Recently, when interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine about his autobiography, Andrew Lloyd Weber revealed that he and Michael Jackson both loved the music of A.R. Rahman, and at one point “we found ourselves some very obscure part of Long Island listening to a Bollywood concert where A.R. was playing. He had a great love of that music.” (1)
In fact, Michael Jackson professed a love of Rahman’s native India that, when examined retrospectively, is revealed as passionately genuine as well as reciprocal.
Perhaps Jackson’s curiosity had been stirred by his friendship with Deepak Chopra and family. Chopra got to know Michael when he went to Neverland to teach him meditation. “We talked about starving children in Mumbai, and he would start to cry.”(2)
Some of Jackson’s essays published in “Dancing the Dream” and the iconography employed in video footage, shows a more than passing familiarity with Hindu deities and their traditional roles in the spiritual canon. When, in his poem “Heaven is Here” he writes “Come, let us dance/The Dance of Creation/Let us celebrate/The Joy of Life” it is as though he is giving voice to Shiva as Nataraja, “the cosmic dancer who performs his divine dance to both destroy world-weary views and herald the arrival of a new world in its place.” (3)
Yet, despite what seem obvious influences, Michael Jackson visited India just once in his career, on his HIStory World Tour, when he played to a full house at the Andheri Sports Complex in Mumbai. But this was commonplace for a Michael Jackson tour – full stadiums and adoring crowds, fans outside hotels and fawning dignitaries vying for a moment with the global superstar.
One academic noted on Quora that he seemed to like the colours and vibrancy of India. “Since he was also involved in charity, he couldn’t ignore India,” the writer suggested. (4)
Even during his motorcade ride from the Mumbai airport to the city in 1996, Jackson asked his driver to stop so he could spend twenty minutes talking to the children playing in the slums.
At Mumbai’s Oberoi hotel where he was staying, Jackson hosted a pool party for children from an orphanage. He also invited the hotel staff to join him on the tour bus. His “random acts of kindness” still linger in the minds of those who experienced or witnessed them. “At a time when artists demand a lot, here’s to those that give back a lot more” Salil Deshpande wrote in 2017 when looking back on the time “When Michael Jackson rocked Mumbai”. (5)
Jackson is extremely popular with Bollywood stars, like Tiger Shroff, whose 2017 film “Munna Michael” is the story of a boy from the streets who idolizes Michael Jackson; and Hrithik Roshan who met Michael in Los Angeles in 2008 when the pop star paid an unexpected visit to the apartment where Roshan was filming. “I’ve been a huge Jackson fan since childhood,” Roshan said. “So dad requested the mansion owner that we’d like to come over and meet Jackson. Instead he turned up in the room to meet us. That meeting is etched in my memory.” (6)
Bollywood acting legend Amitabh Bachchan fondly recalled his own meeting with Jackson in a blog written 25 June 2013, “its 4 years since the death of Michael Jackson… a true phenomena, if ever there was one… I had met him in New York once, when he had knocked on my Hotel room door by mistake, thinking it was his… we were staying in the same Hotel.” (7)
Actress and artist Sridevi who recently died (aged 54) while on a visit to Dubai for a charity auction of some of her paintings, was another Bollywood star known to have been a huge Jackson fan. A portrait she painted of Michael was reportedly her personal favourite. An article in India Today following her passing noted that, while Sridevi had been reserved for the most part, she never hid her adulation for the King of Pop from the public. “I worship him” she said in an interview in 2012. (8)
For many of us fans, one of the sweetest of MJ’s “Bollywood connections” came in 1999, when he accepted the Humanitarian Award at the Bollywood Awards in Long Island NY, saying:
“In some ways I feel undeserving to receive an award for something that is my duty. I accept this award as a gesture of encouragement from the people of India, and a commission to do more for mankind. I love you very much … Mahatma Gandhi knew how important bringing the world’s attention was to gaining freedom for India without using any weapons. In some ways he was the first person to truly understand the importance and power of the public, he has always been an inspiration to me and it gives me even greater joy and pride to be recognized by his people.” (9)
Last year (2017) on the 59th anniversary of Michael’s birthday, The Indian Express posted a commemorative article which states (in part), “Gliding across the stage in his trademark Moonwalk style, Michael Jackson danced in a manner that convinced us that his body was boneless. Towards the end of his career, his eccentricities got the better of him.” (10)
The latter comment on “his eccentricities” is about the most critical India’s on-line media seems to get when talking about Jackson. However, it’s not just his music, dancing skills and on-stage magnetism that India appreciates. In 2014 a poster for Earth Day activities at the Indian Museum quoted directly from Jackson’s lyrics with a heading that reads “Heal the World. Let’s make it a better place.” (11)
Put simply, it seems that in terms of Michael Jackson, India simply “gets it”.
Message written by Michael on a pillow at the Oberoi, Mumbai, October 1996:
India, all my life I have
longed to see your face.
I met you and your people and
fell in love with you.
Now my heart is filled with sorrow and despair
for I have to leave, but I promise
I shall return
to love you and caress you again.
Your kindness has overwhelmed me,
your spiritual awareness has moved me, and
your children have truly touched my heart.
They are the face of God.
I truly love and adore you India.
Forever, continue to love, heal and educate
the children, the future shines on them.
You are my special love, India.
Forever, may God
always bless you.
– Michael Jackson
(1) Grow, Kory “Andrew Lloyd Webber on ‘Phantom,’ ‘Evita,’ Michael Jackson” in Rolling Stone https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/andrew-lloyd-webber-on-phantom-evita-michael-jackson-w517518
(2) Chopa, Deepak “Remembering Michael” in Time http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1907409_1907413_1907555,00.html
(3) Hennigan, Kerry “Michael Jackson, Shiva and the Cosmic Dance” https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2016/09/12/michael-jackson-shiva-and-the-cosmic-dance/
(4) Quora “Why Did Michael Jackson Like India So Much” ) https://www.quora.com/Why-did-Michael-Jackson-like-India-so-much
(5) Conde Nast Traveller “When Michael Jackson rocked Mumbai” https://www.cntraveller.in/story/michael-jackson-came-bombay/
(6) Iyer, Meena “Hrithik’s MJ moment” in Times of India https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/news/Hrithiks-MJ-moment/articleshow/4757280.cms
(7) Parande, Shweta “Michael Jackson knocked on Amitabh Bachchan’s door – did you know that?” http://www.bollywoodlife.com/news-gossip/michael-jackson-knocked-on-amitabh-bachchans-door-did-you-know-that/
(8) India Today “Sridevi and Michael Jackson: In life as in death, alike” https://www.indiatoday.in/movies/celebrities/story/sridevi-michael-jackson-similarities-life-death-huge-fan-1178697-2018-02-27
(9) MJJ Justice Project “Bollywood Humanitarian Award for Michael Jackson 1999” transcript https://mjjjusticeproject.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/bollywood-humanitarian-award-for-michael-jackson1999/ and True Michael Jackson “Bollywood Awards 1999 – “Outstanding Humanitarian Award” https://www.truemichaeljackson.com/speeches/bollywood-awards-1999/
(10) Das, Samarpita “Happy birthday Michael Jackson: Here’s what makes him the King of Pop” in The Indian Express