Tag Archives: 90s

HAPPY RANDOM MARKETING OPPORTUNITY TO YOU!

(Note: This is my Hindustan Times column dated 2nd Aug 2015.)

Today we celebrate Friendship Day in India, and by ‘we’, I mean teenagers and people who watch Bindass TV un-ironically. The concept of Friendship Day was first promoted in 1930 by Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark Cards. This was followed by McDonald’s promoting Cholesterol and Self-Loathing Day. According to noted historian Mr. Wikipedia, the Friendship Day fad ended in the US by the ‘40s but much like Bryan Adams, it did well in Asia despite being dead.

The concept lived on thanks largely to the efforts of an organisation in Paraguay called – and this is true – the World Friendship Crusade, who introduced the concept of World Friendship Day in 1958. Their plan was to turn the world into a giant Black Or White music video. Maybe it’s just me, but calling it a ‘crusade’ probably wasn’t the best idea. That word stands for friendship in the same way Bombay stands for green open spaces.

A World Friendship Crusade just sounds like a bunch of savages galloping from village to village, forcing people to tie friendship bands around their wrists while singing Purani Jeans. In fact, you can make the nicest, most innocuous thing sound fierce and warlike if you add the word ‘crusade’ to it. If you want to appear extra manly, don’t tell people about your first kiss – tell them how you went on a Hormonal Tongue Crusade.

The World Friendship Crusade continued to pester lobby the United Nations until 2011, when the UN General Assembly declared 30th July to be International Friendship Day. And people wonder why nobody respects the UN. It’s hard to, when you see them spending time on a concept that’s already covered by the most competent authority of all – Bollywood.

Bollywood is the place that first taught us that ‘ek ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahin ho sakte’ unless the ladka and ladki are actors being interviewed by people whose idea of journalism is ‘tell na who u making sexytime with’. Classic Bollywood is how I learnt to make friends, especially with the opposite sex. The basic procedure went like this:

  1. Be the college stud.
  2. Wear jeans, jean jackets, jean shirts and jean banyans.
  3. Spot the new admission. She’ll be the pretty one in a frock that looks like a Monginis cake threw up on her.
  4. Make a move only to get rejected because The Song hasn’t happened yet.
  5. Chase her around with your mawaali friends while singing about her nakhra, which is all just code for ‘Y U NO LET ME TOUCH’
  6. The girl smiles and eventually gives in to the creepy denim gorilla.
  7. Stockholm Syndrome complete.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad. There were other lessons I learnt i.e. celebrate Friendship Day by losing to your tomboy friend at basketball and then marrying her when she gets hot.

It was pop culture like this that led to students cutting up perfectly good ribbons and turning them into friendship bands. When I say students, I mostly mean girls, who expressed love with meticulously crafted bands and handmade cards involving six types of glitter. Meanwhile, the boys stabbed each other with dividers.

This isn’t to say that boys aren’t civilised. As a kid, I once handed over a card to a guy friend on Friendship Day. It wasn’t handmade because that would be weird and as an ode to our manliness, it featured a commode and some pun about poop. Who’s immature now, huh??

Friendships work differently now, especially in frenetic, stressed-out cities like Mumbai. The older you get, the harder it becomes to make friends, mostly because there’s no time and everyone thinks everyone else is weird. The loneliness eventually leads people to take extreme steps, like arranged marriage.

You do end up accumulating a lot of acquaintances though. It’s easy to mix the two up, but an acquaintance is someone you bump into at bars and make small talk about football with, whereas a friend is someone you can get embarrassingly drunk around, trusting him or her to not turn your stupidity into a viral video. Consider yourself lucky if you have more than a handful of these around. Keep in touch and if you’re feeling extra nice, grab yourself a divider.

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BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM I WANT YOU IN MY CITY!

As anyone who has ever attended a gig in Bombay will tell you, we are the number one destination for international musical artistes who have been classified by other countries as “clinically dead”. For example, at one point, you didn’t know if Bryan Adams was coming to India to perform or to reincarnate.

The latest on the coffin tour is the ‘90s electro-pop sensation Vengaboys, who will be performing in Mumbai, Goa and Chennai in May. The shows are expected to go off smoothly, mainly because their name is Vengaboys and not Jerry Seinfeld. But on the flipside, the Mumbai venue is – and I kid you not – a mall in Kurla. Yup, a band that was one of the most popular acts on the planet at one point is going to be playing venues that even DJ Suketu would spit at.

