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August 2004
Eye on India

India on Rewind Mode

By Abhay Desai

The more things change the more they remain the same. For, with all the outward trappings of a nation caught in the cusp of affluence and permissiveness, Indians are increasingly looking inwards and savoring the traditions and culture of a not-so-distant past.

The indications are there for all to see ? whether it is in the way people dress or the music they listen to, their culinary choices, the kind of movies being made, the projection of pop icons, the commercials being played on radio and television?

"We are all witnessing a revival of the seventies," observes Santan Rodrigues, an ad filmmaker. "The target audience today is in its 20s and 30s ? youngsters who want to recreate the times when their parents were their age. Everybody is on a nostalgia trip."

"The new look is old," says Nidhi Kapoor, a fashion designer. "Not only are your clothes influenced by the styles of the seventies and eighties, your make-up, hair, shoes and accessories are inspired by old Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz movies. It is cool to be stylishly retro ? not retrograde."

Indeed, bell bottoms and long skirts in crushed cotton and linen have staged a comeback along with the good old Roman stringed sandals and pointy, strappy shoes (in place of flip flops and stilettos which were fashionable till the other day).

Hair is worn disconnected, solid or in tear-drop styles and with make-up, the eyes are made to look the brightest in maroons and rust shades with single-shade mascara, nude lips and rouge spots on flush cheeks. Chandelier earrings with colored glass beads, matching bangles, decorated belts and scarves and loud shades complete the so-called retro look.

Many attribute this turnaround to recent films like Kal Ho Na Ho, Main Hoon Na and Yuva in which characters played like Preity Zinta and Kareena are less glamorized and more true to life. Even the music accompanying the song and dance sequences is more Bappi Lahiri and R.D.Burman.

"We grew up on such music," says Shankar Mahadeva of the Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy trio that composed the chartbuster, It's the time to disco in Kal Ho Na Ho. "Funnily, till some time back, we used to laugh at retro. But that is what works now."

The rising popularity of remixes of old songs in music videos and radio FM channels has obviously prompted this trend in movies. "It won't be long before inspired versions of numbers like Aap jaisa koi and Laila O Laila will be picked up by our music composers," predicts Rodrigues.

"There was a lot of sleaze in music videos and we wanted to do something different," says Shivraj Shanta Kumar, who did the Bombay Vikings' Chhod do aanchal remix video in black-and-white. "Copying old film songs has been done before, but what counts is what you add to it."

"The spillover effect is already visible in advertising as anything from toothpastes to soft drinks and wall paints are being made in black-and white and set in locations with an old world charm. What is more, even voice-overs carry a nasal twang, in keeping with the Saigal movies of yore.

Says ad guru Prasoon Joshi about the ?wakaow' new vanilla coke campaign he conceived: "The idea was to show Lambretta scooters, pigeons and retro dressing to portray this fictitious character stuck in time. He represents the laggard, stubborn consumer who is too conservative to try out new things. But in the ad, the new soft drink product has him hooked."

"In the ad world, anything new is old," Anil Menon, another ad wiz. "Creativity is all about presenting the old in a new way. But more than anything else, an ad cannot divorce itself from the popular culture of its time. We are just holding a mirror to society to sell a product or service."

For the ultimate consumer though, the ads are turning out to be as influencing in changing life-styles as the movies of yore ? more so when established screen icons like Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Preity Zinta are projected as brand ambassadors.

"Somewhere at a subliminal level, everybody wants the kind of lifestyle film stars enjoy," explains Kapoor. "What they say, how they look, the way they carry themselves and so on, get ingrained in the public psyche. And when they come across as distanced from the present, the trend catches on."

How else does one explain that being a Saigal clone is considered hip these days?


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