The city’s retro fans don’t have to depend on television alone to listen to Bollywood’s golden oldies. Lakshmi Krupa finds that there are quite a few live shows to take them down melody lane

History and nostalgia are two very different things. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Chennai’s love for retro Bollywood live music shows. History tells us that Tamil Nadu was at the forefront of anti-Hindi agitations in the past. Nostalgia, however, weaves a completely different narrative. For those who owned a radio in the past, Radio Ceylon’s Binaca Geetmala hosted by Ameen Sayani is perhaps the most enduring memory of their youth. Listening to Lata’s haunting melodies over the crackle of the radio, twisting to that stylish Manna Dey number ‘Aao twist kare’, imitating Dev Anand’s famous nod while singing along to Kishoreda’s ‘Phoolon ke rang se’… Today, it is these people who fill the halls at shows that transport them to those golden, olden days of Bollywood songs.

Appreciative audience

The darling of these audiences, a star in his own right, Anil Bajpai, who has been part of Mohammed Rafi tribute shows in Chennai since 2006, says he was surprised to discover how much the city knows about Rafi. “Not just Hindi music but the Chennai audience’s deep knowledge of Rafi’s music is also astounding,” says the singer whose voice almost sounds like Rafi’s. “I really like the audience in the South because they appreciate old Hindi film music.” he adds. The singer not only performs in Chennai but also in other cities such as Coimbatore and Bengaluru in South India and says the shows are always packed. “There are requests all the time from the audience. Most are for songs such as ‘Madhuban mein Radhika naache re’ and ‘O duniya ke rakhwale’,” says Anil.

Playback singer Srinivas admits to enjoying performing old Bollywood hits on stage more than his own songs. The artiste, who has participated in several tribute shows along with leading playback singers in Chennai and other cities, believes, “Nostalgia sells. We value our past a lot and like to live in it. What you have heard as a youngster stays with you till the end. The crowd that comes to our shows is testament to this. You can see 50- and 60-year-olds dancing and enjoying themselves, feeling happy and energetic! It’s a great experience.” He also attributes the power of radio to the lasting impact these songs have had on many. “I think listening to these songs on Radio Celyon and Vividh Bharati, without the video, left an indelible impact on these people,” he muses. If Chennai’s audience is often blamed for leaving the hall at 9 p.m. even while the concert is on, Srinivas insists that these shows have broken that ceiling. “Our last show went on till 10.30 p.m., and even at that hour people were asking for more.” he adds.

The Divine Mother Society (DMS) has been organising one of the most successful retro Hindi music shows in the city for 12 years now. Titled ‘Gaata Rahe Mera Dil’, the show that features regulars such as Anil Bajpai, not only serves as a fund-raiser but also gives fans a chance to meet a star from the past! Waheeda Rehman and late Shammi Kapoor were among those invited as chief guests. “Most of our trustees are in that age group and enjoy the music of Rafi and Lata. So when they wanted to organise a fund-raiser, they zeroed in on this idea,” says T.V. Krishnan, manager – Events, DMS. “We have done houseful shows in halls with a capacity of 1,700! Many locals who grew up listening to old Hindi music either here on radio or while growing up in North India, as well as the sizeable north Indian community that has settled in the city, form the core of our audience,” he explains.

Black and White Restobar at The Residency will complete 100 successful retro Bollywood tribute shows in November. “I think it has been a big hit because unlike stage shows, here people can listen to live music while enjoying a good meal and a drink with their friends,” says Charles Fabian of The Residency. Jaya Rajagopal sings at these shows titled ‘Jaya Ho’. Jaya, who grew up in Kolkata on a healthy diet of Hindi music, has been called ‘Chennai’s Asha Bhosle’. Incidentally, Asha happens to be her idol. “The audience here is amazing and you will be surprised to hear that one of my most successful shows was themed around Bollywood music of the 1940s and 1950s,” says Jaya, who performs the songs of Lata, Asha, Suraiya, Noor Jahan and Shamshad Begum, every Friday in the city.

So the next time you are in the mood for a dose of old Hindi music, turn off that television and tune in to one of the many live performances in town.