If you happen to be one of those Indians who has grown up on a heavy dose of Bollywood music from the 1990s, chances are that your personal collection of cassette tapes (yes, those were the days!) contained multiple albums featuring playback singers Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik and Udit Narayan.
The trio ruled the roost in the Hindi film-music industry at a point of time when satellite or cable television was the domain of city-dwelling rich and upper middle-class, internet was unheard of, song-recording gizmos such as auto-tune had still not invaded the sanctity of recording studios and lip-synching in a live show was nothing short of a crime.
With Yagnik, Sanu and Narayan belting out one chartbuster after another and with music directors such as Nadeem-Shravan, Jatin-Lalit, Anand-Milind, Anu Malik and of course Rahul Dev Burman — then in his twilight years — at the helm of film music, the Bollywood box office was as much about its chocolate-cream lead pairs as it was about the eminently hummable numbers emanating from those mono speakers of spool tape-recorders.
And on Friday evening, it was sheer nostalgia that gripped the capacity crowd at Shaikh Rashid Hall of Dubai World Trade Centre as the trio of Yagnik, Sanu and Narayan enthralled the weekend audience for almost four hours, plumbing the riches of Bollywood film music’s golden era from the 1990s. This was the trio’s first live show together in Dubai.
At Friday’s concert, Sanu took the stage first and with his rendition of solo numbers such as ‘Saanson Ki Jarurat Hai Jaise’ (‘Aashiqui’, 1990) and ‘Do Dil Mil Rahe Hain’ (‘Pardes’, 1997), he set the tone for an evening of melodies and memories. His performance was followed by Yagnik and then Narayan, both of whom stuck to the pattern set by Sanu — starting with solos and then following them up with medleys that got the audience on their feet.
While Yagnik got the listeners all warmed up, right from the get go, with ‘Tum Paas Aaye, Yun Muskurayen’ (‘Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hain’, 1998), then ‘Mere Angne Mein’ (‘Laawaris’, 1981) and ‘Taal Se Taal Mila’ (‘Taal’, 1999), it was Narayan who actually had his fingers on the pulse of the audience — getting off to a roaring start with the evergreen ‘Papa Kehte Hain’ (‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’, 1988), moving on to the mellifluous ‘Jaadu Teri Nazar’ (‘Darr’, 1992) and then the lilting ‘Main Yahaan Hoon’ (‘Veer Zara’, 2004) that made for a perfect crescendo.
In the second half of the concert, Sanu and Narayan took turns to join Yagnik and recreate some of the magical moments of yore with duets such as ‘Chura Ke Dil Mera’ (‘Main Khiladi Tu Anari’, 1994) and ‘Chand Chhupa Baadal Mein’ (‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’, 1999) and then all three joining in for ‘Yeh Bandhan Toh Pyar Ka Bandhan Hain’ (‘Karan Arjun’, 1995) for a grand signing-off of sorts.
While the trio did its best in terms of energy and enthusiasm, the wavering of notes and breathlessness at certain points were palpable even to the ears of the most diehard fan. The musicians, too, were found wanting at times, particularly while trying to match vibes with Narayan’s ‘Main Yahaan Hoon’. However, those were mere islets of forgivable aberrations in an otherwise engrossing musical journey down memory lane.
Just as a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ could enhance the allure of the Romantic Imagination for someone like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, soaking up Sanu-Yagnik-Narayan to the maximum would demand dollops of indulgence — and as a fan of 90s Bollywood music, I certainly don’t mind!