People often say that music transcends boundaries. It would only need a fleeting glance at the comment section of the 1982 hit song “Jimmy Jimmy, Aaja Aaja” from “Disco Dancer” on YouTube to know why. Comments from excited and somewhat smitten listeners from various countries, including Ukraine, Russia, and Iran, lay clear testimony to the appeal Bappi Lahiri’s song commands even today, 40 years after its release.
In 2022, the song has even become a tool for protest in China. On Douyin, called TikTok outside China, people are uploading their videos showing empty vessels and singing “Jie mi, Jie mi” in Mandarin. “Jie mi” translates to “Give me rice”.
People have found a way to protest against the country’s “zero Covid” policy that has cut-off China from the rest of the world, leaving millions hungry and helpless.
The cult of ‘Disco Dancer’
The movie’s release in 1982 made Mithun Chakraborty an overnight sensation and established his cult in several countries in and around central and southeast Asia.
After the film’s huge success, director B Subhash was invited to the Moscow Film Festival in 1983 for its screening. It is said Disco Dancer sold over 120 million tickets in Russia, primarily due to its exciting dance numbers.
In 1998, Russian band Ruki Vverh mixed the song, and it was later used in a Russian reality show. Different covers of the song were subsequently released by Russian artists DJ Slon and Angel-A.
In 2016, the song was played by DJ KSHMR to a packed house at one of the biggest music festivals in the world, Sunburn.
Jimmy’s glitter amid cold war’s grey austerity
During the cold war, Hindi cinema made a great impression on Soviet cinema-goers. Over 200 Indian movies were imported into the Soviet Union between 1954 and 1991. Disco Dancer emerged as the highest-grossing film of the Soviet era, earning 60 million roubles at the box office, according to Varsity.
Disco Dancer is followed by the 1954 classic Awaara featuring Raj Kapoor in a reimagining of Romeo and Juliet. It was one of the first Bollywood films to be screened in the Soviet Union.
Arguably, the glamour in Bollywood movies and songs in the region was considered to be higher than even the pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen. Bollywood’s colourful extravagance served as an enticing escape route to the Soviets enduring the grey austerity of the time.
More so, the values of Indian society resonated well with those of the USSR.
Another Indian actress, Zeenat Aman enjoyed considerable fame in the USSR.
After FC and Umesh Mehra’s co-production starring Aman, “Alibaba Aur 40 Chor” was released in the Soviet Union, another movie “Sohni Mahiwal” was made. Aman had no role in the film.
But Russians were so insistent on her being in the film that a special role was created just for Zeenat Aman.
Babbar Subhash, Bappi Lahiri & Parvati Khan During song recording “Jimmy Jimmy” for Disco Dancer in 1981 (Source: Wikimedia commons)
Jimmy goes to Hollywood
The song went to Hollywood in 2008 when it was used in the comedy film “You don’t mess with Zohan” starring Adam Sandler.
In 2007, British-Sri Lankan artist Maya Arulpragasam, popularly known as MIA, released her version of the “Jimmy Jimmy Aaja Aaja” for the album Kala.
“My mum used to hire me out when I was a kid…as a party buffer…’Jimmy’ was my track that I used to do my routine too. I had a little tape recorder, and a cloak and a cardboard cut-out guitar, and that was my joint,” MIA said after the release of the song.
For Jimmy, central Asia is India’s extended neighbourhood
In September, several videos emerged from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where people were seen grooving to the peppy dance number at a dinner night.
Posting a video of another song at a previous SCO Summit in Tashkent, foreign minister S Jaishankar tweeted, “Another reminder from SCO Tashkent why Central Asia is our extended neighbourhood.”
The song was honoured by London’s World Book of Records in 2018. On the occasion, Lahiri said, “It has been one long journey with innumerable accolades over nearly five decades and over 600 films. But there is something special about ‘Jimmy Jimmy’. It always has followers in every part of the globe. Such adulation brings tears to my eyes. It is the love of my fans that keeps me going.”
Lahiri passed away due to Covid-related complications in 2022. But “Jimmy”, sung by Parvati Khan, has become a part of folklore in large part of the globe.