Pop it like the 80s: Nostalgia

BY KAUSTAV BHATTACHARYA

Reminiscence of an innocent adolescent’s love for the Hindi Pop songs

In one of my previous textual reminiscences about Hindi Disco music, while writing and reflecting upon the 80s music, my mind drifted into the world of music of the 80s bringing back fond memories of those ‘innocently delinquent’ years. This time I wish to dwell upon the trend which defined 80s Hindi music, apart from that of Disco, called Pop or Indi-pop. Indi-pop is strictly defined as pop music produced in India that is not meant for movie soundtracks which are primarily Bollywood music, although in this article we will be concentrating on the icons of the music genre hence flexible in adhering to the definition.

Indi-pop music was a synthesis of diverse genres and was part of the 80s and 90s fad in Hindi music which is often termed the ‘golden’ or ‘boom’ era in Bollywood and Indian music scenario. This is a period when the Indian music industry assumed a new direction with a burgeoning cassette industry and the electronic gadgets revolution with more homes being able to afford tape recorders. Sometime by the early 90s, India had experienced ‘a cassette revolution’, with the locally manufactured cassettes.  India was liberalizing, whereby, as a result, entertainment goods were being more widely available as that of tape recorders and Walkman. I recollect vividly the incredible frisson, the ‘WAH’ effect when I first heard what was then called a ‘Walkman’ with the headphones being placed on my ears.  Earlier one had to wait upon a visiting NRI relative or one’s father who would procure cassettes from a trip abroad, a kind of top item in the shopping list for Indians travelling overseas.

At this stage, I would hasten to add that another factor that contributed to the music revolution at the household level, is the advent of Maruti Cars around 1985 which had inbuilt speakers and tapes.  One would find senior friends offering us a spin or a drive while belting out loudly the latest music in a new cassette and it was a ‘kool’ rebellious act to hang around in street corners in cars for youngsters cranking up the volume of the car audio player and listen to the latest chartbusters.

Let’s now turn to the performers and artistes who shaped and formed the genre of Indi-pop Hindi music, and the first glorious name which springs forth is that of Usha Uthup. Usha Uthup is the Indian Pop Queen or ‘Pop Diva’, and held forth at the very pinnacle of Hindi pop music through the 80s and 90s for my generation.  Along with Usha Uthup, there were a couple of brilliant ones; Alisha Chinai, who is the icon of the Globalized Indian, and then our good ole ‘Remo’ or Remo Fernandes from Goa, whose songs were the ‘Party Starter’ for my generation during the 80s.

Usha Uthup: Queen Of Indian Pop

Usha Uthup is inextricably linked to our growing up years as the Pop Queen, with her baritone voice and the formidable personality on stage, with her signature large bindi, fresh flowers in her hair, dressed smartly in a traditional saree with plenty of bangles clinking on her wrists and singing away groovy, swinging numbers in Hindi. The one which is most clearly etched in my memory is ‘Hari Om Hari’, and she does it best!! Ushadi (as the Bengalis would love to call her affectionately with didi being elder sister) deserves an entire article, if not a book, so no justice can be done to her in a single paragraph here. Usha Uthup, born and raised in a Tamil family in Mumbai, made Kolkata her home and is now an institution in the cultural and artistic landscape of the city. 

While researching for this article, I wish to declare with great joy and serendipitous delight that her autobiography was recently launched at the Oxford Bookstores in Kolkata titled, ‘The Queen of Indian Pop’ and couldn’t think of a more appropriate title. The autobiography has generated lots of attention and qualified reviews and I look forward to reading the book. One of the first songs of Ushadi which swept us off our feet was from the movie ‘Pyaara Dushman’ titled ‘Hari Om Hari’. 

Subsequently, through the entire decade of the 80s, Ushadi’s music sizzled the Hindi music scenario with such item Indi-pop numbers like ‘Doston Se Pyar Kiya’ from the movie ‘Shaan’, ‘Ramba Ho Ho’ from the movie ‘Armaan’, ‘Koi Yahan Aha Nache Nache’ from the movie ‘Disco Dancer’.  Apart from the ones mentioned, there were a couple of songs which were hummed by the adolescents and the youths; ‘Naaka Bandi’ from the movie ‘Naaka Bandi’ and the very pulsating racy number ‘Uri Uri Baba’ from the movie ‘Dushman Devta’.

