Thank you, 90’s Bollywood hits

No, really! Thank you to the toe tapping numbers of the 90’s Bollywood hits, the item numbers as we used to call them. I have loved listening to them in my 20’s on my cassette tapes, hated them being blared out of big speakers from puja pandals during Durga Puja, loved them again when I set up my new life here in United States and brought my cassette tapes with me. Then the songs got transferred to music cds which my baba bought for me and I packed them in my suitcase when I came back after a visit home. Now I listen to them on Spotify. They are a connection to my wild and crazy (not) teens and twenties. The lyrics don’t touch one’s soul or evoke any deep feelings, at least in my opinion. You don’t drown in the soul stirring music – at least the songs I listen to. Tagore’s songs are like a gentle salve for my soul, I listen to them when I want peace. The dhamakedar (upbeat) Bollywood songs that I like to listen to are energetic, often meaningless, and most importantly, catchy. They make your feet tap and even me, someone born with two left feet, wants to sway my hips to the beat.

I wrote in a previous blog that I have started going to the gym for mental health (and also since 4 people asked me if I was pregnant). The 90’s Bollywood hits are the reason I look forward to sweating it out on the elliptical – sometimes for an hour. I lovingly pack my headphones and phone as I get ready for gym. If I ever forgot either of those, I will truly turn around and come back home. Bottom line – I go to gym to listen to music uninterrupted for an hour and a half. The work out, my friends, is secondary.

And when songs from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge come on, or those from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, I pump the pedals to the beat. My pace goes up and boy, am I in the zone!

I wiped sweat from my eyes today, huffing and puffing at the elliptical and wondered why I enjoy this mindless music so much when I work out. I have tried music of Kabir Suman or Rabindrasangeet but they don’t quite get me through the pain. Hindi music, that too peppy numbers of the 90’s and early 2000’s, get the job done. As I listen to the same songs everyday and sing along quietly, I remember the memories associated with them. The memories of sitting with my mother or friends in the dark cinema hall, the thin, elderly ushers showing us our seat, the musty smell of the carpet in cinema halls like Priya or Ujjala or Nabina or Aleya.

In fact, the excitement of going to the movie theater started with the mini bus ride to the cinema hall when I was younger. Ma held my hand tightly as we got off the bus and stood in line to get tickets. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that ma, sometimes, even bought tickets from blackers (folks who sold tickets of a sold out show in black market for an elevated price) and I asked her hopefully “Did you get it?” We made the trip from home to the cinema hall in the blistering heat of Kolkata and we were determined not to go home without seeing the show. After the movie, there was always some lip smacking treats like the famous Ujjala’s chanachur, or phuchka or vegetable chop before the bus ride home. The music of those movies stayed on in my memory even if the stories didn’t. And today, many decades later, they still make me groove. Who remembers the huge posters of the actors and actresses that were actually drawn and painted by artists and posted up on the cinema halls and bill boards? Do they have those anymore?

I must have been a teenager when I saw an actress wearing a certain design of a salwar kameez and fell in love with it. I wanted to wear a kameez of the same design! So I cut out the photo of the heroine, Rati Agnihotri (if any of you remember her), from a film magazine and took it to our local tailor.

“Dada, I want my kameez made in this style.”

He took the cut out from my hand and looked at it intensely. He then looked up at me and slowly let his gaze slide down my skinny body. It sounds sexual but it was not. In fact it was the complete opposite. His glance was clinical and devoid of any emotions, He was appraising a body and wondering if his artwork will be worthwhile. Can the skinny frame of a young girl do his masterpiece justice? He then pointed to the voluptuous curves of the actress and looked at my figure that was pretty much a straight line. That glance was enough to convey his message – the cut is not going to look good on me as it looked on Rati Agnihotri. I had him make the kameez anyway. And he was right. The design was completely wasted on me. 🙂

Anyway, back to the songs. They bring back a lot of memories. And here is the thing though. I only remember the happy memories. I don’t remember the unbearable heat, the sweat, the smell, the mosquito bites, the scolding that I received for misbehaving. I remember when I hear these songs – ma, friends, friendships, Kolkata evenings, delicious street food, romance, beating heart as I thought of my boyfriend as I listened to Shahrukh Khan romancing Kajol via songs. And now those same songs are seeing me through pain. So thank you, 90’s Bollywood hits. You rock!


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