Pritam, a music director who composes beautiful melodies has had plagiarism accusations wrapped around him as thick as his hairy ensemble of beard and head-hair. He may claim that they were inspired but they definitely don’t sound inspired. Anu Malek had patented the excuse of inspiration for his musical creations. Pritam’s tunes have clearly been lifted – more blatantly and more frequently than all his predecessors. Pritam’s speciality lies in the fact that he picks up some of the most beautiful tunes – at least the end product which he gives us is eminently hummable. Listen to a few of the loveliest tunes of our times, “Lamha Lamha”, “Bheegi Bheegi”, “Dhoom Machale ”, and “Zahreli Raatein”, just to name a few, and you will realize that these have been directly lifted off one or two songs. Most of the songs which have provided “inspiration” to our “artistes” are non-English songs, hence the Indian public does not recognize the basic tunes and rhythms.
A tradition to carry forward ?
Plagiarism of musical scores has been kind of a tradition among our country’s film industry. The difference between then and now is that in the older songs probably only one in a hundred songs was “copied” or “inspired” but the present generation is rather “liberal” in this respect. In many cases, almost the entire albums of a film is made up of such plagiarized songs, one of the examples being Gangster  (“Bheegi bheegi”, “Lamha lamha”, “Ya Ali” and “Tu hi meri shab hai”). In the older movies, such instances were few and far between, but circa Anu Malek, the evidence of tunes being lifted from here and there became commonplace. It is however surprising to know that some of our very old and loved songs are imitations. Old plagiarized songs include Kaun Hai Jo Sapno Mein Aaya (Jhuk Gaya Asman) which has been lifted directly from Elvis Presley’s Marguerita. Similarly the song ‘Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaye’ from the movie Jurm was a direct copy of Five Hundred Miles -by The Brothers Four. The ‘Mehbooba Mehbooba’ score from Sholay is a rip-off of Demis Roussos’s – Say You Love Me.
‘Catch me if you can’
The Indian composers are becoming original in their own unique way. They have resorted to copying from Korean/Chinese/Belgian/Arabic tracks since Hollywood rip-offs are easily detected. However, this has also become a problem, since the internet and a smaller world has made the listening public more knowledgeable.
“Inspiration” is not a bad thing: A point in this case is the evergreen classic “chura liya” which is said to be inspired partly from Bojoura-If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Belgium. Well, our Hindi song in this case is definitely better. Taking on something and making it into a masterpiece is not cheating or plagiarism. There is a fine line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘copying’… and while legends like S.D. Burman and Naushad have also tended to pick up ideas from one or more songs, they were far from plagiarists. They did not pick up the entire song, but just took a small part of the rhythm and added their own touches to it, thereby producing a better and different version.
To the music-composers’ credit, it does take a genius to pick up another tune and make it his own. We are not talking about blatant lifting over here. Selecting a song (often one which is not too well-known to the common public) and picking up parts of it to make a new song and maybe mixing one or two more tunes to make the resultant piece look and sound wonderful – that surely requires some talent. Whether they should be paid the high fees they demand, is another matter altogether. Anu Malek is accused of having copied songs and themes of movies. To his credit he sometime paid the original musician for the credits and always made the original “his own” by inducing that trademark touch of his.
These music composers earn fame and name from songs that other people created. They lift them up, brush them here, shine them there and showcase it to the world as their own work. People applaud. They call them artists … until their con is detected. Then they cry foul … say they are being victimized and that they are being held guilty only because they’ve been caught … after a little while the whole world forgets about it. They are then invited as judges to sit in judgment to young talent and to impart “wisdom” to the contestants about where they were lacking. Are these role models of today? Do we really want advice from them? Probably yes, but not about music or about how to copy other people’s music… they may both be different sides of the same coin but they require some degree of talent nevertheless.
Very soon we may see programs like “India Ka Copycat” where contestants will be judged according to how quickly and finely they can select music for their “own” songs and how they can modify them just enough so that they do not look like exact replicas. Music directors who have specialized in plagiarism would be best suited for those shows. After all, cheating is also an art and if done tastefully it can lead to immense success. Pritam is an easy choice for the judge. We may also approach Anu Malek if such a situation presents itself but considering his bad temper, he may not take kindly to this proposal and may give the proposer an earful.
All said and done, if the music composers must … absolutely must include some components of somebody else’s work into their own; the least they can do is give credit to the rightful owner. However, if they do credit the owner/creator of the song, they may also end up paying a high royalty.
For the sake of honesty, it’d be desirable that these people just work hard enough and make their own music. However, in the general interest of Bollywood (I didn’t say art), it’s quite okay if they lift their music or get “inspired” from somewhere. As long as we get great music and preferably from sources we can’t recognize, it’s cool enough.