Sunday, November 29, 2009

Channel Hits: Iconic Music from the 90s Pop Scene

Greetings again. It’s been a while since I updated my blog since I was away for two weeks. Now that I am back and have tons to write about, hopefully, the updates should be steadier. Last night, I had a sumptuous Eid dinner at a friend’s place. On our way back, Bhavya, Priyanka, Rachita and I started going over 90s Hindi pop songs for some reason. One song after another, we reminisced about the explosion of pop music in the 1990s and its quiet death subsequently. Pop music in the 90s in India included not only very chic and hip songs but also the revival or mainstreaming of a lot of folk/earthy music with a new sound. These were the songs we grew up on, and I decided to draw up a list of the most iconic and evergreen pop songs of the 90s. So here goes:

“Pari Hoon Main” – Sunita Rao: Now this was one of the earliest of the pop songs and remains supremely popular even today especially in the Dandiya circuits. Sunita Rao’s most popular number by far, it was used for fashion shows, dance shows, dandiya nights and more! Even after more than 15 years, it is still hip, cool and retains a certain appeal.

“Pal” – K.K.: My absolute favourite pop song of the time, “Pal” is just perfect. Beautiful lyrics and a haunting tune make it one of the finest love ballads in Hindi ever. It is one of those evergreen songs which never seems to age. A powerful debut by K.K., there were other songs in the album like “Aap Ki Dua” which were also very popular. However, “Pal” remains his best song. It is powerful and resonates for a long time after it is over.

“Afreen Afreen” – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Javed Akhtar: Now, I know it is blasphemous to include Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in this list and call his music pop. However, many of his songs were given a new sound and released to great success. Of them, this was one of the most popular collaborations of the 90s. The song and the album were super successful and made Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan a household name in India.

“Roop Tera Mastana (Remix)” – Shaan: One of the earliest remixes, well before the idea took to the mainstream, Shaan’s version of the sensuous original R.D. Burman composition from “Aradhana” was surprisingly…cute! The video was one of the funniest and sweetest ever. In retrospect, (especially with all the raunch that dominated the pop scene in the remix phase particularly) it still retains a distinct appeal primarily because of the soft vocals of Shaan and the adorable video.

“Made in India” – Alisha Chinai: A super chic and hip song for its time, it is amazing how badly this song has aged! The video is insanely funny today and absolutely ridiculous. However, this is not to take away from the fact that it is one of the most iconic songs of the 90s. Everyone remembers the video: the tiger, Milind Soman, the princess Alisha etc. etc. Time has not been kind to the song or the video. But that is something to be thankful for. 

“O Sanam” – Lucky Ali: This one had a video which was as exotic as it was inscrutable. Lucky Ali’s breakthrough album “Sunoh” was embellished with one stunning song after another. My personal favourites included “Sunoh,” “Pyar Ka Musafir” and “Milegi Milegi.” However, the most popular of them was “O Sanam,” a tale of unrequited love and heartbreak. The video was perhaps the most popular of the lot here featuring pyramids, an archaeologist and a strange love story in ancient times. Even today, the song is popular and is arguably the best Lucky Ali had to offer, at least as an album.

“Deewana Tera” – Sonu Nigam: Sonu Nigam has really worked the ropes to achieve all that he has from the “Achcha Sillaa Diya Tune” days to pop albums to become the voice of actors like SRK and Hrithik Roshan. “Deewana” was perhaps a career defining move as the album demonstrated his range and quality of voice quite well. “Deewana Tera” was a wildly popular song from the album. A typical pop song, it’s a great song largely because of the vocals as Sonu Nigam belts it out for all its worth. A solid song from a wildly successful album, it is still remembered as one of the iconic songs of the 90s.

“Saare Sapne Kahin Kho Gaye” – Alka Yagnik: This is a relatively less known pop song from the time. It was a part of the album “Tum Yaad Aaye” which was the result of the collaboration of Alka Yagnik of Javed Akhtar. I added this here as it was a beautiful song with a lilting tune and is sung really well by the Melody Queen. The album also had some other wonderful songs including “Tum Yaad Aaye” and “Zaraa Zaraa Si Baatein.”

“Chhapan Chhuri” – Ila Arun: The album “Chhapan Chhuri” gave a huge jumpstart to Ila Arun’s career. It also was iconic as it mainstreamed Rajasthani folk music dramatically. All of a sudden, it became cool and trendy to listen to folk music. Daler Mehendi’s “Bolo Ta Rarara” did the same for Punjabi folk music.

