Updated: March 19, 2021 9:37:57 am
It’s been nearly 35 years that Alisha Chinai entered the Indian music scene, earning the sobriquet ‘Queen of Indipop’. The singer, who celebrates her birthday today, has been instrumental in introducing us to a new genre of music, and a host of earworms.
In a career spanning three decades, Alisha has been categorised for her distinctive voice. Even her appearances in her music videos have remained a highpoint of her work. Her albums including Jadoo and Babydoll have always been a part of our playlists. But it’s her Made In India, that is a part of growing up for every 90s kid.
The album had several memorable numbers like “Lover Girl” and “Dil”. But its title track, with the story of a princess and Milind Soman walking out of a box, that is entrenched in our memory.
On Alisha Chinai’s birthday, we sit down to revisit Made In India with her, and how the album, majorly its title song came into being, becoming a youth anthem.
Made In India is a cult today. What are your memories of conceptualising the album?
It was I think, December 1994. The guys at Magnasound offered me the album and I was really excited. They told me I had to go to London to record it. Of course I had songs hummed out melodically, and I had to write lyrics on it. I was working with internationally acclaimed Biddu, who had hits with Nazia Hassan, Tina Charles and others. Also, my style of pop was perfect for him, so it brought out the best in me.
After recording, when we finally heard “Made In India”, we thought either this will get crushed into oblivion, or will become a phenomenal hit. There were only two ways for it because it sounded so different – that Bhangra groove and my voice with a twang.
And how about shooting it? Its video remains a memorable one for every 90s kid.
Ken Ghosh conceptualised the video. I had to catch him at the collar and tell him I want Milind Soman, I want the snakes, the astrologer, the elephant, all the Indian elements. Then he made the whole story. The colours, the Indian-ness looked so magical. It revolutionised the whole pop scene on television. This was the first time they were seeing a singer who’s being herself and not lip-syncing. It became a pop anthem and it still is. It was the perfect song at a time when everyone’s morale was down, because anything Indian wasn’t regarded as very good. So, this made every Indian very proud. The “Made In India” brought out the whole patriotic feeling.
Back then, how was it planning a screenplay for music videos? Were they different from a regular film?
We had to make cost-effective videos. We didn’t have that much footage to waste. So, Ken was being extremely economical and smart about it. We had to watch our budget. And then you have to put everything into a three or four minute song. It’s quite a specialised skill and only pop video makers could do it. Ken really did good videos.
Milind Soman is still remembered for Made In India. How did he come onboard?
He was already a hot model. I just said we have to take him. He was the first and the only choice.
Your music videos continue to remain the most stylish ones, a benchmark. How do you look back as an audience?
They were all fabulous when I looked back. I think I was really ahead of my time. I did “Lover Girl” with those boxing gloves and hip hop style. As nobody knew anything like that, it was all very cool, especially in India. Made In India was record breaking with that fairytale romance, coming out of the box and eye-candy of Milind Soman, all my outfits and wigs, the white dress on the swing, the red dress at the end, or me sitting on the throne with that tiger — everything was so impactful.
You said you had a distinct voice. But did that restrict the kind of projects that came to you?
Definitely. I couldn’t sing every song. If the song was very sexy, full of fun, they would think of me. Otherwise they wanted very sweet virginal voices.
How has it been living with the title of ‘Queen of Indipop’? Did you ever feel caught up?
I think it was fine. It does suit me because essentially, anything with pop in India was synonymous with being westernised. And my voice is not typically Indian, so I don’t fit that mould. Then of course I love singing dance songs, something with masti, energy and some romance too.
What has been your most favourite collaboration? Who do you think managed to get the best out of you?
Each one had their own (style) because I had hits with different people. When I started off with Bappi Lahiri, I had dance hits like “Zooby Zooby”. Then I got “Kaate Nahi Kat Te”. With Anu Malik I had “Sexy Sexy” and “Ruk Ruk”. Of course “Kajra Re’ with Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy was another trendsetter. “Tinka Tinka” is still a classic.
Any song today, you feel you could’ve done better?
A couple of songs here and there could’ve been produced and arranged better. But they sounded fine that time. Like “Ruk Ruk” had unnecessary music in the middle just to make it a six-minutes long. It would go on and on for nothing, it’s nonsensical. When I heard that song, I was dumbstruck. I said I don’t want to sing this song, it’s rubbish. They convinced me that it’s an item and will be a big hit. Then that dancing is all so stupid. There are a lot of songs that can be redone today and they’ll become big hits.
What change would you like to see in the music industry today?
Unfortunately, there’s no music left. All the melodic composers have disappeared. There’s no real melody, only production. Everything is digitised and artistes are not getting what they deserve. You cannot make a career out of only playback singing anymore. You need to stand out as a distinguished artiste who has her own style, who’s credible. No doubt you have mass appeal, where one song can make you a star, but I just think the music is a little uninspiring. Unless someone comes back with a fresh sense of music, maybe it’ll revise. At the moment, it is really at a low end.
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