Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Growing up with the ‘Moonwalker’
It was the late 80s and I was in school, contemptuous of rules and looking for a cause to rebel against parental interference. I was too young to run away and wise enough not to push it so as to end up without dinner.
I could have sworn Michael Jackson was looking straight at me and I stared right back, unabashed, mesmerized. “He knows,” I remember thinking.
Back then we had no cable connection and only a single channel — the government-run Doordarshan — that like a venerable grandfather took our education in its hands, combining crop rotation with calculus and regional films with Indian classical music.
Some urbane, convent-educated, upper middleclass families did listen to “Western Music” comprising mostly Bach, Mozart and the occasional Belafonte.
But when MJ unashamedly burst into the screen during a programme on Doordarshan called the Hot Tracks, with his hip gyrations, metal-studded jacket, top hat and sheer energy — it was just too much.
“Why would any self-respecting adult declare he’s ‘Bad’ on national TV? What’s happening to lyrics?” my father seethed with righteous indignation. But I wasn’t paying attention.
I had got my icon, the man who was to be my hero for the next 10 years.
Over slamming of my bedroom door, angry bursts from the stereo, breaking into the moonwalk in the shower and lifesize posters inside closet doors.
Looking back, I know I was doing exactly what millions of teenagers across the world were doing. I do not know of any other celebrity who became as much a youth icon as MJ did from New York to Tokyo, Sydney to Alaska.
When MTV came to India, I immediately fell in love with “music videos” and Michael Jackson was the master of them.
Far from the generation of soul singers perched on straight-backed chairs, MJ exploded into the scene, shook up a generation and forced it to look at pop like they’ve never done before.
Like a million others I was unable to breathe, unable to look away, swearing to him that I will never fall in love with anyone else. Ever.
But when globalization brought with it access to western music and the entire world of rock, jazz and country opened up to me, I am ashamed to say my single-minded devotion slowly gave way to something stronger, something different. I had many suitors now. And Jackson was a school girl’s crush.
With his nose jobs and drastically changing looks, I squirmed in embarrassment remembering my juvenile dogged love for a man who was so clearly a “has-been”.
As I write this I keep asking myself, how could I have not seen this coming? This is his game. This is what he does best.
Look at him, dead for three days and still able to shake up the charts, kick the crowd in the teeth and hold them spellbound in disbelief.
It’s a sappy thing to say but I just have to. Sometimes dead lovers remind you of what you could have had and what you made of your choices.
When I think of MJ, I will have to find a way to separate the debt-ridden man, mired in ugly controversies and struggling with his personal appearance from the “imperfect genius” he was, larger than life and stylish as hell.