For many people in India -- a market where international repertoire accounts for just 5% of physical music sales -- Michael Jackson is Western pop.
Alone among Western artists, his popularity isn't confined to English-speaking urban Indians. Among the country's rural youth his celebrity competes with Bollywood stars for one reason: his trademark dance moves.
"Anybody who dances well is compared with Michael Jackson," says Nikhil Gangavane, who founded India's official, 13,000-member Jackson fan club. "The moonwalk made Michael reach from the classes to the masses in India."
The way Bollywood appropriated Jackson's moves and style connected with Indian fans. "Actors, established choreographers, aspiring composers, kids in dance shows—everybody borrowed ideas," says British-born hip-hop star Hard Kaur, now a Bollywood star.
Indian actors, from Javed Jaffrey to Hrithik Roshan, say they were inspired by Jackson's dancing. And the southern Indian movie industry still uses Jackson-esque routines, thanks to the influence of dancers and choreographers like Prabhu Deva, known as "India's Michael Jackson" for his lightning-fast moves.
Jackson's recorded-music sales are also significant. Arjun Sankalia, associate director of Sony Music Entertainment India, says the 25th-anniversary edition of "Thriller" sold 15,000 copies. The album's initial release sold more than 100,000, according to Suresh Thomas, former branch manager of the southern region for CBS India—a joint venture between India's Tata Group and CBS America. "Bad," which had an inlay card translated into regional languages, sold 200,000. None of the totals include the millions of pirated versions that have been sold.
Jackson proved his popularity on the subcontinent with the one show he performed in India -- Nov. 1, 1996, at Mumbai's Andheri Sports Complex. A 70,000-seat sellout, it was organized by Shiv Sena political party leader Raj Thackeray to raise funds to provide jobs for young people in the state of Maharashtra -- and boost the party's popularity among young urban voters.
Jackson arrived at Mumbai airport Oct. 30 and was greeted by actress Sonali Bendre, who put the traditional Hindu "tilak" mark on his forehead. A motorcade escorted him to the concert, and he stepped out of the car several times during the journey to wave at the thousands of fans lining the streets between the airport and his hotel lobby.
Fans still remember. "Go to any village, any corner in India and you'll find everyone is familiar with the name Michael Jackson," Kaur says. "There is no musician who can replace MJ." --Ahir Bhairab Borthakur