Musical Chairs #2 – Alisha Chinai : The rebel with a cause

Alisha in Shut up N Kiss Me
Alisha in Shut up N Kiss Me

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, India witnessed a revolution in the music industry when IndiPop came into the scene. IndiPop essentially an amalgamation of the words Indian-Pop completely changed the way Indians consumed music. It not only challenged Bollywood Music but also was seen as a counterpart of western pop. Indipop produced numerous singing sensations but one artist that stood out was the Indipop legend Alisha Chinai. Her contribution to the genre is such that she is almost synonymous with it. Her success story is of a girl who dared to think differently and preferred being the first Alisha than the next Lata or Asha. A girl who did not confine herself to being a playback singer but instead chose to become the poster girl of the Indian non-film music.

Alisha Chinai became a household name in the mid-90s when her album Made in India hit the stores. The single Made in India from the album became a rage. Alisha became a star. I guess she was the only vocalist who achieved the stardom that is comparable to the actresses. She was often referred to as the ‘Diva’, a term synonymous with only the Hindi film heroines. Alisha is, in fact, the only singer who was touted as ‘desirable’ by the media. She managed to become a pop culture phenomenon in a country that worshiped only Bollywood actors and cricketers. She became aspirational. Men bought her posters. Girls copied her style. After all, she set fashion trends in the 90s. She brought back the fringe and enamored everyone with her fashion sense.

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One epithet that is the most common with the pop star is the fact that she was ahead of her times. Alisha Chinai truly was way ahead of her times! She did things in the 90s that singers in India can’t think of doing even today. Remember her song ‘De De Dil Mujhko’ from Bombay Girl. That song made her the biggest sex symbol of the 90s. The video still exudes the same heat even today when I watch it on YouTube. Alisha was unapologetically sexy and flaunted her sex appeal in all her videos.   She was the one who could easily compete with a Madonna or a Jennifer Lopez! Her music and her videos were of International standards. Whether it be a ‘Made In India’ or ‘Seulement Vous’ or the most recent ‘Shut Up N Kiss Me’, Alisha never compromised on the quality. She as an artist brings in so much more than just singing while doing a project. One could sense how incredibly creative the lady is!

Alisha Chinai is not just a kickass singer but also possesses a rare sense of right and wrong. She has always spoken her mind, did things her own way and in middle of all this has broken numerous stereotypes. Her fight for royalty is legendary. She is one of the very few who is aware of her IP rights as an artist and has always fought for it. She had a vision where the singers in India could receive the same amount of adulation, fame, and money as much as the actors and actresses. She created a space which could empower the singers and make them realize that they deserve similar superstardom which their counterparts in the west get. She wanted singers to experience the sort of star status she enjoyed in the 90s. But alas not every singer has the acumen to understand these dynamics. All other singers are happy doing playback singing and being subservient to the Bollywood heroes and heroines. The hunger, the zeal, the motivation is missing! Also making a non-film album is not everyone’s cup of tea. After all, there are hundreds of singers singing today but sadly not one can be called a ‘star’.

Alisha has always been the bohemian singer who was a complete misfit in the saree clad industry of playback singing. She had a personality and IndiPop gave her the platform to express that. She was so empowered that she said no to playback singing after Made In India. But her voice was always loved by her fans whenever she did playback singing. When she returned to Bollywood in the mid-2000s, she delivered hits after hits. Her voice stood out and so did her personality. But you can never tame a tigress. Alisha spoke against the poor treatment of singers in Bollywood and how she received just INR 15000 as royalty for Kajara Re. She said no to Vishal-Shekhar because she did not have the motivation to sing for Bollywood anymore. She took a stand which is unthinkable. People talk about fighting for injustice and unfair practices but Alisha Chinai did not just preach, she started practicing it.

My Top 5 Picks
My Top 5 Picks

As I write this, Alisha’s single ‘Made In India’ has crossed 19 million views on YouTube without any promotion whatsoever. This validates that she has a tremendous recall value and is almost synonymous with 90s Nostalgia. One can see the amount of dedication and hard work she has put into her songs and videos. She deserves every bit of the amount that her songs make from their digital sales because she is the sole reason for the popularity of her songs on YouTube and other digital platforms. Now, if she does not make money from her own videos and the label eats every penny made digitally, it is simply atrocious and sad.

I hope Alisha remains the way she is and also comes up with new songs for her fans. Nevermind, till then I have her gems from the past to cherish. Alisha has left a mark on the Indian Music Scene that very few artists in India have. This can be vindicated from the very fact that when there are hundreds of recording artists in India today, the country is still searching for its next Alisha.

(Disclaimer – I do not own the rights to the images displayed on the page. The rights remain with their rightful owners. The images are sourced from various public online sources to provide a reference to Alisha Chinai. )