If the great golden run of Indian pop music peaked during the mid 1990s, by the end of the the century and into the new millennium it was pretty much dead. A few established acts were still releasing the odd song video, but gone were the crazy over-the-top productions and the songs that truly took chances. The promise of satellite television, arguably the instigator of the popularity of pop in the 1990s, had come through in some ways, but not in the explosive creativity department. By this time, Hindi cinema was truly starting to become slick and impressive, not only in the visuals and concept department, but also in the songs they introduced into the entertainment ecosystem. The audiences returned to their comfortable teat of Hindi film music and pop was lost. But there are always a few hold outs, and in 2002, seemingly out of nowhere, came the band Agosh with their song Mujhe mil jo jaye thoda paisa.
Agosh consisted of three friends who met in engineering college, that black hole of the vast majority of India creativity, and decided to make music together. They had proceeded to do so for several years, providing music for ads and then films, and Agosh was their stab at making their own personal music. And a spirited stab it was.
Reminiscent of the old song Money (That’s what I want), famously covered by The Beatles in the 1960s, here was a song about the very mundane and un-romantic topic of paisa (money), and it was celebrating not grandiose schemes and vast riches, but was taking a playfully humorous look at the monetary aspirations of the urban middle class. Presented in the lyrics of a song, all those dreams, that so many continue to live by, are presented in a starker and extremely entertaining light.
The video really tied into the aspirational quality of the song, with a little tale of the typically broke everyman who dreams of riches, all presented in random music video setups of the band and dancers, edited together with spoof versions of famous ads and programmes from Indian television. Not only was this a rollicking pop video but it was also paying homage to it’s spiritual parent, prime time India television. For those familiar with the ads and tropes featured in the song, it is a ride filled with smiles and memories.
What really wins your heart though, is the song itself. The music is a wonderful fusion of rock and pop perkiness, mixed in with heavy seasonings of more traditional Indian music, to create a mix that is very uniquely of the time and place. And the lyrics are the sort of obvious revelation that is rare and sticks in your brain. Lines like:
Sundar si, biwi ho,
Bachchon ka, TV ho.
Hum bhi honge un ke jaise, par kaise?
Mujhe mil jo jaye thoda paisa.
I’d have a beautiful wife,
And a separate TV for the kids, in my life.
I’d be like those folk too, but how, sonny?
If only I’d get my hands on a little money.
… are such astute observations that you can’t help but nod knowingly and laugh along to the strangeness of it all.
If one is to be dramatic, you could easily describe Mujhe mil jo jaye thoda paisa as a last hurrah of Indian pop, for the 2000s truly sealed the coffin on that era. But the varied and ever alchemic world that is Indian music will always find ways to express itself again, and pop and rock, and whatever other pet niche you favour will come back and mix and morph and innovate for a new time. I’m sure there’d be lines of musical acts in the pop business right now, If only they’d get their hands on a little money. Until that comes to be, enjoy this classic.