Whose music is it?
Kamal Kothari has a problem. As director of Rupayan Sanasthan, an institute of Indian folklore in Jaipur, he has been collecting all the songs composed by Rajasthani singers and suing music directors of Hindi films for infringement of copyright.
His latest campaign is against the chart-busting Nimbuda number filmed on Aishwarya Rai and Salman Khan in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s runaway hit, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. The composition is credited to Ismail Durbar i n the film.
"The song was
actually composed by a little-known folk singer, Ghazni Khan
Manganiyar," informs Kothari. "Its original Rajasthani
version was even recorded in a private album. And now, somebody from
Bombay comes, steals his song and takes all the credit!"The worst
part, according to the archivist, is that Manganiyar cannot sing his
song any more. "He has to take permission and perhaps, even pay
royalty to the Bombay composer for singing his own song," says
Kothari. "This is grossly unfair."
"We are aware of this problem," admits a spokesperson of the Film Federation of India. "But there is little anybody can do about it because Hindi film music gets automatically registered with the Indian Performing Rights Society. It takes care of protecting the intellectual property rights of the composers."
In the absence of a similar body to protect the rights of folk artistes, it is left to organisations like the Ruayan Sanasthan to take up the issue on their behalf. Their only precedent is what the Vishwa Bharati University has done to protect the commercial exploitation of Tagore’s music, or Rabindra Sangeet.
"You cannot just run a Tagore composition in a film without inviting the wrath of Vishwa Bharati," says Amitabh Mukherji, a Bengali playback singer. "From Satyajit Ray in Charulata to Kumar Sahani (Char Adhyay) and Jagjit Singh (Yaraana), everybody has had to take permission, even as Tagore is no more."
Ironically enough, folk artistes themselves are still much too naive and humble in their innocence to fathom the complexities of the issue. For most of them, too much is being made of their creative talent, which is essentially god-gifted.
Some even argue that the more people "steal" from them, the more popular does their art become. As Suguna Ram, ravanhatta minstrel from Jodhpur puts it: "Since we are all concerned about keeping the traditional arts alive, what is the harm if some of our music is popularised in films?"
Ram moves from village to village with his string instrument, singing the legends of a Rajput deity, Pabuji. He carried with him a scroll called Pabuji Ke Phad that illustrates his narration. It is a sacred piece of document inherited from his forefathers that binds him to his profession as a balladeer.
Singificantly, Ram is least disturbed when he finds copies of the scroll being hawked indiscriminately at roadside stalls, airport emporiums and railway platforms. "I am delighted to see Pabuji’s image at all places, " he says. "I want our culture to go out in the world and be shared by all human beings alike."
"It is precisely this simplicity that Hindi film composers are out to exploit,"counters Kothari. "They have the power of money, the right contacts, they can engage the best lawyers and bulldoze their way in any law court.... What do these poor musicians have?"