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Sweet nostalgia of the 1990s

We cast a fond eye on the 1990s, the decade when the world came to India

The 1990s decade still rings in our ears.
The 1990s decade still rings in our ears.

The 1990s never really went away in India.

Turn on the TV today and you might chance upon a rerun of the Friends episode in which Chandler shouts, “Run, Yasmine, run." Or you could head to your nearest multiplex this weekend and watch Alexandra Daddario—the closest to Yasmine Bleeth in the new Baywatch movie, which also stars Priyanka Chopra—run instead.

The decade still rings in our ears. Over the last year, UB40 have toured India, both Tamma Tamma and Humma Humma have found their way back on to the charts, and a radio channel dedicated to “1990s retro" has been launched. Indipop no longer exists, but it’s a rare college reunion that doesn’t end with a weepy rendition of Yaaron or Purani Jeans (in the 1990s, it was conceivable that our No.1 college anthem might be from Pakistan).

Also Read: 1990s changed the way we watched movies

Every decade brings with it monumental change, but it’s particularly easy to make the case for India in the 1990s as a period of extraordinary ferment and reinvention. Economic liberalization wrought sweeping changes in the way we ate, travelled, shopped and saw ourselves. It’s difficult to imagine today how thrilling it was to first watch MTV or sit in a McDonald’s in India—but it was. It was a decade of firsts—and of goodbyes: to cassette tapes, Walkmans, PCOs, dial-up connections, soggy cornflakes.

We had always been a nation of armchair experts when it came to cricket—except now we could disagree with expert commentators while watching matches on our colour TVs. Just last week, a documentary reminded us (as if we needed reminding) that this was a decade dominated by Sachin Tendulkar. Fittingly, the film was scored by that other 1990s icon, A.R. Rahman.

Also Read: 1990s: The decade of junk food and cola wars

Even as we let the world in, we learnt to recast it in our own image. Foreign brands realized that they would have to adapt—make themselves more Indian—if they were going to survive here. Despite the hand-wringing of self-appointed moral guardians, we didn’t adopt “Western culture" wholesale. Instead, we assimilated it, mixed it with local smarts and emerged with a kind of desi cool propagated by home-grown VJs and movies like Rangeela.

Also Read: Leaving the Doordarshan era behind

The Baywatch movie might need some rescuing itself but the red swimsuit will always be a fond, if mildly guilty, thrill. Like the jar of sweets pictured alongside (an announcement of Sonam and Rhea Kapoor’s fashion label, Rheson, which relies on 1990s iconography in its clothes), this package is a mixed bag of old favourites from the worlds of sport, travel, entertainment, food and advertising. Join us as we cast a fond eye on the 1990s, the decade when the world came to India.

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