Monday, July 26, 2010

The Golden Age of Punjabi Pop

It was way back in 1999. Mohammed Azharuddin was back as captain of the Indian team, after the disastrous reign of Sachin. Karan Johar had made a spectacular debut in Bollywood, Himesh Reshammiya wasn't the viral sensation he was soon to become. Internet access meant dialling an always-busy number and listening Ashoke Kumar cough his way to death on the modem, to access sites like www.uthplanet.com (who promised to make the first ever crowd-sourced film imaginatively titled "Kaiko Kare Pyaar"). Star Plus was what the "in" crowd watched. And I still did not have cable access at home, for my 10th standard final exam was coming up.

It was a bright evening, the birds were chirping, and there I was, cooped up trying to disseminate the life stories of Dr. Ambedkar in three different languages (the English one written by former president Venkatraman had indelibly added "amelioration" and "eschew" to my vocabulary), when the tornado struck. It was on DD Metro of course, which, till then was playing Sonu Nigam and Anup Jalota on infinite loop, that I first saw the Musical Sensation of the New Millenium! That's right.



It featured an early Shiney Ahuja, watching in bewilderment as Sandali Sinha (then the reigning queen of indi-pop videos) emerged out of the ground, wondering when he would be able to afford her as a domestic help, and in the process, revealing to me a whole pantheon of music gods, not just from India, but also Pakistan, Kenya, the United Kingdom and Canada. While others my age were discovering the worlds of jazz, metal, rock and rap, that classic tune by Sardool Sikander uncovered the magical world of Punjabi pop for me.

You may have been a die-hard fan of Baba Sehgal, but have you experienced the magic of Baba Khan, his lookalike across the border? His iconic number, "I want to see you only" was a favourite of the babus at Prasar Bharti, and they ensured that every trailer program on DD Metro played this video of sailors dancing on the Baby Titanic at least three times in a span of half an hour.



Another all-time great of those days was Harbhajan Mann of Canada, who was such a sex symbol in those days that hot girls would brave slow dial-up internet connections to type www.harbhajanmann.com on their browsers to access streaming videos of their dream man(n), as this video evidences (it was also used in the iconic movie Papa the Great, starring Kishen Kumar, Nagma and Shatrughna Sinha).



Harbhajan, however was just one of many Manns who dominated the Bhangra scene back in the late nineties and early 2000s. Gurdas Mann, Gursewak Mann and Babu Singh Mann all achieved varying degrees of fame as well.

At this stage you must be wondering if all the best Bhangra talent is based outside India. For  those cynics, I give this classic by Surjeet Singh Bindrakhia and Atul Sharma. It features Amit, who uses his unique charm to seduce gals at a bowling alley (a phenomenon that was just taking off back then).



Yes, its true. Punjabi Pop wasn't all about those garish and tuneless Daler Mehendi. It certainly isn't about those industrially manufactured beats  of Punjabi MC or Rishi Rich, featuring Caucasian girls dancing to mind-numbing synthetic beats. It wasn't aout those Karan Joharish "Shaava Shaava, Rabba Rabba" either. The real soul of Punjabi Pop belonged to the Manns, the Baba Khans of course Jassi. I leave you with his memorable song "Channo."



Change is inevitable. Needless to say, with my TV addiction, I did not top my class. I went on to join a coaching factory, and soon got cable at home, with an avalanche of trailer channels (ETC, CVO, B4U, etc). DD Metro started its slow but painful journey to oblivion. Star Plus went all-Hindi. Azharuddin was banned. from playing cricket. Himesh began to be seen as much as he was heard. Saas-Bahu dramas started invading our drawing rooms like the mythologicals had in the mid-nineties (on Doordarshan). I went to college where everyone pretended to love heavy metal. And the DJs invaded the Punjabi Pop scene. Killing the genre forever.