On the (brilliant) absurdity of the 90s,

Just a couple of weeks ago, a video was doing the rounds on twitter and instagram. It was a rather unremarkably produced video, perhaps shot in haste without giving it too much thought. It features an unshaven Lucky Ali dressed in a black jacket and a white skullcap slouched over a guitar without so much as a proper microphone or any accompanying musicians. My generation, I will venture to guess, best remembers his face from the cover of that incredible album in the late ‘90s- Sunoh. That was a much younger Lucky but his heavy, brown eyes still carried the same sea of emotions it does today. 

As he begins strumming and then humming the unmistakable tune of O Sanam, it’s hard not to stop what you’re doing and listen. Even though his voice is a bit strained now, it still has that husky warmth from years ago. That “hmmmm” is still as mesmerizing as ever and its part of the reason that this song has occupied a part of our hearts and minds for so long. O Sanam is a song about love, loss, memories and hope all rolled into one 2.5 minute classic (the original music video is much longer). I’ve probably listened to this version of the song at least two dozen times now and still, as I was walking on the street listening to it earlier this evening, I couldn’t help myself from singing along as he sang “ohhh sanam. Mohabbat ki kasammmm”.

The 2020 acoustic O Sanam

For all its nostalgia, one thing about this version is very different from the original- the video.

In some sense, both videos are representative of their times. The 2020 version features lucky ali in a room by himself (like literally all of us have done this year) straining his throat, playing a couple of accidental notes but in the end, still capturing the absolutely immense feel of that song. There’s some metaphor in there somewhere. I just can’t grasp it but I still love and enjoy the end product. 

The original music video on the other hand captures everything that was absurd, lovable and iconic of the 90’s indie music scene in India. It’s shot, for some reason, in Egypt. In 4 minutes, it switches in and out of 4 different timelines with Lucky Ali in 4 very different roles. Lucky Ali the warlord in ancient Egypt, Lucky Ali the archeologist examining scale-models of pyramids in less ancient Egypt, Lucky Ali the young guy on a motorcycle with an empty sidecar in front of a real pyramid in more recent Egypt and Lucky Ali in the present day smoking a hookah and playing Dominos or something (in Egypt?). I think you should watch it for yourself to make any sense of it. How do you just jump timelines like that? Magic?? Like the 2020 version, there’s some metaphor in there somewhere. I just can’t grasp it but I still love and enjoy the end product. 

The original O Sanam music video

There’s a free-spiritedness about that original (and other songs like it from the 90s)- a weird but amazing combination of ridiculously talented artists producing timeless music and dreamy, hyper-creative videos to go with them. Remember Alisha Chinai, Falguni Pathak, Suneeta Rao, Viva (!!!) and so so many more? While the 2020 Lucky Ali video gave me “the feels”, very very few things can lift me out of the anxiety-inducing, solitary-feeling, uncreative rut that 2020 is quite like a playlist of those songs and their absurdly fun-looking music videos.  It’s a real trip down memory lane and I realize we can’t live in the past all the time but my god, how I wish I could stay there. It’s a feeling best summarized by Ali himself in O Sanam:

Milke bichhad naa to dastoor ho gaya

Yadoon mein teri majboor ho gaya

O Sanam, teri yadoon ki kasam

Anyway, thanks to YouTube, we can always listen to those songs and jump back a couple of decades while still chilling in the present. AHA. That music video makes a lot of sense now all of a sudden. It wasn’t magic! It was music.

So here’s a compilation of some those awesome songs to lift your mood this weekend. Happy listening! 

P.S: Bonus tip: If you’re like me and enjoy some even older classics, let me recommend this brilliant rendition of Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo by Sitara Krishnakumar and Harish Shivaramakrishnan (both of whom are freaking magic). 

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