1. Dheere Dheere Se
Aashiqui (1990) is the granddaddy of all 90s musicals. This one set the trend, bringing together a dream team of 90s romanticism, Kumar Sanu, Anuradha Paudwal, Gulshan Kumar, Nadeem-Shravan, and there was so much “luwe” here that one of the team (allegedly) took out a supari on another and then ran away to England, but then isnt that what happens to love anyways, once you start farting in bed together.
But I am getting ahead of myself here.
The Aashiqui album is like the Australian team of the late 90s, every song is a match-winner, but for me, the absolute Adam Gilchrist is “Dheere Dheere Se”. It edges out “Tu Meri Zindagi Hai” perhaps because of Rahul Roy’s speedos, but mostly because of the duality of the song—it is about as much as the chemistry between workout-bros Deepak Tijori and Rahul Roy as it is between the Roy and the Agarwal.
Things of course would never stay this pure. Under the pressure of my future, Anu Agarwal would be replaced in my mind by Physics problems from an IIT coaching brand with the same last name. The Roy would go on to join Big Boss and later the party under Big Boss. Honey Singh, the Sauron of good music, would do to this song what the Taliban did to the Bamiyan Buddhas, and Shakti Kapoor’s daughter would reboot the Aashiqui franchise.
But for now, just listen, enjoy, and contemplate on what could have been.
2. Tum Hi Hamari Manzil My Love
Yaara Dildara (1991) brought together another dream team of the 90s, Udit Narayan and Jatin Lalit, and while the film mostly sank without a trace, its music could not pass unnoticed. “Bin Tere Sanam” is the most famous song from this film, one that many have heard but don’t know which film it is from, but “Tum Hi Hamari” is my favorite of the two, by far, not just because it has Aasif Sheikh in a cowboy hat and carrying a rake, but because of that gentle drop of melancholia that soaks through, the one that hits home on rum-drenched evenings, the sadness of not getting to our “manzil”-s. Aasif Sheikh would go from hero roles to villain side-kick, mostly remembered for Karan Arjun, and then to TV, and Jatin Pandit, the Jatin of Jatin Lalit, would go from the heights of fame to entreating a half-interested crowd at Banga Sammelan Houston to get their cholesterol and BP tested, as a powerpoint presentation played behind him to remind the crowd of what he had done.
Seeing him that day brought a lump to my throat. As does this song.
3. Ho Jata Hai Kaise Pyaar
I know, I might be in a club of one, but for me, this IS the song of the 90s. Yalgaar is a legendary film, with Mukesh Khanna, of Bheesma and Shaktimaan fame, playing the father of Feroz Khan, a casting decision that rivals the twist at the end of Usual Suspects. The song that became famous from Yalgaar was “Aakhir Tumhe Aana Hai Zyada Der Laagegi” primarily because of Nagma’s sensuous writhings in a purple sari that would then go on to provide the uniform of Kolkata Knight Riders, but I have never found that to be particularly romantic, more a song for constipated mornings when you want to tell your gut that “you will come, I know, it is just taking some time.”
Not that I didn’t rewind the VCR from time to time when Nagma pranced on to the screen, that I will accept.
After all I am a Dada fan. What can I do?
What however went criminally un-noticed in Yalgaar was “Ho Jata Hai Kaise Pyar”. One reason for loving this song is Manisha Koirala, and what I want written on my gravestone, is that she once stood besides me bargaining for shoes, this was during the shoot of “Saudagaar” in Manali, but really it is the tune, oh this tune, the kind that makes Danny Morrison says “Put your dancing shoes on”, even for the world-weary tired traveler like me.
The dance steps from the lead are amazing, and no one remembers who his name is (IMDB tells me Vicky Arora), and there are other gems scattered throughout, one hand movement that stands out, the random friend of Manisha on whom the camera lingers for no good reason, and the fact that they would use exactly this same locale to shoot “Dheere dheere nazar laadne de” from Pehchaan.
Don’t judge me. This is the best.
4. Saat Samundar Paar
No song list of the times can be complete without at least one entry from Divya Bharti.
Divya Bharti. The Maryln Monroe of the 90s. Ethereally beautiful and tragically gone.
As a matter of fact, I could fill my mix tape with just Divya Bharti songs. The gentle pain of “Tujhe na dekhoon to Chain” from Rang. The beats of “Ho Abhi To Hui Jawaan” from Dil Aashna Hain. Anything from Dil Ka Kya Kasoor.
But then how can I not have “Saat Samundar Paar” from Vishwatma? How can I not? How can I not have a song whose lyrics contain “Tu upaar na aaya toh main khud he neeche aa gayee”, the meaning of which I would like to think I have not understood till now? How can I not have a song which forms such a vital part of a pivotal scene in my novel “Sultan of Delhi: Ascension?”
How can I not?
5. Abhi Zinda Hoon
This is not song.
It is whisky-sozzled liquid angst. Of life, love and that which shall never come to be.
