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February 18, 2019

The Revival Of The Indie Music Video

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

Meet-cute music videos may have died a natural death but they have been replaced by works that place special emphasis on abstract artistic concepts

A few days ago, I was scrolling through Prateek Kuhad’s Instagram feed and came across a video of him performing in Bangalore to a crowd of hundreds as the rain poured down. Ironically, he was singing his newest single Cold/Mess while getting drenched to the bone. Fans used plastic chairs to shield themselves, the sound of their singing resonating through the grounds.

Prateek Kuhad was my serendipitous discovery while watching the collateral disaster that was Baar Baar Dekho (2016). While the Katrina Kaif-Sidharth Malhotra-starrer may have been entirely forgettable, Kuhad gently crooning Kho Gaye Hum Kahan was a definite redeemer. Even sweeter than the singer’s tender voice was the music video which traced the development of the lead characters’ relationship from early childhood to adulthood. Two years ago, Kuhad’s Tum Jab Paas Aati Ho was declared a youth anthem because of its references to the golden age that was the ’90s — passing chits, carving names with compasses onto wooden desks et al. Last December, his video for Cold/Mess starring Jim Sarbh and Zoya Hussain struck a chord with those who have loved and lost (and really, hasn’t that been all of us at some point?) and was widely hailed as the breakout music video of the year. This led me down a rabbit hole of looking for indie music videos that have been released in recent years and with the exception of a few, I came up short.

As a girl who grew up in the ’90s, I was very interested in Indian pop music and knowing about its various iterations. One of my earliest memories of watching a music video was Bombay Vikings’ Kya Surat Hai in which a man takes his audience on a tour of a very exaggerated version of Mumbai’s key elements while dancing behind a pretty girl. It was catchy and got stuck in my head for days after and soon I was binge-watching Suneeta Rao’s Pari Hun Main, Shaan’s Tanha Dil, Euphoria’s Maeri and Lucky Ali’s O Sanam. For my friends and I, these songs became a matter of establishing social hierarchy within the group. While dancing to the new rendition of Chadhti Jawaani Meri Chaal Mastani, — where scantily-clad angels come alive and make mischief in the owner’s house — it was of utmost importance that I be the main angel; the others could squabble over their roles. I remember seeing the kalire falling on Malaika Arora’s head in Gud Naal Ishq Mitha and being fascinated by the Punjabi version of catching the proverbial bouquet at the wedding. Taare Gin Gin would make us break out into impromptu bhaangda steps that we didn’t even know we were capable of executing.

And one day, without any warning, Indian pop vanished.

Nobody knew why, but it could be attributed to the fact that ’90s kids had moved on to Western music and — god help us — dubstep, turning up their noses at anything remotely indigenous. All the drama was now reserved for the silver screen; Bollywood songs still had larger-than-life sets and backup dancers to boast of but television had lost its innate charm. Singles usually received a YouTube release and came and went without much noise.

But recently, music aficionados have been rewarded with visual treats from alternative music artists. However, they’re nothing like their earlier counterparts which were replete with ideal meet-cute scenarios. Today’s videos, instead, try to appeal to millennial angst and existentialism. When Parekh & Singh launched the music video for their runaway hit I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll, its Wes Anderson-esque aesthetic as well as its whimsical theme won favour with the design-loving generation. It’s interesting to note that the difference between music videos that were popular in the past and the ones that are generating buzz in the present: while the former featured protagonists that made their feelings abundantly clear, the latter rely on symbolism and abstract depictions to get their point across. Lemon tarts, for example, have a special significance in the music video for Cold/Mess where the actors are shown eating the dessert in spite of specifically reiterating that they don’t like either lemons or tarts. Parekh & Singh’s latest single Summer Skin shows the duo trying to build a planetarium which actually ends up being big enough to only house the two of them — a means of signifying that their music is their universe. NUKA’s Don’t Be Afraid starring Anushka Manchanda is a commentary on the cyclical concept of life, death and rebirth whereas Mosko frontwoman Kavya Trehan’s Underscore shows her indulging in mindless, child-like activities all the while holding on to balloons that indicate she doesn’t want to give up her childhood or her dreams.

In order to understand why music videos have started making a solid comeback in India, I had a discussion with video director Anna Joseph about this newly revived phenomenon. She said, “I don’t think music videos ever really went away, but their recent scarcity may have had something to do with musicians not putting out many albums. I’m now seeing a lot of new music coming out and in response to that, there will be videos. As long as there is music, there will be visual interpretations of it. The problem with the Indian indie scene is that musicians don’t have enough funds to channel into music videos so it’s mostly filmmakers who take this up as a personal project. They’re pulling favours and procuring crews for free because musicians don’t have the money to invest in them.” Joseph, who has directed videos like Badda by the Ska Vengers and Pastels by Frame/Frame continues, “Since most of the videos are made out of pure love and dedication to self-expression, I feel like there is more scope to push the envelope. There is no real client that you’re trying to please; you’re doing it to support the scene, the music and the artiste. Most musicians I know are always looking to make videos because it helps their songs get more reach. But I do feel like we should focus a little more on the quality of the content we are putting out. We should keep pushing the envelope and make more dynamic stuff since we live in such an interesting country. I don’t think we have explored that fully in a lot of our music videos. We tend to rely a lot on Western concepts and ideas. We use that as our main points of reference, but the scope is endless.”

While the new musicians don’t enjoy the popularity or the fan base that pop stars enjoyed in the ’90s and early ‘2000s, it must be said that their music videos are a lot more feminist. You don’t see girls being chased after by boys or the theme encouraging a general celebration of toxic masculinity. Women aren’t pitted against each other in a bid to win the man over to their side, nor do they dress up with the sole objective of impressing the opposite gender. No, the girls go off on their own adventures or are revelling in the power of their own sexuality. Pop music isn’t popular anymore, but it is smarter.

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