is one of those movies where some jerk husband offs his wife and then gets himself haunted by her ghost (or is it a ghost?), and the tribal “Chalo Re Doli” from one of the legendary films of Indian horror cinema, Jaani Dushman.
Ratandeep Hemraj and Sapan Jagmohan turn in a couple songs that would sound at home in just about any sort of Bollywood movie. Not a knock against them, but they don’t stand out from other songs on other Bollypop compilations the way some of the other songs here do. Usha Kanna’s “Jeena Hai To Jee Bhar Hanslo” from the movie Hotel is a weird, wonderful mix of 60s style spy jazz and acid rock. And then we get to Sonik Omi with the theme from the Ramsay’s Andhera. This one is a truly delirious mix: hyperactive percussion, ultra fuzzed out guitars, brass, flutes, a guy with an echo effect screaming “Andhera!” over and over again. Fantastic, even if it sounds more like the theme to a really kick-ass 70s action film.
And then with the roar of a monster and “bwooo be booo” electronics and synths, along with spooky growling and whispering, Bappi Lahiri turns in “Disco Title Music From Dahshat,” very possibly the stand-out track on what is a remarkably strong collection.
But that hardly means the thing is out of tricks. Rajesh Roshan has popped up a couple times with short tracks — under a minute — combining percussion and creepy laughing and sounding like those old “Spooky Sounds of the Haunted House” novelty records, both of those tracks being from the Ramsay film Sannata. With the track “Superman, Superman,” from the same movie, he gets a full four and half minutes to deliver what is easily the weirdest song on the whole disc. It starts out with the sort of electronic fanfare you’d expect from an Alan Hawkshaw or Keith Mansfield library music collection with a title like “The Triumphant March of Modern Progress.” Then the female disco vocals kick in, along with the chorus and the futuristic space lounge and…I think my head exploded. It might be up there in brain-bending strangeness with Bappi Lahiri’s epic “Krishna Dharti Pe Aaja Tu” from Disco Dancer. It probably should have been the last song on the album, because it’s a pretty impossible act to follow. Not that the remaining tracks go gently into the night. For example, there’s Khemchand Prakash’s thunderous “Dance Music from Mahal,” which would have been just as at home in a King Kong movie.
The disc closes with the sole contribution from acclaimed musical director RD Burman, “Bindya Tarse Kajra Barse” from the film Phir Wahi Raat, complete with vocals by Lata Mangeshkar. Ehh. I could do without it. It’s not a bad song, but it’s so…normal. So precious. So typically RD Burman. Vampires and vengeful girl ghouls can’t kill to this tinkly sort of a tune. He may be the biggest name on Bollywood Bloodbath, but Burman’s also the most out of place, like he’s intruding on a cult ritual that rightfully belongs to the Bappi Lahiris, Sonik Omis, and Rajesh Roshans of the world (or the netherworld, as the case may be).
There. We’ve done it: trash talked the universally beloved RD Burman and said, “Man, I wish he was Bappi Lahiri instead.”
Still, one boring song from Burman is hardly enough to spoil the sheer awesomeness of Bollywood Bloodbath, which take sits rightful place alongside the one-two punch of Bombshell Baby of Bombay and Bombay Connection as one of the most essential compilations of Bollywood b-movie music. From deliriously cheerful songs like Nadeem & Shravan’s “Dekho Dekho Dekho Magar Pyar Se” to the electro-disco of mighty Bappi to…well…whatever the hell it is that Rajesh Roshan is doing, this is a top notch tour of “horror film music” that is as diverse, unreal, and unexpected as Indian horror films themselves.