Streaming Nostalgia: Listening to Nineties Film Music Online


This is the second research note from Abhija Ghosh, one of the short-term social media research fellows at The Sarai Programme.

The reactivation of nineties Hindi cinema in public memory through several media processes, despite its reputation of being the culturally bad object, consistently critiqued for its aesthetic values, repetitive genre conventions and maudlin romantic emotions, is a curious emerging phenomenon on social media. While the dispersed afterlife of nineties cinema informs the direction of my research, for this post, I particularly follow the popularity of nineties film music across various online circuits of music circulation to map the complexities of an emergent nineties nostalgia.

At the India Today Conclave held in March 2015, in a session titled ‘Show and Tell- Gone Boy: Coming of Age in Bollywood’[1] , actor Ranveer Singh made a presentation on Hindi cinema through the decades, from the fifties to the present. Singh, representing a new generation of stars, and by extension a New Bollywood, of corporatized production values and increasingly aestheticized genre content, held together the entire session with his characteristic antics and humor, dancing to snippets of popular songs as he played them for the audiences, and mimicking various film actors as he talked about films, mostly from the nineties, supported only by a slideshow of films posters, screenshots and memes. While this media event became yet another platform which simultaneously displayed as well as contributed to Ranveer Singh’s star persona, it is the projection of this star as an avid fan-cinephile who grew up on late eighties and nineties mainstream Hindi cinema and music, that I find useful to reflect upon for my second post on the nostalgia surrounding nineties film music.

In this hour long session, film music from the nineties dominated as Ranveer Singh narrated personal stories of eventful films from the decade, often citing memories of watching these films on VHS tapes, listening to the songs on loop in cassette players or during bus rides. According to the actor, this decade of Hindi cinema constituted much of his cinema experience, and remains inseparable from the memories of his childhood and teenage years, making him a quintessential “product of Bollywood” [2] today. However, interestingly, the films themselves remained inconspicuous at the event, represented in a corner screen by assorted posters and internet memes, while film music prominently filled the room. Further, the entire cinematic trajectory, dominated by cinema of the nineties, was evoked through music, as Singh performed popular dance moves, mimicked characters and memorable dialogues, often asking the audience if they remembered any of the songs. While Singh would go on to share the video of the event on twitter, terming it as his ‘Bollywood Rewind’ act, what is specifically interesting about this kind of remembrance is how a particular decade of cinema is imagined through certain visual and aural fragments, with the latter maintained as a key memorable force. It is the shared aural experience of nineties cinema that deeply informed the act, with the fragments of film songs privileged over the visuals. While the visual references to the films were presented in the compact and caricatured form of the internet meme, the aural elements remained significantly untouched by cinephilia, only to be remembered as shared memories and experience of nineties cinema.

Accessing the video of the event on YouTube, observing it closely along with the comments and responses, I would like to suggest that it is the nature of evocation of aural memory where perhaps the actual ‘show and tell’ of his act remains. The kitschy early nineties cinematic terrain that Singh recollected through its music, with memes standing in for fragmented visual references to the original film object, not only indicates the popular persistence of nineties film music but also points towards various old and new media formats through which it continues to circulate. Interestingly, for an emerging star such as Singh and the developing production ethos of the industry, it has been in the overcoming of this very phase of cinema, that the ‘coming of age’ has been established. However, popular and personal memories of this decade’s cinema, much like Singh’s act echoed, seemingly refuse to dissolve into media oblivion. Instead, such afterlife in the cinematic and virtual public sphere has generated overwhelming creative content online in form of lists, memes and fan made videos, some of which also made way into Singh’s presentation at the conclave.

The presence of memes at such a media event showcasing a journey through contemporary decades of Hindi cinema also underscores the significance of the internet and social media in generating content that simultaneously feeds off cinema as well as triggers new circuits of circulation. While such social media creations tend to mock and challenge mainstream cinema’s conventions, these also appear to effortlessly fit into the role of representing Bollywood cinema across media platforms. This duality of the social media generated image that memes embody, that is, a bid to move away from the original cinema material yet referring back to it, presents a scenario peculiar to online content creation and circulation.

Ashwin Punathambekar has argued that it is now difficult to conceptualize Bombay cinema only in terms of a film industry since television and digital media have transformed modes of access and circulation such that Bollywood today represents a global media industry [3]. The dispersed afterlife that nineties cinema is gaining in the virtual realm, whether in form of video and music streams or in memes, gifs and lists, provides an interesting case in point. While the digital image poses different kinds of challenges for thinking about cinema, representations and simulations [4] in circulation, music on social media seems to offer a less confrontational relationship to cinema, effectively generating an interface with memories of fans and listeners.