It’s so sad that we live in a place with 25 percent entertainment tax, 14 percent service tax, a licensing regime that is basically The Hunger Games but less compassionate, and yet, Kurla is the worst thing that could happen to you. Ah well, I suppose it could be worse. The government could ask the organisers to squeeze in a Lezim-and-Musical-Chairs act in the middle of the show.

The Vengaboys have performed in India before, back in 2001, when their fans hadn’t yet been afflicted with conditions like Male Pattern Baldness, or Babies. They had a spot of bad luck back then too, when their Guwahati show had to be cancelled so as to keep “in tune with local sentiments”, which is just another way of saying that some angry people thought their music would inspire copious amounts of sexytime. That’s ridiculous because in the 90s, there were way more people who hooked up after whacking dandiyas to ‘Pari Hoon Main’ (thereby completely ignoring all the lyrics).

But it’s not difficult to see why the moral brigade would have a problem with some of their songs. I mean one of their biggest hits is named after Thailand’s number one export. It’s weird to think about now, but I remember kids, including me, listening to Boom Boom Boom, completely oblivious of the sexuality blasting out of those old truck-sized “hi-fi” speakers. This is what those deep, metaphorical lyrics went like:

Boom boom boom boom

I want you in my room

Let’s spend the night together

From now until forever

Boom boom boom boom

I wanna double boom

The good thing about those days was that nobody overthought this kind of stuff. Or if they did, we didn’t have to hear about it. We danced, enjoyed and got over all of this without having to read grave op-eds about how Boom Boom Boom is either:

a) A misogynistic song that promotes objectification and patriarchy, and is the worst thing to happen to women since stilettos

OR

b) A feminist anthem where a woman fearlessly expresses her desires, while deliberately keeping the identity of the lover non-specific, so as to encompass all races, sexualities and body types.

But now, I imagine the Vengaboys would end up having to justify themselves to everyone with a smidgen of authority and/or access to the internet. I’m not sure what they’ll say, but the following culturally-approved explanation might help:

Boom boom boom boom

(Sound of dholak beats for cultural reasons)

I want you in my room

(Because good boys and girls don’t go outside at night…)

Let’s spend the night together

(… and also because you missed the last local, so sleep over, but on separate mattresses)

From now until forever

(Signifying commitment, because flings are for white people)

Boom boom boom boom

(More dholak to drive away impure thoughts)

I wanna double boom

(I want two kids.)

Dear Vengaboys, if you’re reading this, first up, thanks for teaching me that you can make an entire song with just one word i.e. BRA-ZEEEEEEL. And secondly, feel free to use the culturally-approved subtext above. I ask for nothing in return. I mean I would’ve asked for a free pass to the gig, but um, it’s in Kurla.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 12th Nov 2015.)

Could This Headline BE More Obvious?

Twenty years ago, the world watched its first episode of Friends, and given the rerun cycle in India, I’m sure my grandkids will end up watching it on their deathbeds, getting nostalgic about a world without nuclear winter. Friends is said to be responsible for the rise of everything from a certain haircut to coffee sales to awkward guys using sarcasm as a defence mechanism because clearly, that’s all we do all the time for no reason.

Friends hit Indian shores when I was about fifteen and I could tell it was something big because it was the only thing that made us stop our cricket game and rush home to huddle in front of the TV. (NOTE TO YOUNGER READERS: A TV is sort of like a physical Youtube, except someone else is in charge of the playlist and you don’t get to leave nasty comments about people’s mothers.)

Back then, we had no real idea about the stuff they were talking about – being on a break means nothing when the only girlfriend you’ve ever had is a Kate Winslet poster – but we lapped it up because it was our first proper pop-culture look at adults in America. It was like Archie featuring yuppies, it was three-big-laughs-a-minute and honestly, if someone from my generation tells me they didn’t like it, my brain automatically classifies them as horrible people, like serial killers or MBAs.

In fact, I’m sure that even the most despicable, blood-thirsty bastards on the planet are fans of the Central Perk gang. This must’ve happened at ISIS camps at some point:

Terrorist 1: … And then, Rashid here was like, “Boss, I forget to carry detonator.”

Terrorist 2: Hahaha, you pulled a Monica!

Terrorist 3: (spots a girl in black) How youuu doin’?

*awkward looks all around*

Terrorist 1: Dude, that’s a curtain.

