Whose song is it anyway?

My Bollywood debut, Gang Of Ghosts, has failed to catapult me into overnight stardom. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it tragically did. My timelines across social media were flooded with an article about hitherto unknown Indian music-plagiarists #. I must admit, couple of them just broke my heart.

That Akele Hain Toh Kya Gham Hai from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and Koi Mil Gaya from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) weren’t original compositions, made me feel cheated. It was as if a big part of my childhood suddenly didn’t exist. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel like listening to these songs again. The only other instance I can recall when I’d felt similarly cheated was when I figured that Santa Claus is not real. It affected me so deeply that I started loathing Christmas. And, I was 6 then. Now in my mid twenties I feel similarly let down. It saddens me immensely to think that we humans are so terribly fake that even our creations- music, art etc.- are equally fake. I remember reading a John Lennon quote- ‘Music is everybody's possession. It's only publishers who think that people own it.’ I’m certain that Mr. Lennon would’ve done a re-think had he heard Shankar-Jaikishan’s version of The Beatles’ evergreen I Wanna Hold Your Hand in their film Janwar (1965).
Of course, I don’t mean any disrespect towards the stalwarts. I’m a fan, and have spent years perfecting the duo’s immortal melodies from films like Awara, Shree 420, Sangam, and Teesri Kasam.

What I don’t understand, and perhaps never will, is, firstly, the need to copy, and then, more importantly, pass it off as ‘inspiration’. Ella Fitzgerald inspires me, as does Adele. Does that mean I will sing their songs and pass them off as my own? Never! While I wholeheartedly support Lennon’s dig at publishers who’ve long exploited musicians across countries and industries, it’s the ‘possession’ bit I have been struggling to make peace with.

A creation belongs only to its creator. I can possess a copy of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, but it will never be mine. It can, as it rightly should, belong only to The Beatles! Recently, in a Mumbai tabloid, hit composer duo Sajid-Wajid admitted to getting inspired by RD Burman’s Jahaan Teri Yeh Nazar Hai from Kaalia (1981) while creating their latest chartbuster Tera Dhyaan Kidhar Hai from Main Tera Hero (2014). Wajid, on being asked about it, said, ‘The roots of all contemporary music can be traced to a composition of yesteryear… You cannot help when subconsciously somebody else's work creeps into your own’.

Are you, sir, saying all new songs are ‘inspired’? I don’t believe you. Award-winning composers like you who’ve come up with gems like Tore Naina Bade Dagabaaz from Dabangg 2 (2012) and Chori Kiya Re Jiya from Dabangg (2010) can’t take refuge in an insubstantial justification such as this. I’d like to believe your days of getting Sonu Nigam to sing a Hindi version of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You are long over! Commercial music in India is going through a phase of transformation. These are extremely exciting times for a musician.

New voices, such as mine, are coming to the fore, new genres are being explored, new tastes are being catered to. Young artistes like Amit Trivedi, Sneha Khanwalkar, Shankar Tucker are experimenting with sound like never before! There are new adventures to be had, so why must we keep rehashing old ones?

When we plagiarize, we destroy somebody else’s adventure. It’s shameful and criminal. As artistes it’s our job to take society forward, not limit them with cheap imitations. Oscar Wilde said, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.’ Every artiste aspires to be great. We’ll be doing ourselves, and our talents a great disservice should we choose to wallow in mediocrity.

Malini Banerjee is a snotty single child, mountain junkie, playback singer, Austen addict, hopes to soon finish writing her debut novel, and dreams of singing alongside Buddy Guy.
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