The affective charge of nineties cinema that Singh attempted to recreate on stage using snatches from popular songs, almost as audio cues for the audience to remember the films, has a compelling resonance with nineties nostalgia on social media and online fan communities. However, while Singh depended on a combination of his performative skills and the sonic trace of the songs for audience responses, most activity around nineties film music online is participatory, with one memorable song leading users to remember, share and circulate others. Moreover, for Singh, the sonic trace of the song was used to link back to memories [5] of the original films and their stars, whereas on fan sites similar musical nostalgia seems to activate scattered but shared memories of older media formats and commodities.

Memory as Media Experience

All About 90s, a Facebook page that promises to keep the memories of the nineties decade alive for fellow fans and social media users, is a significant example where nostalgia for nineties film music and media is repeatedly articulated. Although nineties film music videos are prominently shared on this page, it shares this space with other ways remembering the decade, along with indipop music, television serials, advertisements and the early days of the internet and mobile phones in India. The description of the page reads-

“This page is to celebrate and cherish the unforgettable memories of the 90s. Personally, this decade is very near to my heart; and I am absolutely sure everyone born in 80s or early 90s. People often talk about great events at national and international level, but hardly anyone talks about the small things that touch our hearts and shape our lives.

This page is about all those beautiful small things associated with 90s like –
Achievements, Glory, Music, Movies, Products, Ads, Science, Technology, Fashion, Style, Sports, Television, Doordarshan and much more…

Oh! What a wonderful era!
It was indeed Scintillating 90’s…” [6]

Thus, for this Facebook page, professedly situating itself away from major social and political events, shifting focus from “great events” to “small things”, and locating this engagement in the early years of globalization and the forms of middle class consumption it shaped in the country, the nineties as a decade is mediated through memories that are marked by the transitional technological and media experiences of a generation.

Screen Captures of Facebook Posts on the All About 90s Timeline Source: All About 90s

Screen Captures of Facebook Posts on the All About 90s Timeline
Source: All About 90s

Screen Captures of Facebook Posts on the All About 90s Timeline. The posts range from sharing memories of old television serials, advertisements and even nineties interfaces of yahoo.com chats rooms. Source: All About 90s

Screen Captures of Facebook Posts on the All About 90s Timeline. The posts range from sharing memories of old television serials, advertisements and even nineties interfaces of yahoo.com chats rooms. Source: All About 90s

All About 90s has about seven thousand likes on Facebook, with a blog and a YouTube channel that archives several music, television, advertisement and animation videos that were avowedly broadcast during the nineties decade. While such nostalgic fan activity continues to rekindle thoughts of past media experiences, it also re-imagines the nineties through the rapidly changing technological modes of accessibility and aesthetic conventions. The nature of this nostalgia, albeit related to memories of childhood and adolescence for most fans and users, is less determined by any longing to return to the past but more energized by being able to access older media, such as nineties music and television, on newer formats across online digital platforms. As mentioned earlier, film music occupies a prominent space in this energized participation, with a growing afterlife in the digital video and audio formats.

Screen captures of posts on nineties film music Source: All About 90s

Screen captures of posts on nineties film music
Source: All About 90s

Screen captures of posts on nineties film music. The conversational nature of address with each shared post evoking shared memories of the followers of the page. Source: All About 90s

Screen captures of posts on nineties film music. The conversational nature of address with each shared post evoking shared memories of the followers of the page. Source: All About 90s

The success and proliferation of film music in the nineties was closely related to the cassette boom of the eighties and nineties. By the mid nineties, with the onset of satellite television, song and music videos were part of staple entertainment programming on television channels, specifically on Doordarshan and Zee Network, with music channels closely following. However, while music videos on television still remain, the mass cassette culture has now been rendered obsolete. Yet, nineties film music remains synonymous, especially for the listeners and fans of cinema of that decade, with the cassette culture that they had so fondly embraced as personal and leisurely technology. Therefore, this music functions almost as a sonic trigger for the fans, in which the aural memory of the songs is also closely associated with commoditized [7] musical experiences of the nineties whether as personal cassettes or music players on public transport and neighborhood events.

Digital Afterlife

Fan pages are not alone in indulging in such flashbacks to the nineties. Music streaming portals and apps tend to have decade-wise or artists’ playlists. Nineties film music seems to be gaining popularity on such streaming sites even as I write this post. For now, I turn my attention to a popular Radio Mirchi online retro music channel, Pehla Nasha Non Stop 90s which exclusively plays selected nineties music. This channel can be accessed at any time during the day through the music streaming website, gaana.com, while its actual air time on the radio station is during the afternoon slot, 12pm- 3pm (IST) on weekdays. Taking its name from a cult nineties romantic song “Pehla Nasha” from the film Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, this channel has a jingle using these two words in a different tune which invites listeners to tune in to relive the decade through its most romantic music. The channel description also seeks to evoke similar emotions.

