Till about half a decade ago, I would think of Anu Malik as the black sheep of the Indian film music industry – for unapologetically lifting tunes off any source he could lay his hands on, and passing them off as his own. Old westerns numbers, ethnic tunes, even older numbers from our very own Bollywood films. That’s not to say I now believe he doesn’t do it anymore. But today, I’m wise to the fact that he has not been the only one in the industry guilty of imitation. What worked against him, is that he happened to achieve fame in an age where information is very easily accessible to laymen and the elite alike. People are more aware of tunes from around the world, and can easily look up information on an original composition as soon as they hear a Bollywood number even remotely resembling it.
And while I do grant Anu Malik his share of talent for original music, this post is not in his defense, nor is it about him. This post is about his forefathers in the industry. About the stalwarts of Indian film music, who, in addition to rendering brilliant originals, borrowed liberally from sources around the world. Fortunately for them, people like you and me did not have the resources to figure out who borrowed, and from what source. Moreover, the layman had limited access to music, unlike the gentry in the profession. So it was very unlikely that the common man would have heard any music from another part of the world.
One way of looking at it is, everybody stole, but only a few got caught. But before we write anyone off, let us think about this – some of the best world melodies known to us today have been introduced to us through these people. Today, I’m happy that I’m able to hum a melody so haunting as Salil Chaudhry’s Dil Tadap Tadap (Madhumati). Had he not been inspired by a Polish folk song in 1958, I would be completely oblivious to its existence. And hold your breath – even R.D. Burman’s Chura Liya. If it weren’t Tuesday, and had that not been Belgium, Indian music would be one short of a magnificent number. Wouldn’t you be willing to forgive a few inspired lines, if they promised to transcend into an ingenious original composition that would create history?
The dynamics of copyright law, technology and culture were different then than they are today. What is copyright, but a bargain between the creators and the public at large? No doubt, it would be optimal if the source were credited. But we are talking of a time when the musical archives were not readily accessible. One may have heard a tune anywhere, from a street musician abroad, to a jukebox in a coffee shop, to a concert one was fortunate to attend. Few were blessed with access to good world music, and they were kind to bring it to the masses. I, for one, am thankful that they did.
I have given below links to some of the more popular Bollywood tunes that were inspired. You will find a comprehensive list on the Itwofs (Inspired Indian Film Music) website. Be in for a surprise!
Edited to add: How would you like the irony of this write-up? Looks like a similar post was written a couple years ago. Of course, I had no idea about it until Shefaly mentioned it. But since neither ‘pot’ nor ‘kettle’ have a nice ring to it, I’d gladly give it a mention and continue being called ‘g’ :) !