Having hosted a successful Bollywood Bhangra music night for the last year and a half, I'm often asked where I find the music I spin. Nowadays, most of what I play is sourced out online, but the backbone of my collection and the foundation of my knowledge was acquired locally.
Located on the city's Westside, Om India Plaza is one of my favorite places to find music in Indy — and it's a grocery store, not a record shop. I've been buying cassettes and CDs at the plaza (aka International Bazaar) for well over 15 years. Although their selection has thinned down recently, it's still the best spot in Indiana to purchase South Asian music.
In the pre-internet days of the 1990s, Om Plaza's cassettes, sold at three bucks a pop, provided me with an affordable opportunity to explore my interest in Indian music. I would spend hours combing through the shop's immense collection of music in hopes of finding an odd bit of funk or psychedelia buried deep within the seemingly endless racks of vintage Bollywood recordings.
With little knowledge of Bollywood music and absolutely no familiarity with the Hindi language, I was left to examine the cover art to find clues that might reveal contents of the music held within. That's how I first noticed a CD that would be my key in unlocking a vast catalog of Indian funk, disco and psychedelic music.
Typical of vintage Bollywood reissues, it had two film soundtracks crammed onto one disc. A tiny snapshot of Bollywood superstars Dev Anand and Zeenat Aman dressed in full hippie garb immediately caught my attention. I glanced at the film titles Hare Rama Hare Krishna and Heera Panna and flipped the disc to check the track listing. Noticing a song titled "Freak Out Music", I sensed I was on the verge of discovering gold and immediately checked out.
Rushing home, I shoved the disc in my boombox and quickly cued up the song. I was not disappointed. With layers of bubbling synths and wild guitar feedback hovering over a funky drum pattern, "Freak Out Music" sounded more like a lost Krautrock obscurity than anything I could have imagined tucked away on an otherwise standard Bollywood soundtrack. Ears perked, I listened in shock as the track grew even stranger. In the midst of the percolating noise, a full-on brass band appeared, blasting away like Sun Ra's Arkestra in its prime.
As much as I loved this number from Heera Panna, it was a song from the CD's other soundtrack, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, that would push my obsession with Bollywood music into overdrive. Opening with a sustained, fat Moog tone riding atop a slamming breakbeat, the psychedelic masterpiece "Dum Maro Dum" made every hair on my body stand up straight.
I checked the liner notes to see who composed these amazing bits of musical madness and saw the name R.D. Burman credited with both film scores. On my next trip to Om Plaza I started searching for any CD or cassette that carried the composer's brand. Nearly every Burman tape I purchased included at least one irresistible nugget of Indian rock or disco. I was amazed to hear Burman's musical palette touch on mod soul, cool jazz, Beatle-esque pop and bossa nova, sometimes all within the same composition. By the end of the year I had purchased every Burman CD and cassette in the shop.
Moving beyond Bollywood, Om Plaza is also the place where I discovered the wild north Indian party music called bhangra. I would regularly drop in to pick up the latest hip-hop/bhangra crossover CDs by RDB and Panjabi MC, as well as classic folk albums by A.S. Kang and Kuldeep Manak.
I also fell in love with Pakistani qawwali and South Indian carnatic music at Om Plaza. The Abida Parveen and L. Subramaniam CDs I bought there a decade ago are still some of the most frequently played albums in my collection. And this description only scratches the surface of the music variety found at Om; there are bhajans, ragas, ghazals and a huge selection of regional Tamil and Telugu film music too.
Unfortunately, Om Plaza hasn't been immune to the digital music revolution's devastating affect on brick and mortar record shops, and their once monstrous selection has now been reduced to a more manageable collection spread over a few racks. The new releases section has vanished, with the bulk of the stock dating from the mid 2000s and prior. This isn't the place to cop the hottest new Bollywood hits, but it's still an incredible resource for students of Indian music as well as curious neophytes — and if that weren't enough you can grab a fresh samosa and jalebi at the register as you check out.