Friday, June 29, 2007

Eighteen Till I Die: Songs from the last Century

I have already chronicled my eighteenth year (1992) in terms of the films that released then. Now Mad Momma wants to know about my favourite music from that year as well and she has helpfully provided two websites, on which I am not able to recognize a single song. Nobody told me they were English language websites!
Well, I will have to rely to my memory and earlier list for the music I liked when I turned old enough to vote!

Cable television started in India around 1991 – and we got our connection towards the end of that year. So, when I turned 18 (the next year), there were MTV, Star, Zee and DD Metro (in a new improved avatar) to choose our music from.
The only songs that I remember from the early days of MTV are Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit (where a whole lot of long-haired punks tried to break guitars) and Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do (which became the Mush Anthem of the times).
The high point of my week was Superhit Muqabla – which was India’s first countdown show and was hosted by Ekta Kapoor in one of its first episodes. My sister and I watched that one and we concluded that the lady had absolutely no future in television. Not in front of the camera, that is!

It had also been a few years since a cassette company called T Series had started and they already had notched up several hits in a market dominated by HMV.
T Series started two things. One, the concept of Jhankaar Beats, where old classics were appended with a dhikichiki dhikichiki background strain to make them dancier (though not as pleasing)! And two, the religious album, where Mata Vaishno Devi and Shirdi Waale Sai Baba’s hymns were composed, remixed, jhankaared and popularized with great speed.
Of course, they started with Kumar Sanu regurgitating all of Kishore Kumar’s hits in a voice, which appeared as very nasal then but gained great popularity post the success of Aashiqui.

Some of the Hindi films that released that year had absolutely brilliant music.
Of them, my favourite has to be Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. One of Jatin-Lalit’s earlier hits, it had a RD hallmark to the music, which again was in the typical Nasir Hussain style. College romance peppered with lots of dulcet melodies and zingy tunes. Pehla Nasha, the signature tune, was shot brilliantly by Farah Khan and as Nilendu points out, she became the first choreographer in an industry where her people in her profession were known as dance masters. All the songs of JJWS were runaway hits though my favourite is the least popular one called ‘Rooth kar humse jab chale jaoge tum’ – a very melodious number, filmed fantastically as well on two kids (playing Aamir and his brother Mamik’s childhood versions). Worth a hear. Buy the album, if you have to.

The second big musical of the year was the first and last successful crossover of a Southern artiste. Where Rajanikanth and Kamalahaasan failed, AR Rehman succeeded and continues to remain the country’s most inventive music composer.
Roja, even with its slightly stilted lyrics, managed to have the most imaginative use of background vocals and electronic music as the valleys of Kashmir came alive to the tunes of Yeh haseen vaadiyaan and Roja Jaaneman. Chhoti si Asha still turns up at FM request programmes and Baba Sehgal’s version of Rukmini Rukmini still manages to bring a smile to our lips. After all, that was the first time a suhaag raat was described in such graphic detail in a Hindi song!

The third big hit of the year belonged to the composers who had done nothing to push the envelope and yet was churning out hits with regularity for the last couple of years – Nadeem Shravan.
Phool Aur Kaante was Ajay Devgun’s debut and the year’s most filmi album.
And in today’s age of swanky colleges (that look more like museums), I miss those tacky corridors and canteens in which Ajay Devgun rolled (literally) on the floors and sang ‘Tujhe dekh kar dil mera dhadka, mera jaan phadakti hain / Koi jannat ki woh hoor nahin, meri college kiiiiiiii ek ladki hain’.

Another reasonable album but momentous film of the year was SRK’s first maiden hit as the eponymous hero of Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman. It added a new disease to the Hindi film lexicon with ‘Sardi khnaasi na malaria hua / Main gaya yaaron, mujhko love love love Loveria hua’.

Apart from the above, a few other hits that I remember:
* Dhak dhak karne lagaa (Beta) – Madhuri sang, sighed, slithered, simmered and sizzled in what was a trademark Saroj Khan choreography.
* Dil tera hain deewana aii aii yo aii aii yo (Muqabla) – One of the first examples of motorized pelvises, inane lyrics and Govinda-Karisma pairings.
* Aisi deewangi (Deewana) – The winner of the Filmfare Award for the Best Music, this film was not a patch on JJWS, if you ask me but it still had a few very hummable numbers and Shah Rukh’s grand entry atop a bike singing ‘Koi na koi chahiye pyaar karne wala’. Though again, that was not a patch on the other entry on a motorbike – ‘Rote hue aate hain sab’.

As far as Bengali music was concerned, a huge impact was made with the release of Tomake Chaii – the first album by Suman Chatterjee.
Till then, the Bengali song was restricted to love, nature, patriotism, spirituality for most part. Political consciousness was present but the issue often overwhelmed the musicality so much that they were hardly memorable.
Suman arrived on the scene and redefined modern Bengali music with infusion of modern imagery, language and style. He talked about urban life and contemporary issues, to the accompaniment of a strumming guitar. His concerts became hugely popular thanks to his interspersing of the songs with relevant comments.
Suman wrote, composed and sang all his songs – most of which can qualify as very good poetry as well. His exposure to Western music – classical and popular – showed up in his songs as a pretty strong influence. He spawned a new genre named ‘Jibonmukhi gaan’ (literally – songs looking at life) and there have been a large number of singers who got on to this bandwagon. These singers ranged from the good, the bad to the ugly but the Bengali music scene was infused with a fresh breath of life with the reloaded lyrics, off-beat tunes, stylized rendition and most importantly – identifiable themes.
College romance. Hill-station nostalgia. Political protests. City nostalgia. Translation of Dylan. Middle-class and middle-aged frustrations. All this and more found their way into the songs of Suman and his contemporaries.
And also, Suman broke the stereotype of the Bengali love song with a fresh idiom. The best example is probably the first song of his first album, of which I will try to translate few lines…

Kobekar kolkatar shohorer pothe / In the streets of ancient Calcutta
Purono notun mukh ghore emarote / In the new & old buildings & faces
Ogunito manusher klanto michile / In the tired processions of teeming millions
Ochena chhutir chhnowa tumi ene dile / You got me a breath of fresh air
Nagorik klantite tomake chai / In urban angst, its you I want
Ek phnota shantite tomake chai / In an oasis of peace, its you I want
Bohudur hnete eshe tomake chai / I want you after walking miles
E jibon bhalobeshe tomake chai / I want you so that I can love life

Shirshendur kono notun novel e / When I am reading the latest novel
Hothat porte bosha abol tabole / Or when I am remembering poems from childhood
Obodhdho kobitay thumri kheyale / Listening to poetry or classical music
Slogane slogane dhaka deyale deyale / Standing beside slogan-covered walls
Salil Chowdhurir fele asha gane / In the lost songs of my youth
Chaurasia-r bashi mukhorito prane / In the exuberant flautist’s tune
Bhule jaowa himangshu dottor shure / In the obscure tunes of a forgotten composer
Shei kobekar onurodher ashore / In the famous tunes of request shows
Tomake chai, tomake chai, tomake chai, tomake chai / Its you I want, you I want, only you, nobody but you…

Prothomoto, ami tomake chai / Firstly, its you I want
Ditioto, ami tomake chai / Secondly, its you I want
Tritioto, ami tomake chai / Thirdly, its you I want
Shesh porjonto, tomake chai / Till the end of time, its only you…

And the all-pervading entity that is the subject of such wondrous longings? As Suman revealed, it’s a cigarette.

1992 was also the year when a man died. The subtleties of his music have consumed books to chronicle. I will not try to fit it in the same post where I have mentioned Nadeem-Shravan as well. Maybe some other day...
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