Art & Culture

Punjabi pop artists today fail to match the charm of the '90s Indi-pop

Devika Sharma
Devika SharmaOct 14, 2017 | 11:06

Punjabi pop artists today fail to match the charm of the '90s Indi-pop

There was something suave about this man sitting on top of a pyramid, strumming his guitar and singing to his lover in his soulful voice - "O Sanam, Teri Yaadon ki Kasam".

Lucky Ali's unconventional voice is sheer magic. His songs are infused with a beautiful sense of calm, asking us to stop every once in a while and absorb all that's around us. There has not been another Lucky Ali, and perhaps will never be. The song bagged him the Best Pop Vocalist Award at the Channel V Viewers Awards in 1997. It was a feat in itself to be recognised as an individual artist and not a playback singer.


Artistes such as Lucky Ali defined the era of Indipop in the 1990s. Music in that decade went beyond beautiful locales and elaborate dance sequences. Pop music in India came of age with the emergence of artists such as Alisha Chinai, Ustad Sultan Khan, Anamika, Baba Sehgal, Lucky Ali, Bally Sagoo, Aryans, and Leslie Lewis.

The entry of channels such as MTV and Channel V which broadcast music by international artists and bands paved way for India's own breed of pop artists. Ricky Martin played on our minds with Livin' La Vida Loca and before we realised, the song became our anthem. His presence on the TV screen would light up my tiny eyes. Here was a singer who could fill the room with his vivacity. He was a sex symbol back at a time when I didn't even know such an expression existed.


The entry of MTV into Indian homes started with the boom of satellite television in 1991. It captured the minds and imagination. It was a strong cultural force that had a visible impact on music, visual style and culture. MTV is considered concomitant with global cultural homogenisation and the spread of a rebellious youth culture. However, these channels conveyed the idea of "modernity" in a vernacular way. They broadcasted Hindi music, made Indian VJs who spoke in accented English the faces of the channel and designed content which was extremely glocal in nature.


Interestingly, MTV, during its first stint in India, starting 1991, didn't "Indianise" its programming content. With the end of its contract with Star TV in 1994, it exited temporarily, and Channel V made an entry in India. This new channel was similar to MTV, with one key difference: It did not look and feel like a foreign import. Unlike MTV which primarily played music by international artists, Channel V did not just have hip hop and grunge but also Indipop and Bollywood music, and VJs who talked to the audiences in their language. The channel was more Indian than MTV ever was. The format worked brilliantly, so much so that MTV adopted the same hybrid approach when it returned to Indian television in 1996.

MTV and Channel V constantly competed to gain the trust and viewership of Indian audiences. Interestingly, Channel V tied up with music company, BMG-Crescendo, to launch the video of Silk Route's most famous song, "Dooba". But, MTV outplayed them to launch it first and later denied any information about the contract. Today, very few remember the controversy, but all of us remember the song and the video, which was probably India's first video shot underwater. Catchy lyrics, melodious voices, charming music and of course the brilliant picturisation of the music videos swayed everyone.



We all remember Sonu Nigam grooving on "bijuria" with leather jacketed gang of boys. Then Bally Sagoo with his popular song "Gud Naal Ishq Mitha" where he is trying to get his traditional Indian family to accept an American bride (played by Malaika Arora), Phalguni Pathak's Maine Payal hai Chankayi made us want to have our puppet show, Pankaj Udhas' Aur Ahista made girls swoon over the cute dimpled English boy and Ustad Sultan Khan's Piya Basanti Re made us want to fall in the kind of love that beats all odds. Many other gems such as "Janam Samjha Karo" by Asha Bhosle, "Tere Mere Saath" by Lucky Ali, "Aur Ahista kije baatein" by Pankaj Udaas, continue making a lot of us croon to their sweet melody.

These videos made us feel a host of emotions and want to live the lives of these beautiful characters. For the first time, Alisha Chinoy's Made in India led to objectification of the male body in the form of one of India's hottest discovery, Milind Soman. It was a break from the norm where a man became subjected to female gaze. These videos gave all hormonal teenagers a way to deal with life's usual struggles - to sing about them.

Back then, non-film music had meaning and purpose. It often broke social and political norms besides just musical ones. In the video for Falguni Pathak's "Meri Chunar Udd Udd Jaaye", a young girl confined inside her aunt's house finds a painting of an ethereal damsel, who comes to life and shows her how to let go. An article published in India Today in 2002 stated that the video of the song "caused a heat wave in the lesbian community". It quoted Lajja Kamath, a collegian who said, "Her song inspired me to come out."

Pop music vanished, almost like a fad. A lot could be blamed for its slow demise. The Daler Mehendis and the Baba Sehgals churned out CDs and cassettes with committed regularity, and while they were on-boarded by big labels, they had no relation whatsoever with the film music industry.

However, gradually Indi got into an adulterous relationship with conventional Bollywood music, and started losing its unique appeal. Independent acts such as Raghu Dixit and Indian Ocean continue to do well even today largely because they make money off concerts rather than album sales. What we have today are Punjabi pop artists such as Honey Singh, Raftaar and Badshah. These artists have got swag, the dream car, a girl and loads of bling, but nothing manages to charm like the Indipop music of the 1990s.

Last updated: November 10, 2017 | 14:18
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