Octogenarian Krishnamurthy from Bengaluru can hardly walk without the help of his walking stick. Last Friday, the 85-year-old music lover came all the way to a posh bar in the city to listen to the music of his days and sat dazed as Hindi film songs of the 60s , 70s and 80s were rendered one after another at the 100th show of probably the first Retro Hindi Karaoke music show in Dravidian land.
This show anchored by playback singer Jaya Rajagopalan and her co-singer J. S. Shekar, which began in 2011 to a modest crowd of just eight or nine persons has now grown to become a trend setter of its kind and is bringing in people who had never stepped into the neon-lit rooms of a bar before.
“When we were initially approached for this show by the hotel manager, I was extremely reluctant,” says Jaya who is a succesful Tamil playback singer as well as a popular performer in light music concerts in the city. “The idea of singing in a bar inhabited mostly by inebriated men was clearly intimidating.”
Over the past two years, Jaya has changed her stand. “While I have performed in stage all my adult life, some of my experiences during this show has been unlike any in the past. For our 100th show, a man had come all the way from Jamaica to be present here and enjoy the music. These days I see so many senior citizens, several women among them, who come to the bar just to sip a non-alcoholic drink and listen to their favourite music and I feel elated,” she says.
Regulars at the music show titled ‘Jaya-ho’ after the lead singer point out that popularity of Hindi film music has waned in the city over the past few decades. “When we grew up in the era of Doordarshan, Hindi films and film music was so common that we were more adept at miming the songs than North Indians,” says Rajagopal, a city-based auditor and a regular the show. “Somehow, this generation is either hooked to Tamil film music or to hip –hop and heavy metal,” he says.
Interestingly, the music show featuring solely the Retro Hindi songs of Asha Bhonsle, Kishore Kumar and Mukesh consistently attracts more Southerners than the North Indian crowd. While Karaoke music has been around in the city for a while now, nightlife trackers in the city point out that a clear market for retro music is emerging as more and more senior citizens step out for an evening of their favourite music and, perhaps, a sip of their beloved martini.
Seventies and eighties remain golden era of Hindi film music in Chennai
While singers Jaya and Shekar might be setting a new trend by bringing in a fresh audience into the city nightlife with their retro Hindi numbers, a handful of music troupes in the city have made a living for several decades playing only Hindi numbers to a largely Tamil crowd.
Founding members of one of the oldest music troupes playing only Hindi film music in the city, the Friends Orchestra group point out that the golden era for Hindi film music in Tamil Nadu was during the 70s and 80s.
“It was a period when MGR and Sivaji Ganesan were already established with no fresh faces emerging in TN. Actors like Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachan ushered in a new craze for Hindi film music,” says Chandru a.k.a Keyboard Chandru, one of the founders of Friends Orchestral along with his wife Gayathri. “There was a time when we used to be invited to play Hindi flim songs during temple festivals in the city.”
Chandru, Gayathri and their friends formed the music troupe solely to play the music they loved and found a ready audience in the city. “During the intial days, only North Indian crowds used to come to listen to our concerts but soon locals joined in and certain songs that were not so popular in Bombay (now Mumbai) were instant hits down south,” he says.
The couple point out that the emergence of Illayaraja with his westernized orchestration of folk music tilted the tide against Hindi songs in the city. “After Illayaraja came in the Tamil film industry, Hindi film music lost its sheen down south and has been waning since then,” Chandru says. “Since then, Tamil film industry and and its music has been gaining more and more ground that Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi and their counterparts still remain the greats of Hindi film music in Chennai.“