Bappi-Mithun: Bovo di Tutti Bovi*

Pankaz K. Sharma

It is a well-known fact that the Bengalis have some Holy Cows, such as, Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Subhash Chandra Bose, etc.  Sushmita Sen almost made to the list for a while post her Miss Universe victory, but then she fell off the radar (or the list, if you please). I am not sure about the status of Sourav Ganguly, though.

Now what do I mean by a Holy Cow?
Take, for example, Leonardo da Vinci. If I say that da Vinci was not the best chef Italy ever produced, no Italian would take offence, or think that da Vinci's greatness had been compromised. However, if I say, for example, that Manik-da was not the best leg-spinner India ever produced, or that Netaji could be dead (which is a definite possibility for a man born 120 years ago!), many Bengalis may take offence.

That is what a Holy Cow means
(Why do you think Bengalis are so great? I am pretty sure, it is because of Calcutta (or Kolkata, as it is known nowadays). It is proven beyond a shred of doubt that to achieve greatness, one (if one is an Indian, more so) must go to Calcutta. Amitabh Bachchan, arguably the greatest star of India, had to work in Calcutta first; only then he could become a star. C.V. Raman had to come all the way from Tamil Nadu, so that he could later win a Nobel Prize.  Mother Teresa had to come a long way from her native Albania. Not only the good; even the bad ones had some connection with Calcutta. The serial killer Charles Sobhraj, for example, was in Calcutta for a while.)

And yet, the Bengalis forget to include in their list of Holy Cows, two great Bengalis: Bappi-da and Mithun-da. And these were the two men who single-handedly (or maybe, quadro-manus-ly) brought an economic revolution to India in the 1980s, helping millions of barbers, razor-makers, hair-oil makers, and people involved in related businesses..

The philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, used the term “paradigm shift” to imply a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline, shifts which characterize a scientific revolution, in contrast to the workings of normal science.

The “paradigm shift” in case of our Bappi-da was when in a New York (possibly) club he - for the first time - heard disco music being played, and got inspired to compose music in that genre. Not my imagination’ this is an oft-repeated story by the man himself.

Why I say that this was a moment of great significance, leading to a paradigm shift?

Because: Without disco music, Mithun-da could not have influenced the world in general, and India in particular. Imagine mithun-da copying Michael Jackson’s (MJ) moves in a song sung by Yesudas (for example, Mana ho tum) that had been composed by Bappi-da, or to a pre-disco song sung by the man himself (for example, Tumhara pyar chahiye). This was simply not possible.

But since Bappi-da brought in disco music, and Mithun-da copied MJ movies for those numbers, India took notice and there was a big change in everyone.

Now I am not saying that disco music made Bappi-da and Mithun-da famous; quite the contrary. Their greatness was written in their names; perhaps some numerologist would shed better light on this issue someday. Just like Marlon Brando and Marcello Mastroianni, Mithun-da’s name started with the letter M (we’re not going after his birth name here, ok!); on the other hand, Bappi-da had luminaries like Beethoven and Bach to keep him company. Who could stop such a pair from success?

With Bappi-Mithun’s Yaad aa raha hai (it is difficult to pinpoint a single tune, but this would serve as a general reference) or other songs from that great movie, Disco Dancer, almost half of all Indian male youth got rid of their sideburns, but keeping - at the same time - the hair at the front and back of their head pretty long. Even Assam, boiling under the heat of the Assam Agitation of 1978-85, could not resist the call of the hour, and many of the Assamese youth too followed the style.

This brought in an economic revolution incomparable before or since. Let me briefly explain how.

This hair-style change led to busy hours for many barbers. Gone were the days of sporadic shavings and using the lifebuoy soap to rinse the hair; guys now had to buy razors to keep their sideburns under control, and shampoo to keep their fluffy hair in perfect condition.  How many factories must have been established to cater to this sudden demand for razor and shampoo? Not just that…to keep the customers happy, the barbers had to keep their radios singing, that led to purchase of more batteries; guys had to take a rickshaw to come to the barber, thereby offering better levels of earning to the rickshaw pullers; an occasional tea to kill time during the waiting period at the barber means more sale of tea…I can go on and on.

And how do Bengalis repay them for all their service? No recommendation of their names for the Nobel Prize in economics; no renaming any institute in their name. Instead the Bengalis make Bappi-da face defeat in the parliamentary elections, forcing Mithun-da to go to the Rajya Sabha as a nominated member.
* Bovo de tutti bovi is a play on the phrase Capo di tutti capi (Boss of all bosses), implied that Bappi-da and Mithun-da are the Holy Cows of all Holy Cows.
Pankaz K. Sharma spent his late childhood and early teen years on a healthy dose of Bappi-Mithun, during the pre-television years in a non-descript town of Assam. TV came, and then came internet; but he has remained a devoted fan of both Bappi-da and Mithun-da.

Jun 7, 2017

Pankaz K. Sharma

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