Saturday, March 4, 2017

Anything goes - Bollywood songs

Randhir, Rishi & Rajiv Kapoor were all Campionites, the same school I went to. Rajiv was a year senior to me but by the by the IV standard he had failed and ended up in my class. Randhir & Rishi attend our alumni functions. This paragraph has really nothing to do with this post.

As you may know Rishi Kapoor has written his autobiography, I saw an interview where he spoke and promoted his book. The book was available for just Rs 39 on Kindle, which is where HRH The Queen of Kutch does all her reading. HRH The Queen of Kutch would never read such drivel, but she kindly asked if she should buy the book on Kindle for me. I said please do. So, folks, the very first book I have ever read on Kindle has been Khullam Khulla by Rishi Kapoor.

The book itself is passable, badly edited with a fairly large number of repetitious ideas and references. He has, as I am sure have all film stars, led a very magical life. I am certain they worked very hard, but with that lifestyle and adulation, they lead far more magical and charming lives than similarly wealthy individuals. I quite enjoyed the book.

Like the Karan Johar show Koffee With Karan, I simply do not understand who the audience is for the book [and show]. The participants have made their name and fame in Bollywood with the Hindi speaking masses. Yet, the show as well as the book are in English. What is the audience? Is it just the rich Mumbaikars and Delhiwallahs? I am mystified.

Now let me come to the point of this post and try and connect the dots for you.

I am no fan of Bollywood music, but living in Mumbai, you cannot escape it. So while I do not own a single Bollywood song in my vast CD collection, nor do I see any Bollywood films, I can recognize songs. I have always held the view that a Bollywood song is shall I say “fungible.” By this I mean interchangeable. Take a song like “Chura Liya” from the film “Yadon Ki Baarat” If you want to make a documentary on film songs, or do any sort of study with that one song you have so many angles:

The musical skills of Director Nasir Hussain – Chura Liya
The greatest song picturised on Zeenat Aman – Chura Liya
Memorable songs – Chura Liya
Hits of R D Burman – Chura Liya
Great lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri – Chura Liya
Great songs sung by Asha Bhosle – Chura Liya
Great choreography by Suresh Bhat– Chura Liya

There you go. Fungibility. You can use that one song to present so many different perspectives. You could do this infinitely with any Bollywood song. There is no owner of the song. Everyone is an owner and at the same time no one is an owner. From a legal perspective, the question is who owns the copyright to the song. My impression, and I may be wrong here, is that the music companies – HMV, T -Series and so on - own these rights. Assuming I am correct, quite clearly, in law, none of the gentlemen listed could claim any sort of ownership.

Reading Rishi Kapoor’s book, he made an interesting point. According to him, today many music composers are claiming rights in songs to the exclusion of others like the film Director and so on. Obviously several factors are at play, good songs can mean a lot of money accruing over several years, people realize this and a greater awareness of rights by composers have resulted in such demands. Rishi Kapoor disagrees vehemently with this demand by music composers. Kapoor contends that it is not the composer who makes the song a hit; it is the aggregate of the film director’s skills, the choreographer the actors in the song and so on and so forth. The hit song, Kapoor asserts, is synergy of all these factors and not just the composers inputs and contribution. Is not what Kapoor says not synonymous with what I have labored over. Bollywood music is fungible.

A recent order by the Bombay High Court brings this fungibility aspect into sharp relief. The case itself is bizarre and laughable. 21 years ago, in 1996 a Bollywood film “Chhote Sarkar” starring Govinda and Shilpa Shetty was released. The film had a song called “Ek Chumma Tu Mujhko Udhar De De”. A lawyer in the Pakur District of what was then Bihar now in Jharkhand was offended by the song, claimed it was defamatory to Bihar. The case was filed against Govinda, Shilpa Shetty, the Lyricist and others. A warrant came to be issued for the arrest of Govinda as he did not appear in the magistrate Court where the case was filed. The Bombay High Court granted him bail.

The lyrics in the song are

Ek chuma tu mujko udhaar dai de
Badle mein UP Bihar lai le
Roughly translated:

Please Give Me A Kiss On Credit
And in return please take Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Since this post has no photographs you can entertain yourself by watching the song here.

Anyway, back to the point. Without getting into whether the lyrics are defamatory, my question is, should Govinda and Shilpa Shetty have ever been parties to such a case, except for publicity or extortion? They did not sing the song, nor write the lyrics nor compose the music. Is this not fungibility? One song and so many interchangeable angles and because of this poor Govinda and Shilpa Shetty have to face the proverbial music.

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