Friends helped an entire generation of people discover themselves, which is just another way of saying that everyone thought they were Chandler Bing. I was convinced I was Chandler because of my tendency to make bad jokes while gradually putting on weight, which, if you think about it, is a pretty generic brief. Nobody ever thought that they were Ross, because that’s the kind of realisation that would drive a man to three divorces. As for Joey, I didn’t even think such people existed, but then I started working in the entertainment industry and long story short, you can shoot a Joey spinoff in any gym between Bandra and Andheri.

But the biggest validation for Bright, Kaufmann and Crane has to be the fact that we ripped off their show to create something called – the subtlety will blow your mind – Hello Friends. It featured Nikhil Chinappa, Maria Goretti, Cyrus Broacha and Mandira Bedi, because I guess VJ Shehnaz was busy digging her way out of the cardboard and glitter avalanche that was MTV Most Wanted.

Hello Friends was pretty much like the original, if you removed all the funny bits. One difference was that desi Ross did not have a lesbian wife – he was just a regular divorcee. This was because lesbians did not exist in India in 1999. We only imported them later when we realised that we had way too many plaid shirts and not enough people to wear them.

Friends faced the same criticism a lot of sitcoms face – “It’s so unreal”, “How can they afford that apartment?”, “Can I get the number of Phoebe’s dealer?” – but nobody really cared because the other stuff made up for it. Sure, the theme song sounds less saccharine and more realistic now – I’ll Be There For Youuuu (Until I Get Married Or Move Cities And We Lose Touch Because That Kinda Thing Happens Watchu Gonna Do About It).

But the rest of it feels real enough, especially once you’ve started living on your own: Having people whose fridges you can raid, no questions asked, hearing them out after their sixteenth break-up with the same person and then getting drunk because that’s as good a reason as any, having people come over with soup when you’re sick and being as exclusionist about your group as those six were, and believing that a Chandler-Monica romance is possible because she’s not obese anymore.

I recently came across a photo of the grey and saggy Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc hugging at an award function, and all I could think was, “Goddamn dust allergy, making me sniffle.” So I know that if a Friends reunion ever happens, I’d be the first to drop everything and watch, all the while thinking, “Could I BE more senti?”

(Note: This is my HT column dated 21st Sep, 2014.)

The Man In The Mirror Sucks At Pelvic Thrusts

This week was the 56th birth anniversary of Michael Jackson who, even in death, has the power to make fans and plastic surgeons weep with joy. Even if you haven’t heard his music in a while, all it takes is one Youtube search for the foot-tapping to begin. Twenty seconds into the first result, the humming starts and by the end of it, you’re pelvic-thrusting all over the room even though you have a column deadline but you’re humping the air like you just don’t care aaaaaaand now you have a hernia.

I was never much of a dancer, but if there’s one person that made me try, it was the man that my mother once described as “Who’s that girl in the baniyan?” It was his music that made it okay for ten-year-old me to look like an idiot on the dance floor floor – a responsibility that has since been taken over by Mr. Whisky. In fact, Thriller was the first cassette I ever bought and it was one of the most fun things I’d ever heard, even thought it featured a boring duet titled ‘The Girl Is Mine’ with some random guy called Paul McCartney.

(NOTE TO YOUNG READERS: In case you’re wondering, a cassette was kinda like a malnourished iPod.)

The fandom was amplified many times over the by the fact that I was there during Michael Jackson’s first and only India concert. When I say ‘there’, I mean ‘in the same city with no chance of attending the show’ because if I’d asked to go, my parents would’ve just laughed and then sold me off to pay for the tickets, which were priced at Rs. AUKAAT MEIN REH, YOU ARE A MIDDLE-CLASS PERSON IN THE ‘90s only.

But it felt like I was at Michael’s side every step of the way, because every news outlet went into overdrive. Seriously, this is what the headlines looked like:

MICHAEL JACKSON MOONWALKS INTO MUMBAI AIRPORT! SIX FANS DIE OF EXCITEMENT!

MICHAEL JACKSON CLEARS CUSTOMS! CUSTOMS OFFICER MAKES THAT HEART SIGN WITH HIS HANDS!

MICHAEL JACKSON STOPS TO PLAY WITH KIDS IN DHARAVI! EVERYONE ACTS COOL EVEN THOUGH THEY’RE ALL THINKING ABOUT THOSE ALLEGATIONS.

