Rockin’ the ’90s: My Top 15 Songs from the Decade that (Re)Defined Indian Pop Music

Whether it is Abida Parveen or Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, I absolutely dislike the fact that I have to pronounce their names in the most awkward-sounding anglicized of ways just to make one fembot understand me.

Because Alexa calls the former – A-Bye-Da and the latter Rahaat Fat Aliii Khan, unless I say their names this way, she pretends she doesn’t have their music. Arrgh! Still, I guess I should be appreciative of the fact that at least “she” as in Amazon’s Alexa, even has South Asian music. [Why, oh why, should I feel grateful!! How many millions of the Indian diaspora own an Alexa today? I don’t have the numbers but given our sheer strength in North America, particularly the US and Canada, wouldn’t it be fair to assume a significant number of us perhaps own a Alexa and would like to listen to the music of the motherland without having to contort our tongues and accents to anglicize names of artists and songs? Shouldn’t Amazon work on Alexa to have the AI to understand accents, ahem..Indian accents or really, just the right accent for the right artist and song native to a specific culture…it will happen one day, I guess, we’re just not there yet. I would really like Alexa/Amazon to start offering a wider variety of South Asian/Indian music.]

Having navigated and finally and successfully having ordered Alexa to play music by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, I chanced upon him singing an old favorite that was originally sung by his father, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The song, Afreen Afreen, still haunts (in a good way) my memories of the 90s, the brightest period of Hindi pop music, with the scintillating Lisa Ray mysteriously cascading in the desert heat. As I chopped my onion listening to this more contemporary rendition of Afreen Afreen, also equally melodious, it brought tears to my eyes. Such melody, just rich lyrics, such silky voices….ahh…beautiful. Really, just listen to this and may I suggest, you use earphones to listen so you can really and truly listen. What an artist, this man!! Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. I had also liked the original and this just seems an improvement over that. Watch this video to see how everything about this song is so incredibly uplifting. What a dedicated team of musicians, and singers (both background singers and the primary ones). Love it!

The lyrics have subtitles in Urdu (I think, could be Arabic), English and in English letters.

This was the time MTV and Channel V had just started making their presence felt and pop singing was a whole new beast unleashed on a country who hitherto perhaps wasn’t sure that musical entertain beyond Hindi movies’ music and a few ghazal artists was possible – a boon for talented (and some not-so-talented, one-hit-wonders) folks who wouldn’t otherwise have broken into the extremely monopolized-by-a-few Hindi music industry.

Following is my list of  Top 15 songs and a few bonus ones (in no particular order) that defined the 90s pop music scene in India for me. No matter what list I make, it will never satisfy everybody and I am sure I will have inadvertently left some great ones out but these are the ones I can remember now which means they TRULY left a mark so here goes: (Note: Not all are favorites per se although I do like them, they are just memorable for specific reasons)


1. o Sanam – Lucky Ali – 1996



2. Dil le gai kudi Gujarat di – Jasbir Jassi – 1998

What an upbeat song! Every time I hear this song, I want to drop whatever it is I am doing and just start dancing. One particular memory of this song takes me back to 2002 when at an International Students’ party, the mood was quite, well, “unparty” like…that is, until THIS song came on. Indians, from every nook and corner of the room suddenly, as if magically, myself included, got pulled into the dance floor and danced away with their bad “Bollywood” dance moves but it brought life to the party. We were joined by people of many other nationalities because, clearly, who can resist a strong bhangra beat!! Very soon, the guys from Peru played their music and the once-hesitant guys from Japan passed their CD to the person managing the music and finally, we had a PARTY!!

(side note: After I spoke to the Japanese guys in Japanese and praised their choice of music and admitted to being a former fan of the group, SMAP, they graciously gifted me the CD)

Here’s to my friends from the Gorilla kingdom….you know who you are 🙂


3. Made in India – Alisha Chinai – 1995

Two words – MILIND SOMAN….he was at the height of his fame and glory those days. I even had the privilege of interviewing him once, in a former life. His then (but broken-up-by-the-time-I-met-her) girlfriend, Madhu Sapre, on the other hand was quite reticent to a journalist so instead I switched to a conversation and I still have very fond memories of that whole experience – sitting in her hotel room, casually engaging her in conversation and finally getting her permission to make an article out of our chat – Beautiful!


4. Deewana – Sonu Nigam – 1999



5.  Yaad piya ki aane lagi – Phalguni Phatak – 1999

I can almost guarantee there is no girl my generation who hasn’t wrapped herself around in a towel and done the dance step the girls do in this video.


6. Dil Dhadke – Baba Sehgal – 1992

One of the earliest pop songs to hit Indian television screens, this song was the rage!! Believe it or not, I could rap this song, just like Baby Sehgal does…didn’t care for the lyrics but I was in 7th grade and really proud of my ability to do the whole rapping bit (rolls eyes at self now). I think I really made my mother proud of my rapping skills 🙂 because even today, I remember her smiling face and compliment at my ability to do so.



