Nothing to Beat It!

(Note: This appeared in today’s Bangalore Mirror, as my tribute to MJ)

It was back in the ’80s. I was in school, in Coimbatore – a B-town and far from the metro-style trappings. We had a new kid in school, who had moved in with his parents from Dubai. One day, he invited a few friends – including me – to his house. There was a huge TV – even back then – and it was playing music videos, through a VCR. He played us a couple of Michael Jackson videos and I saw them for the first time in my life. Before that day, the only music videos I had seen included snippets on Doordarshan’s Prannoy Roy show, The World This Week or tacky videos from a weird pop music show late in the nights, again, on Doordarshan.

It was only when music channels came to India that I saw much more of music videos. So, in a way, Jackson to me, is more of an entertainer, than just a musician. His performance, be it in videos or stage shows or just in songs embodies a lot more than music and that is perhaps what makes him so much more special.

While I’ve had a far more intimate experience growing up to Wham and George Michael, Jackson’s music was always the benchmark. Even though I realised it on my own, the true epiphany came from my 50 plus-year-old uncle, who once commented very positively about the nuances in Jackson’s music. If a musician can impress someone as world-weary as a 50 plus year old, that is truly something, because the rest of the younger lot is still eating out of its hands listening to his music!

Given Jackson’s appeal and renewed interest right now, it is probably the most appropriate time to finally release the track he performed with another person, who is red hot currently – A R Rahman! Yes, releasing Ekam Satyam, the track that Rahman composed along with Michael Jackson, and was choreographed by Prabhu Deva for a German stage show by the King of Pop, would be the right tribute to the pop icon. Isn’t it interesting that the song is partly in Sanskrit, which despite the onslaught of so many languages over the years, has still survived. I have no doubt that kids will discover and appreciate Jackson’s music long after his passing away.

Jackson’s popularity was so overarching that Indian composers were quite wary of plagiarising his music. There were some genuine flashes of intelligent inspirations though. Telugu/ Tamil composer Keeravani (Maragadhamani in Tamil) had a beautiful, seeped-in-Indian song in K Balachander’s Azhagan – Thathithom. In a shocking twist, the song suddenly changes track towards the end, where actress Madhubala (of Roja fame) had had enough of the pussy-footing to attract the film’s hero, Mammootty, and launches into a snazzy western tune in Tamil lyrics. It was set to the tune of Jackson’s Liberian Girl, and guess what! It fit in beautifully within the song’s structure, composed in the Carnatic raag, Dharmavathi. Compared to this, Hindi cinema has had largely tacky musical inspirations from Jackson – forget the inspiration for his dance moves and music video concepts. Anu Malik’s Hamesha track, Neela Dupatta with shades of Jackson’s They Don’t Really Care About Us is one such example. It could just be that Indian composers were scared to lift Jackson’s songs for the simple reason that the originals were a rage by themselves!