MICHAEL JACKSON USES THE TOILET AT THE THACKERAY RESIDENCE! NOT GONNA MAKE A JOKE ABOUT IT BECAUSE I LIKE MY LIFE.

The hysteria was understandable because a) he was literally the biggest superstar to have enjoyed Bombay’s potholes and b) this was a time when not too many international artistes came here, as opposed to today, where if you throw a rock, it’d probably hit some EDM star on the head, distracting him from hitting ‘Play’ on his laptop.

Michael Jackson left behind a very important legacy in India, i.e. he became the default western look for everybody on Boogie Woogie. All of those acts went down great with the judges, especially Ravi Behl who described everything as “Boo!” I don’t think his contract allowed him to say anything else. Basically, Ravi Behl was the Hodor of Boogie Woogie.

It’s also weird that for all our MJ lovin’, we were quite clueless about his lyrics. For example, this is how most Indian people sang his songs:

KhaegheoihMEsschaskjdjshdME

Suhaedhsjdbsdgsd sdhjshdkjksdh

Zdhsjdhsdiushsd dfushdh sdjsdj

ALL I WANT TO SAY IS THAT

THEY DONT REALLY CARE ABOUT US!

Thankfully, Anu Malik came to our rescue like a musical Robin Hood, and while keeping the beat intact, replaced those lyrics with the much more comprehensible NEELA DUPATTA PEELA SUIT. I’m sure that’s what really killed Michael Jackson.

He still lives on though, in people like Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars and also Chiranjeevi, whose Telugu rip-off of the Thriller video may have fueled the demand for a separate state. But most importantly, Michael Jackson lives on in every kid who is still discovering his moves, and in every adult who is currently grabbing his crotch while also typing this.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 31st Aug 2014.)

My Big Fat Indian Wedding Video

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, aka shaadi on steroids. It’s been twenty years since the film premiered at Mumbai’s Liberty cinema and for all I know, is still going on.

So much has changed since 1994: Madhuri Dixit skated off all the way to the States, Salman married a bottle of vodka, and Alok Nath turned into a meme and even made a Twitter account (after he figured out how to un-glue his hands from their permanent namaste position). But HAHK firmly occupies a place in our hearts, like cholesterol, so even now, it has the power to make us look back and wonder, “What the hell was everyone huffing back then?”

Sooraj Barjatya has gone on record to say that his goal with HAHK was to make the audience feel like they’d come to visit a large joint family that was preparing for a wedding. Of course, by ‘family’, he meant ‘people who act so sweet that they appear deranged’. Seriously, they were like the sanskari version of the Addams family. In keeping with the theme of annoyance, even the dog they got was a Pomeranian. That breed is like the KRK of the canine world. (Fun fact: They say that Tuffy was so soft and white that Bhai once tried to snort him.)

But jokes aside, I still watch a bit of the movie whenever it’s on TV. I especially like the song that goes ‘Yeh mausam ka jadoo hai mitwa’, because that’s the only time you’ll see people singing and dancing happily, not caring about the fact that Salman is driving a motor vehicle in their immediate vicinity. It’s so weird to watch the scene where he goes to pick up Madhuri in his Gypsy and says, “Aaj pehli baar ek ladki meri gaadi ki front seat pe baithi hai.” You can almost hear Madhuri thinking, “Take the hint, bro. Take the goddamn hint.”

Hum Aapke Hain Kaun is said to have revolutionised ‘90s Bollywood, mostly because it did not feature Shakti Kapoor drooling over things. This was a time when action films were the norm, so it was refreshing to see a film where the villain was a staircase. (The only other remotely negative character was played by Bindu, who you might remember as The Vamp That Is Not Aroona Irani.)

One of my favourite parts from the film is the bit where MF Husain watched it and became besotted with Madhuri Dixit. This was front page news back in the day, with the artist claiming that he’d watched the movie some 85 times, just for Madhuri. Or maybe that’s how many times you need to watch it for all the characters to register.

After this, he made Madhuri his muse and gifted her a bunch of her portraits, which just proves that it’s okay to be creepy as long as you’re a famous intellectual. It would never work otherwise. I mean I’d love to land up at Deepika Padukone’s door and go, “Hey, I’ve watched your film 384 times – here’s a stick figure drawing I made of you. Wanna frendz?” I’d get kicked out quicker than Sajid Khan at his next pitch meeting.