7. Shubha Mudgal – Ab Ke Sawan – 1999 (be patient until 1:03 seconds – then listen, LISTEN)




8. Colonial Cousins – Sa Ni Dha Pa – 1996


Bonus – Also by Colonial Cousins – Krishna


9. Kabhi To Nazar Milao – Adnan Sami – 2000

Adnan Sami burst into the Indian pop scene with a bang and some truly melodious numbers together with one of THE biggest names in Hindi singing, Asha Bhosale. One of my fondest memories of his time in the industry is taking my mother to his concert with her riding the back of my Kinetic Honda scooter (perhaps praying the whole way there because of how she thought I drive :)). Thanks to my PRESS pass, I was allowed free entry and got to enjoy the concert up, close, and center where all the magic happens :), a memory my mother fondly brought up for many years after that event.

Also having former cricketeer, Salil Ankola, as the star of this music video was a cool thing to watch.



10. Aankon mein tera hi chehra – Aryans – 1999

Now movie star, then child artist and music video starrer, Shahid Kapoor – enough said.



11. I am an Indian – Noble Savages – 1997

This song was a shock to the system. Where did these guys come from? Who were they and WHY were they singing this hideous song? Oh well…the song became popular by repeated telecasting of it on MTV. I didn’t particularly like it but I didn’t dislike it either. Still, there was something about this song that was so bizarre and “out-there” that it has stayed memorable even after all these years.



12. Aur ahista kijiye batein – Pankaj Udhas – 1998

I can probably say with some level of certainty that this was the first time an interracial couple was shown as a leading pair of a music video in India. You wouldn’t think that a song of this genre (and by Pankaj Udhas!!) would have a video featuring a white dude. Yet, here it is…lovely. I did all the Googling I possibly could but was unsuccessful in finding out about the actor.




Swoon….John Abraham. The first time I interviewed him, it was at the Holiday Inn (it has changed many names and management since then) in Pune. The HI brand does not have as much of a ‘big deal’ reputation in the US, but in India, at the time, a Holiday Inn was considered a 5 Star hotel. Anyway, sent on assignment to interview JA, I was really blown away by his down-to-earth, extremely friendly, and casual-I’ve-known-you-all-my-life demeanor. It could have been a show for a journalist (me!!) or it could have been genuine. Either way, he asked me if I would like some coffee (and even as I was figuring out who was going to pay for this very expensive Holiday Inn coffee), he had already ordered it for me (and no, I didn’t have to pay). Over coffee, we had a wonderful and easy flowing conversation. At the time of our interview, he wasn’t quite as well known as he would eventually become. He was a ramp model who had appeared in a few music videos like the one below.

Chupke Chupke – Pankaj Udhas – 1999



13. Shaam se ankh mein nami si hai – Jagjit Singh – 1999

I was deeply into Jagjit Singh ghazals (and Urdu poetry) at this stage of my life for really unknown reasons. Anyway, so when he also jumped into the music video bandwagon, I was only too happy to see his music appreciated by even more people, another generation of true music lovers.


14. Gur naal ishq – Bally Sagoo – 1997

Jas Arora – Another good looking young actor/wannabe actor who was part of an entire generation of young men and women who got an early start in their careers in the entertainment industry thanks to the breakout decade of Indian pop music. I had an opportunity to interview him once and it was one of the most teeth-grinding, why-am-I-here time of my life. He was very quiet, barely answered any of my questions and when he did, mostly replied in mono-syllabic, closed-ended ways that were tough to follow-up. This was my only interview where I went from question to question, from my list (a generic one that I usually had in the back of my mind as back up for situations exactly like this). In the end, it was just another “celebrity” interview for me but not a fun one. Maybe he was having a bad day or maybe he is just that kind of an introvert, media-shy person. Either way, he was the complete opposite of his on-screen persona, which is fine, of course…just not a good interview candidate.

Also, in case you are interested, here is a good read: 13 Male Models Who Featured in Indi-Pop Songs of the Past, and Captured our Hearts



Finally, here is a song from the one-hit-wonder, Bali Brahmbhatt. We actually bought his album (tape) based on this one song and of course, as is usually the case, every one of the rest of the songs sucked! This song, somehow, was an outlier in an otherwise abysmal debut and only album. Starring the very first Adonis Graviera Man of the Year, 1994, Bikram Saluja, the video was sweet, the lyrics even more so, and together, made for a perfect ’90s hit pop song.

15. Tere bin jeena nahi – Bali Brahmbhatt


There you have it. There are still a few that I have had to leave out – like Loverboy by Alisha Chinai, Thanda Thanda Pani by Baby Sehgal, Chui Mui Si Tum, Duniya by Raageshwari, a few songs by Euphoria, Dooba Dooba, Sayonnee, Purani Jeans our Guitar, and others. For now, this list will suffice. Enjoy.


Before you leave, here’s one last memorable ’90s song. I am sure you have hummed it many, many times.

Pari hoon mein – Sunita Rao – 1991



A former Communication Studies professor turned a somewhat reluctant stay-at-home-mom (SAHM), I blog about my adventures raising two multiracial kids. I write about parenting and living a multicultural Indian-Canadian-American HinJew life with honesty, a few tears, lots of laughter, and gallons of coffee.
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Follow me: @thephdmama

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1 Comment

  1. hey like your post.
    really enjoyed it.
    thank you

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