Brimful of Asha and Indipop's Catchy History

Bollywood and beyond: dive into the vibrant and ever-so-catchy songs of the mysterious subgenre. Indipop (Indian pop) is a hugely popular genre in South East Asia and worldwide. Read on to get your Bollywood, Kollywood and filmi facts straight.

Jul 1st 2021 by Moodagent

Lucky Ali performing (Photo: Hindustan Times)

Alternative but not as you know it

Believe it or not, Indipop is not strictly guitarists in skinny jeans making mainstream bangers. It’s short for Indian pop and, second only to Bollywood, dominates the subcontinent. Quintessential Indipop came to prominence in the 90s, around the same time as western indie-pop such as Belle & Sebastian and Stereolab did.

South Asian wave

Officially, though, Indipop’s evolution began in 1966 with Pakistani  film playback singer Ahmed Rushdie who became a widely-covered artist in clubs and hotel lobbies, and swept across India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan. Artists and groups started to get signed, managed, manufactured and - eventually - selling records nationwide. Like pop, some were authentic talent and some were selected and curated from schools and talent shows to become the next big thing.

The legend of Nazia

The term Indipop was coined by British-Indian band Monsoon on their 1981 EP release ‘Indipop Records.’ Brother-sister Pakistani duo Nazia and Zoheb Hassan were dominating the charts around this time, and Nazia went on to have a flourishing solo pop career that saw her moreish track ‘Boom, Boom’ played globally. Hassan very tragically died aged 35 in 2000, leaving behind a legacy that often dubs her the Queen of Pop in Southeast Asia.

Brimful of Asha

Some say Bollywood playback singer Asha Bhosle is also the queen of Indipop. She’s been sampled heavily by The Black Eyed Peas, and inspired Cornershop’s ‘Brimful of Asha.’ She broke records as the most recorded artist in history as on top of pop she made hugely popular recordings of qawwalis, ghazals, bhajans (different types of traditional Indian verse/song/poetry) that penetrated cross-cultural communities. Her sound has had an extremely valuable cultural impact.

The millennium and filmi

Indipop as a genre thrived as long as TV channels like MTV and the homegrown Channel V were around, and music videos were lapped up by the audiences. But in the early 2000s, there were drastic shifts in consumer behavior. Coinciding with a  slump in music channel viewership, the Indian movie industry became more open to a change in sound, and songs that were pure pop, and later on, even rock songs, found themselves becoming a part of the film soundtracks. Thus, the biggest names in Indipop started focusing on filmi or Bollywood music, the terminology given to film soundtracks in Hindi cinema. The filmi soundtrack is,  in fact, a certified genre in its own right, making up three quarters of Indian music sales.

But movie soundtracks in other Indian languages are not far behind when it comes to popularity. Initially, remixes of Bollywood songs were created by independent DJs and music producers and were part of the Indipop catalogue, but as time went on, these tweaked and souped-up songs became part of those very soundtracks. Pick up any recent soundtrack and you will find the original as well as the remix, both co-existing in perfect harmony on the same record. Remixes (more like remakes or re-creations) of Bollywood songs have helped Indipop find its feet again, with artists humbly crediting their success to the broader audience. But there is a whole new crop of musicians across Indian languages that are heralding the dawn of  “Indie”-pop.


Composers like AR Rahman (Roja, Slumdog Millionaire) came from the Tamil-speaking Kollywood sphere, and have bridged the gap between traditional Bollywood scores (filmi) and popular soundtracks, working with famous Indipop vocalists. Every genre needs stars. Singer-songwriters like Prateek Kuhad, Jasleen Royale and Nikita Gandhi - and rappers like Divine and Badshah - are popular chart-toppers known for mashups and original hits. Let the kaleidoscopic sounds brighten your day by listening to this moodagent, sparked from Norman Cook's smash remix of the Cornershop hit from 1997.

Words by Alexandra Pereira

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