It would be worthwhile to mention that apart from the songs of the movie ‘Shaan’ which were composed by the veritable musical genius RD Burman, most of the other ones were composed by the legendary maestro Bappi Lahiri. It would be safe to state that both Bappi Lahiri and Usha Uthup were the crowning royalties of the music world of the 80s.    

Ushadi’s early experience of Western jazz and pop lends a certain gravitas to her music and style of singing, which blends very seamlessly the different musical genres, from both West and India. There developed a distinct style of music in Ushadi’s creation which defied conventional categories. I feel no conversation about Ushadi would be complete without her charming infectious humour; in her newly published authorised biography, The Queen of Indian Pop, she mentions that ‘In films, I have mostly sung for the bad girls..’ and then later in the book, she smiles in the same enticing manner and says ‘You know what the cat sitting on the tree says to Alice in Wonderland? It says “Well behaved women rarely make history. I love to sing wild songs.” Now that’s the energetic, witty, talented, brilliant, youthful, and enthusiastic Queen of Indian Pop, Usha Uthup, for you!!

Alisha Chinai- Indi-pop Icon Of The MTV Generation

Indian society was swept by the satellite television revolution in the early 90s with the arrival of global TV channels being beamed into our drawing rooms.  I still recollect with some amount of awe and astonishment at the dramatic impact on Indian middle classes these soap operas like ‘Dallas’ and programs like ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ had, though it invited our scorn.  We the 80s adolescents were by now all in college, and that generation of 90s Indian college students was disparaging of consumerism and popular culture.  The influence of heavy idealistic high-culture, thinking with a dash of leftist anti-consumption spirit was still in vogue across the campuses; or let me phrase it this way- all Anglicized, erudite, ‘wannabe intellectual’ students would dabble in the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Octavio Paz and would frown upon such consumerist symbols like Cable Television with simplistic sentimental soap operas. Hence, I would be honest to feel not so plugged in with the 90s trends of Indi-pop music as were during our schooldays of the 80s.

Alisha Chinai is the Indi-pop who came of age in this era of cable television in India of the 90s; her ascent being facilitated by the music and entertainment channels like Channel V and MTV. In many ways, she can be termed the Indi-pop icon of the MTV generation and widely termed as the ‘Indian Madonna’.  However, some of us of the pre-MTV vintage can very fondly identify her with the scintillating and enticing music of the Bollywood films from the 80s. Alisha Chinai was catapulted to the top of the Chartbusters with item numbers like ‘Tarzan My Tarzan’, ‘Jile Le’ from the movie ‘Tarzan’, ‘Zubi Zubi’, ‘Zindagi Meri Dance Dance’ from the movie ‘Dance Dance’ and ‘Disco Dandia’ from the movie ‘Love Love Love’.  Her musical journey started with the debut album, ‘Jadoo’ in 1995, and since then there was no looking back with a stratospheric successful track record in music with successful albums like Babydoll, Aah..Alisha, and Madonna and the superhit ‘Made in India’.  It’s important to state that her independent albums were as successful as the film tracks. Her ‘rites de passage’ into the world of Bollywood music was initiated and mentored by the legendary musical composer, Bappi Lahiri. The coverage would be incomplete without the mention of her sensational and successful album, ‘Made in India’ in 1995. This was one of her stellar success stories, winning her the International Billboard Awards in 1995 and clocking in a sale of 5 million copies.

The Indi-pop trend of music continued through the 90s until the mid-2000s and apart from the two artists, popular Indi-pop artists in the late 1990s and early 2000s included Lucky Ali, Sharon Prabhakar, Shweta Shetty and Baba Sehgal. For most of us, the 80s generation of the schoolboys, the icons remained the same since it was etched with memories of struggling to come to terms with adulthood and shedding the comfort of the cossetted childhood and adolescence. A much broader sentimental appeal of music than just trends and charts.

Kaustav Bhattacharyya is a PhD from Cass Business School, London, entrepreneur and an Anglosphere enthusiast.