“Radio Mirchi’s free internet radio station that will take you down the memory lane with non-stop Bollywood Music from the 90s. Hits that will make you fall in love…once again” [8]

While as an online radio channel it can only provide an interface to listen and share music, it is significant that Radio Mirchi actively categorizes and replays a vast collection of nineties songs as romance music. Recently, with gaana.com re-launching its music app on android and other smartphone devices, it has streamlined nineties music as one of its featured playlists, “Pehla Pyar”. Much like the online radio that it hosts, replacing the word “nasha” with “pyar”, gaana.com has also made a foray into the construction of nineties nostalgia, singularly identifying this decade’s music with its romantic film songs.

However, it is pertinent here to distinguish between the nature of music circulation that takes place across social media and streaming portals. Such online streaming of music, in this case through Radio Mirchi and Gaana, firmly shifts the source of music to the professional digital music database, which is significantly different from the pirate or semi-pirate fan uploads that feature unfailingly on social media fan pages and other kinds of music download websites. Yet, the evocation of nineties nostalgia, memories of musical commodities and childhood activities remain similar at the core of these music publicizing portals too. For instance, a look at the Facebook page of Radio Mirchi’s Pehla Nasha, reveals a plethora of internet images from nineties nostalgia fan pages, not only to promote the radio show but also to interact with its listening public on social media. What I find most interesting is how frequently images of cassette tapes and players feature on this page, indicative of how persistently the memories of older media technologies spill over into the digital domains.

Screen captures of posts shared on cassettes and cassette players on Pehla Nasha’s Facebook timeline. Source: Pehla Nasha

Screen captures of posts shared on cassettes and cassette players on Pehla Nasha’s Facebook timeline. Source: Pehla Nasha

Screen captures of posts shared on cassettes and cassette players on Pehla Nasha’s Facebook timeline. Source: Pehla Nasha

Screen captures of posts shared on cassettes and cassette players on Pehla Nasha’s Facebook timeline. Source: Pehla Nasha

Alternatively, even the digital, through its content and circulation manages to sustain such nostalgia by facilitating such afterlives, through rapid transitions from older media formats to new ones. Therefore, nineties film songs which enjoyed ubiquitous consumption through the widespread cassette boom, have now made their way into the rapidly changing digital formats online, so that it is now simultaneously available as low resolution fan uploads, official music videos and playlists on music company channels, and finally as high clarity musical content relayed through music streaming portals and apps.

In this post, I have attempted to lay out various virtual sites where nineties music and media have garnered an increased presence. Tracing the travels of nineties film music through social media trends, fan activities and digital streaming and sharing platforms, my interest has been in foregrounding the interface of popular memory with changing media technologies that propel such cultural afterlives. As dispersed as the sites of nineties film music circulation may be, there is also the economic and cultural force of film and media convergence, Bollywood, growing as a global media entity that looms over such practices, often attempting to subsume them into widely marketable commodities, even as it extensively feeds from it. As mentioned earlier, while Ranveer Singh’s presentation at a media event such as the India Today Conclave has the star eliciting fan nostalgia, it is also indicative of the possible future of social media activities around mainstream cinema and music. As the professionally managed, celebrity- star forays into fan territories of affective articulations and memories, collective remembrance, the organized media conglomerate almost competes with fan activities and uploads. Film music of the nineties becomes an interesting cultural and commoditized entity in this media scenario, circulating through unofficial fan uploads, categorized official audio and video streams as well as social media feeds, not only relaying an afterlife of nineties romance music across the internet but also, continually transforming the role of the film music fan.

Notes


[1] See India Today Conclave 2015- Journey through Bollywood with Ranveer Singh; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qlkBRxfMXQ

[2] ibid

[3] Punathambekar, Ashvin. (2013) From Bombay to Bollywood: The Making of the a Global Media Industry. New York: New York University Press.

[4] Rodowick, David. N. (2007) The Virtual Life of Film. Harvard University Press.

[5] Jhingan, Shikha. (2013) “Lata Mangeshkar’s Voice in the Age of Cassette Reproduction” in Bioscope Number 4. Volume 2. Sage Publications.pp. 97-114.

[6] See All About 90s on Facebook.com at https://www.facebook.com/notout90s/info?tab=page_info

[7] Jhingan, Shikha. (2013) “Lata Mangeshkar’s Voice in the Age of Cassette Reproduction” in Bioscope Number 4. Volume 2. Sage Publications. 97-114.

[8] See Radio Mirchi’s online retro music channel on nineties music at gaana.com/radio/pehla-nasha

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Published on: July 10, 2015


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