Way back in October 2009, I’d just arrived in India for the first time and was trying to get to grips with various complicated aspects of the culture, like threading a drawstring through a new pair of salwaar and taking a shower with a plastic bucket. As I was also very new to all things Bollywood, another confusing thing about India was the whole business of films having music videos randomly slotted between scenes. This strange idea took a bit of getting used to, but fortunately I was able to tune into channels like UTV Bindass, Zoom and 9XM and quite happily educate myself in the realms of sequin-encrusted filmi musical interludes.
‘Paisa’ (‘Money’) was THE song to have stuck in your head that month. I didn’t see the film it came from (De Dana Dan) until later as I’d gone to Australia by the time it was released, but I remember either hearing or watching that music video at least once a day the whole time I was in India. And it was weirdly addictive.
But what made something that was basically a blatant rip-off of that song by Usher so good? Was it the blinged-up Katrina Kaif in her desi diva outfit? Or Akshay, the action hero in Aviators? Perhaps it was the abundance of 1000 rupee notes flying around the under-dressed backing dancers while Katrina, in English, declared the hard truth, that “my love is priceless, baby – no money can buy me”. Who knows?
I spent those early days in Delhi zooming around Paharganj in an autorickshaw with a group of recently-befriended Dilliwallahs who wore a strict uniform of faux-designer sunglasses, Reebok trainers and jeans from Palika Bazaar. We’d crank up the volume (the auto had a CD player and speakers, obviously) and sing along to our favourite song while passers-by watched in awe and/or bewilderment. Apart from a few staples like ‘namaste’ and ‘dhanyavad’, I didn’t know any Hindi at that point, but I still managed to join in with the chorus. I’ll always remember speeding around Connaught Place, wailing, “main baarish kar doon paise ki, jo tu ho jaaye meri…”, which translates, I now know, to something like, “I’ll shower you with money if you’ll be mine.” It goes without saying that doing the corresponding hands/thumbs/elbows dance move was also essential.
I must have looked very stupid indeed. But I was happy, so I didn’t care.