For all its legendary success, HAHK seems pretty irrelevant to today’s generation. Unlike Mohnish Behl and Renuka Shahane in the film, nobody just magically falls in love and agrees to marry someone their parents picked out like half an hour ago. Nope, not unless they’re lonely and past a certain age and all their friends have gotten married, so they convince themselves to settle because at least they’ll get a kickass FB album out of it.

But here’s the thing. If you’re in your late teens, HAHK is still relevant to you, because it apparently influenced the Indian wedding scene in a huge way. So it’s possible that you were created because the movie inspired your then single parents to hook up and do some dhiktana. It could’ve been worse. They could’ve named you Tuffy.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 10th Aug 2014.)

Warning: Objects In Rear-View Mirror May Be Rubbish

Welcome to 2013. Or as a common reaction to the new year goes, “ZOMG IT’S 2013 ALREADY?? WHERE DID THE TIME GO? What am I doing with my life? Why haven’t I accomplished last year’s goal of sleeping on a bed of money, or of strapping on a jetpack and flying to my job as Freelance Jetpack Flyer?”

We react like this every year, as if time did something totally unexpected – like it was supposed to give us a foot massage instead. The panic is understandable. After all, my generation has seen Sachin retire, that kid from Home Alone is now thirty-two, and apparently a heroin addict, and our birth dates are closer to the ’62 Sino-Indian war, the Cuban missile crisis and the moon landing, than they are to the iPhone 5.

At this point, it’s easy to fall into the nostalgia trap, and reminisce about how much easier and nicer the world was in the 80s and 90s. And it really was, if you were Michael Jackson or Saddam Hussein.

But otherwise, nostalgia is overrated, especially if you grew up in India. Our GDP was about sixteen rupees, tucked away safely under Pranab Mukherjee’s monkey cap. Yes, things were cheaper – petrol was 2 bucks for a 100 litres – but what was the point? You could still only use it in a Premier Padmini, which was basically a chunk of metal held together with rust and hope, that could hit a top speed of forty-seven kilometres per hour if thrown off a cliff.

We also complain about how smartphones have made us detached and distracted, and that we can’t go two seconds without – oh look, a potato that looks like Arnab LOLZ SHARE PIC! Um, so like I was saying, no lament on the modern era is complete without a yearning for the good ol’ days, when placing an STD call meant taking three months off from work, plus an additional two weeks for therapy. And that was just to get a connection.

Then you dialled the number and approximately four years later, were connected to a system powered by an asthmatic rat on a hamster wheel. It was quicker to just take a train and visit whoever you wanted to call. The internet came in much later, and despite its basic, tedious form, was still pretty amazing. Those early days are the reason why so many men still get turned on at the sight of a pixelated hourglass and the word ‘buffering’.

I also don’t get people who romanticise train journeys. Yes, a lot of us took trains back in the day, because our flight options were limited to ‘expensive’, ‘more expensive’ and ‘Air India: We’ll fly you back in time’. But now, why would you willingly spend 20-odd hours in a confined space with chatty old people, kids who’ve just discovered their vocal cords, and newlyweds trying to suck face amidst this chaos? Also, why should I use train toilets when I can experience the same fun by asking homeless men to rub themselves all over me?

Then there was the phase that Bollywood went through in the 80s and 90s, described by film historians as “OH GOD WTF MY EYES MY EYES!” Every film had pretty much the same story: Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, she’s filthy rich, while his dinner is a pinch of salt extracted from his mother’s tears, the two fall in love, Goga Kapoor makes crazy eyes, and then, because this is a wholesome family film, Shakti Kapoor walks in and rapes whoever is available, after which Alok Nath dies.

We watched this tripe only because we had no other option. You could’ve put Amitabh Bachchan in a ballerina outfit and made him sing out Das Kapital in the original German, and we would still have lapped it up. (It would also have been less embarrassing than Lal Baadshah)

Even society seems slightly better now. All around me, I see people ignoring norms, bucking the trend and forging their own paths – like Indian traffic, minus the rage. Careers that didn’t exist ten years ago are now considered mainstream. (Although ‘Social Media Evangelist’ is not a real job. It’s like saying ‘Pixie Sandal Washer’, or ‘Entertainment Journalist’) I see more openly gay people around, and if there’s enough alcohol, I see some bisexual women too. All in all, it isn’t a bad time to be alive. Now can we please get started on those jetpacks?

(Note: This is my HT column dated 6th Jan 2013)