"Yaad Piya Ki Aane Lagi" - Phalguni Pathak: The undisputed queen of Gujarati dandiya made quite a splash in the pop scene with this song which was the starting point of a short lived career which spanned many hits. An amusing video with an unknown Riya Sen as a school girl going for a Dandiya night with her friends, the song was an instant hit at the time and remains one of the more popular songs of the 90s.

There were many others as well. The Models with their "Bollywood" and "Mehendi Ki Raat," Jagjit Singh and Gulzar with "Marasim" and other albums, Colonial Cousins and many others. However, pop has died a quiet death subsequently with a limited market remaining only for Sufi pop music like that of Kailash Kher and the ghazals of Jagjit Singh. But the 90s was a time when pop was at its peak and delivered some fine music, some of which remains in the minds of people till today.

Monday, November 2, 2009

“This Is It”: For the Concert and the Man

The thing I loved most about “This Is It” was that it is first and foremost a movie about the concert that was not to be. It isn’t an examination of Michael Jackson’s life, his controversies and his contributions. The entire footage assembled is purely of the concert itself and not a single frame of external footage has been used. Not once does it go into all his philantropic work, his personal life or his past. It is about this concert and the work that went into it: not only by Michael Jackson but also Kenny Ortega, a group of stunning dancers and musicians and a legion of professionals: costume and production designers, technicians, visual effects supervisors. These people went to great lengths to conceptualise and create a concert that was not only technically brilliant and visually awe-inspiring but was representative of Michael Jackson’s larger than life personality and his work. The best of talents were assembled for the concert who seemed to have been in awe of the King of Pop and put their heart and soul into making the concert memorable. It is almost heartbreaking to see the amount of effort that has been lost due to MJ’s untimely death. From this movie, it seems clear that the world missed out on a great concert.

Told in an episodic fashion with the creation and (intended) execution of each song, “This Is It” covers most of the popular MJ tracks and demonstrates how the concert aimed at giving a fresh look to his works. The reworking of “Thriller,” “Earth Song” and “The Way You Make Me Feel” in particular looked stunning. The original songs themselves are testimony to the legacy of work that MJ has left behind. One may love or hate the man but one cannot deny the contribution he has made to the world of music and dance. He perfected his steps, be it the pelvic thrusts or the moonwalk, practically to a distinct and unique dance form. His music was contemporary, edgy and most importantly, very socially relevant. This, I believe is one of the reasons for their wide appeal. He was the man behind popularising the music video and MTV owes a lot to him for its success. The movie is a fitting reminder of these things, and more.

In assembling the footage, it is inevitable to catch glimpses of the King himself and drawing inferences about him therefrom. It is clear that MJ was always a performer first and singer second. He rarely got by without an army of background singers. However, he always was entertaining as hell. From the movie, MJ comes across as a kind, patient and a very soft spoken person. Not once did he raise his voice for anything. At the same time, he was clear on what he wanted from the musicians and dancers and was determined to work with them as long as necessary to get it. There are sequences where he works with the Music Director for “The Way You Make Me Feel” and the musicians on stage for “Beat It” and “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” that testify to this. At 50, he surprisingly has all of the energy and vitality that was characterisitc of him in the 80s and 90s. However, most importantly, it is clear that here was a man who was ambitious and audacious. He had his quirks and oddities but was never once apologetic about them. There were several moments in the movie that illicited guffaws from the audiences as MJ acted like his usual self, be it when he is dancing, talking or merely existing. Such responses were probably typical for him especially in the last few years of his life. However, never did he try to change them for being more acceptable. All this and more and is well reflected in the documentary.

All in all, “This Is It” is a well made documentary. The closing scene and performance is a particularly haunting one. For MJ fans, it is a fitting tribute to one of the most extraordinary performers of the century and his work. He is now a part of the greatest jam session ever with the likes of John Lennon, Hendrix, Freddie Mercury and more. Even otherwise, it is a solid music documentary that will appeal to music and movie lovers alike. Is it one of the great music documentaries like Woodstock? I don’t really know as I haven’t seen any other music documentary. However, it is a worthy documentation of the concert that was not to be and the labour that went into it. Most importantly, it is worth the price of admission and must be seen on the big screen.