When Sonu Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Pop Culture

When Sonu Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Illustration: Mandar Mhaskar


remember my father listening to a very young Sonu Nigam and saying, “Rafi aur Kishore Kumar se aage jayega ye ladka.” The album was “Rafi Ki Yaadein” and the year was 1992. Shaan and Alisha Chinai had already made their way into our collective consciousness, not so much for their music, but for the carefree attitude of their lyrics tiled to fit an open marriage with melody. But among the coterie of the ensemble of would-be stars, the exceptionally soft, grounded yet jaggedly youthful Sonu Nigam stood out.

Nigam inherited from his parents not only the powers of singing but also the persona of the middling star of Indian music. The face of Nigam’s steadily steaming forecastle had been likened to the legend that was Mohd Rafi. By the time Nigam’s album “Deewana” came out in 1999 (back when pop was still a thing and record labels still backed artists), he had already lent his voice to songs that the youth gloved their open-fisted angst and heartbreaks with. I can’t remember a boy from school, even as late as 2004, who did not know word for word the lyrics of “Yeh Dil Deewana” from Pardes. It only helped Nigam’s cause that Shah Rukh had his heart broken in the film and drove a car mercilessly across pastures in the US, serving only to pump the blood and emotion inside whosoever was listening – a glistening, grunge lolly of pop culture.