“Abhi Zinda Hoon” from the eminently forgettable Najayaaz, is a song that I have come to appreciate the older I have become, the kind that hits hard when you have had a bad day at work, when you just want to loosen your tie, drink straight from the bottle and tell the world “Mujhe tukdo mein naheen jeena hai”.
For those millennials, who make fun of Kumar Sanu and worship at the shrine of the guy who swears at the mic (you know who I am talking about), wait for another twenty years, listen to this, and come back.
6. Sanam Oh Sanam Aise Hi Pyar Karte Rahena
For those who have read my blog since 2004, you knew, didn’t you, that a Shilpa Shirodhkar song is coming up?
But did you think it would be this, one of the very rare ones where not even a drop of rain falls on her?
Why do I just love this song? The copied sequence of the noodles from Hot Shot? Saif Ali Khan walking with an egg on a spoon? Sunil Shetty trying to act? Sunil Shetty doing a jig? Pigeons? Avtar Gill?
It is just that perfect cocktail of romance, melody, melancholia and the 90s.
7. Chand Se Parda Ki Jiye
Many reasons why this makes my list. For one the melody. For two, the lyrics “Paalke jo jhunki kaheen jhuk jaaye asmaan.”
And did I forget anything?
Oh yes. I sung this for a girl in college.
Years and kilos later, while in Calcutta on one of my visits, my uber driver, out of nowhere, started playing this.
I told him I loved the song.
All he said was “They don’t make them like this any more.”
I gave him a 5 star rating.
8. Main Tujhe Chhod Ke Kahaan
Once you get over the uncomfortable spelling of “Chhod” in the video title, (Main Tujhe Chod Ke Kahaan Jayoonga) and the fact that I have bowled a doosra by including a song from a Shilpa Shirodhkar movie that does not have her in it, you would realize this is yet another classic 90s Kumar Sanu song. In Trinetra, this song comes thrice–once sung by Dharmendra which starts with Bye Bye but Kumar Sanu pronounces it as Baah Baah Baah Baah, which gives that rendition a certain goaty as opposed to a throaty feel, once sung here by Prabhuji (the best one) and the third a distinctive trippy fast version, in which Amrish Puri plays an ash-faced tantrik monster.
In the movie, Dharmendra is a reality show singing aspirant who goes to sing in front of Amrish Puri, and if anything that “Dance Dance” had taught us, is that bad things happen to those who perform songs in front of Amrish Puri. So after he sings “Main tujhe”, Dharmendra never comes back, and bad things happen to his wife Deepa Sahi, and pretty much everything goes into the shit basket.
Given the context of the film, this song is actually one of farewell and forgetting, though not immediately obvious from the lyrics. As a result, I have always found this plays well into a sensation of nostalgic melancholia, as you remember the past, with some fondness and with some regret, sitting with your glass and then toss your head back on the couch, of things that you once loved which will never come back.
9. Baadalon Mein Chup Raha Chand Kyon
Between Pooja Bhatt songs from the 90s, and she has quite a few lovely ones, the battle is between songs from “Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayi” and “Sir,” and the only reason “Sir” loses is that for a Bengali like me, a song which goes “Yeh Ujli Chandni Jab Hasratoon Ko Gudgudaayegi”, cannot just be listened to without breaking into giggles at the…you know what I am talking about.
Phir Teri Kahaani Yaadi Aayi is one of the strongest albums of the 90s, Anu Malik’s, the same man who also gave us “Baarish ho raha hai, it is raining raining, Mera Dil Ro Raha Hain, it is paining paining”, best work.
Yet another attempt by Mahesh Bhatt to monetize his life experiences, oh sorry, capture in art his own pain, the movie made for Zee sank without a trace, but the songs have attained a kind of timeless immortality.
Pick any. One is as good as the other.
10. In The Night No Control
Before Akshay Kumar became Padman and a new age Manoj Kumar, he was dancing-in-skimpy-chaddis Khiladi Kumar moving from heroine to heroine with the regularity of Delhi Daredevils reconstituting their team, his alleged activities gracing the inside gossip pages of Stardust and Filmfare, those that I would read religiously at my hair cutting saloon while going on Sunday to maximize my wait time.
And then there was Madam Rekha.
By the 90s came along, the most fascinating Rekha had jettisoned her “traditional good Hindi heroine” image to play a slew of edgy, sexually confident characters, coming to a culmination in “Khiladiyon Ki Khiladi”‘s “In the Night No Control”, in all its mud-wrestling, clothes-ripping, and showering-together glory.
This song is epic, blowing out of the water more traditional 90s fare like “Dekha Teri Mast Nigahon Mein” from Khiladi. Borrowing liberally from multiple sources without attribution, whether it be sequences from 9 1/2 weeks, or from Madonna songs, after all this is Anu Malik, “In the Night” is not, unlike most songs of the decade, about love and loss and non-corporeal romance.
It is about what the gaana leads to. The bajaana. And it does not need double entendres to make the point.
Such directness, you would have trouble in finding even today.
Perhaps because in 2018, if someone went “In the night, no control, Kya karoon kuch to bol”, Kejriwal would say ” Aam Aadmi ka sawaal hai, Modiji must answer”.
Maybe that explains everything.