Back when I still hadn't touched double digits, in the midst of summer vacations, Dad would ask during breakfast, "What are your plans for the day?" (He still does that when I go back home, if I manage to wake up in time for breakfast). Those were the days when there was no Facebook to while your time away, or Buzzfeed to tell you the ten most awesome anything - you had to keep yourself busy. If we didn't have something constructive to do that day, Dad would give us a small assignment of sorts - to either write an essay on that trip we just had, or review a book that we read during the summer, or maybe translate a story in another language. I miss those days, when my parents would ask me about that article that I had started, and I couldn't justify its incomplete state using the excuses of "work" or "lack of inspiration". In such a scenario, there won't have been a hiatus of four months between two blog posts of mine, but then I am "grown up" now, and only existential crisis can force me into action.
What prompted me to write again was something that happened today. I am sitting in a cab, cursing at the traffic, feeling guilty for running late yet again, getting annoyed at the radio advertisements, when suddenly the song "Dard Karara" is played on the radio, and now I am smiling, and nodding my head rhythmically. In a different version of the same incident, I was looking at my code in frustration, when "ye raat aur ye doori" came up on my playlist, and I started shrugging my shoulders like Aamir Khan from Andaz Apna Apna. These 90's songs seem to work like a switch, and it made me wonder why.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of songs from that era, and I am not alone. The songs from the Bollywood of the 90s are usually not very deep in meaning, have a tune that is typically desi, and have low production value. Yet there are so many like me, for whom the first rain song that comes to mind is "Tip tip barsa pani", who know the complete lyrics of "Tan tana tan, tan tan tara" and who dance with such joy on "One two ka four" that no "Bang bang" could muster. They are the ones who remember more cheeky songs of Govinda than names of rock bands, and who can watch videos of Madhuri Dixit for hours.
Of course, there are some who judge the likes of us for this affinity to 90s music. There are three categories of such people. One includes people who pretend to be cool, but in their hearts, they are like us. I remember an incident where six of us, of different levels of coolness, were traveling in a cab. As is the unspoken rule for all cabs in India, only 90s music was being played in it. We were all cribbing about the quality of the songs when a more popular number came up. Two lines into the song, almost every one of us was humming the song or mouthing the words.
Then there is the group of people who will question one’s taste in music. It is difficult to make them understand that one’s love for the 90s music and appreciation for Pink Floyd/Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan are not mutually exclusive. And that we understand the depth in Gulzar's songs as much as we love the lyrics of “Main to raste se ja raha tha”. As an article I read had rightly pointed out, people who rejoice at such songs do so for the humor, improbability and nostalgia associated with them, and not for the songs themselves.
And then there is the kind who will not roll their eyes when you sing those songs or think that you are intellectually challenged, but would urge you to explore better music. They don’t like the 90s music, period, and that’s a reasonable position to take.
So why do people like such songs despite knowing that the songs are not high on quality? I can’t say for others, but at least for the generation born in the 90s, the fondness for such music stems from it being a big part of our childhood. Most of my peers were born in the 90s, and probably the first song they ever sang was an Anu Malik number. I still have relatives who remember me by my lisping rendition of “Ye kaali kaali aankhein”, and I am sure it would be true for most of my friends.
It was also the age of innocence. Little did we know that “Sarkay lo khatiya” and “Dhak dhak karne laga” and “Husn hai suhana” and “Hothon pe bas tera naam hai” were supposed to be erotic songs. For us, they were just dance numbers or romantic songs, but watching or listening to them now opens one’s eyes to the actual context and intention behind the songs. We started liking these songs even before we could critique the taste in which they were directed, or before we could identify sexism in them.
The actors of that era also played a major role in driving our attention to those songs. Irrespective of the plot of the movie to which the song belonged, it always highlighted the idiosyncrasies of the stars involved. Whether it is Govinda’s fashion sense in “Tu mera hero no.1” or Madhuri’s moves in “Ankhiyan milaun”, Salman’s shirtless avtar in “O o jaane jana” or Juhi’s childlike charm in “Yun hi kat jaega safar”, Akshay Kumar’s lover boy in “Chura ke dil mera” or Shah Rukh’s dimpled smile from “Badi mushkil hai, khoya mera dil hai”, the way these songs were directed played on the strengths and the USPs of these actors, and contributed significantly in making them the icons they are now.
The game of Antakshari always takes you back to the 90s or earlier. Mostly, because it is too damn difficult to remember the lyrics of songs these days. Have you ever heard an antakshari game start with “Munni badnaam hui” instead of “mayi ni mayi” or “mere khwaabon mein jo aaye”? The songs were simple enough to remember and short enough to continue the game forward. Imagine singing “Badtameez dil..”. It would go “Naak mein nageena dekha, paan ka pudina dekha,… abba dabba chabba” (see what I did there?). I don’t remember having to look up the lyrics of the songs from that era, but now I have to, because I don’t understand why people are praising Banno’s sweater. It’s “swagger”, what used to be “jalwa”.
That being said, the 90s gave us some beautiful songs too, besides the aflatoon ones. “Arey re arey ye kya hua”, “Aankhon ki gustakhiyan”, “Chhoti si asha”, “Dhol bajne laga”, “Chura lo na dil mera”, “Tanha tanha yahaan pe jeena”, “Sandese aate hain”, “Urvashi urvashi”, “Jo haal dil ka, idhar ho raha hai” all belong to the same period as “Unchi hai building”. We also have some classy item songs from the time. While “Saat samundar paar” is what people remember, “Tu cheez badi hai mast mast” and “Chhaiyaan chhaiyaan” are also from the same period, and no “Baby ka birthday bash” can inspire the same zeal and fervor.
So Honey Singh can remake “Dheere dheere” or John Abraham can have a sexed up version of “Na jaane kahaan se aayi hai”, but they won’t find a place in my playlist unless they have the same earnestness or innocent naughtiness that was typical of the 90s, the era I grew up in. It was an era when we, like the music, were not judged or questioned, and while we are happy to have moved on from the period, it’s memories continue to rejuvenate us time and again.