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Tuesday, May 22, 2001

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Plagiarism or bridging the divide?

By B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD, MAY 21. ``Aao bachchon tumhe dikhayen jhaanki Hindustan ki...'' (come children let us show you glimpses of India), is a popular Hindi film song of the 1950s. ``Aao bachchon tumhe karayen sair Pakistan ki...'' (children, let us take you on a tour of Pakistan) is an equally hit song of the same period across the border.

After picturising the song in ``Jagriti'', actor- director- producer Ratan Kumar migrated to Pakistan and remade it into ``Bedaari'' (Urdu translation of Jagriti or awareness) and used the same tune for a song aimed at igniting a similar emotion, nay patriotic zeal, among the listeners.

Ratan Kumar, of course, belonged to an era where you took pride in your work and only re-mixed your own tunes. But the trend he unknowingly pioneered was to take on new nuances. Even the paradigm that ``culture'' knows no boundaries, changed. If ever there was a cultural exchange between India and Pakistan, it was through films, specifically film music.

``Dhun hamari, tumhare naam hui'', a recent two-part television programme on PTV, explored this theme and kicked off a major debate about plagiarism and also about boundaries and culture in the local media.

Virtual chargesheet

Presented by two eminent theatre personalities - Mr. Shoaib Mansoor and Mr. Zia Mohyeddin - it was virtually a chargesheet against many big names in the Indian music industry. How they had been lifting without ever acknowledging the source. Tunes ranging from semi-classical, ghazals to folk and film were used without a qualm, often the lyrics doing gross injustice to the original. Consider these - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's famous Sufi chant ``Allah hu, Allah hu, Allah hu...'' became ``I love you, I love you, I love you...'' in the film ``Auzaar'', and ``Dum mast kalandar mast mast'' was transformed into ``Tu cheez bari hai mast mast...'', a sensuous Raveena Tandon dance number in Mohra, tune, words et al.

It is an amazing tale of how music, lyrics and folk songs travelled across the Line of Control despite the official ban on exchange of films after the 1965 war. The lifting, or plagiarism, has become so blatant that the people concerned have even stopped taking note.

In Bollywood this is called ``inspiration''. But the muses aren't too happy about the fact.

What began as ``inspiration'' from the ghazals and local music here, has over the years become an unabashed lifting of tunes and even words. According to the programme, almost all big names in the Indian music stand guilty. The songs they showed sound very familiar - ``choli ke peeche kya hai...'', ``kinna sona tujhe rab ne banaya...'', ``mera piya ghar aya...'', ``yaraa seeli seeli, biraha ki raat ka jalna,'' ``achcha sila diya tune mere pyar ka...'' the list goes on.

Dominant lobby

In the days when the subcontinent was not divided, though Bombay was the hub of the film industry, Lahore was the major cultural centre. In the early years after Independence, the Lahore lobby dominated the Bombay film scene. The land got divided, but the cultural needs of the people remained. And fulfilling these needs on either side created a rather warped exchange, at least in the field of popular music.

On this side, all performing arts were looked down upon as being un-Islamic, and the feeling intensified as the religious lobbies grew stronger. However, the age-old culture of the people is often difficult to stifle. The legendary singer Noorjehan, who left India at her peak, dominated the music scene for decades. Many others, however, went back to India to gain recognition. Classical music maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was followed by almost several big names in the music industry here. Mehdi Hasan, Ghulam Ali, Abida Parveen, Mallika Pukhraj, Reshma, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and recently the pop group Junoon and singer Ali Haider - for all of them performing on the other side helped them make their mark here.

But this is the sane side of the paradigm that culture knows no boundaries. The Indian film industry has been inspired by the muse from the other side for half a century, but plagiarism has not been a one-track phenomenon. The tune in the 1952 film Baiju Bawra was copied by music director M. Ashraf in the 1987 ``Nache Nagin''. The hit song from the 1967 ``Humraaz'' - ``Hey, neele gagan ke tale...'' - was again copied by M. Ashraf for ``Nazneen'' in 1969.

Great demand

Indian films, always popular here, were allowed in until 1965. War broke out and the cultural exchange stopped. Today, the demand for Indian films and songs is so great here that pirated copies are available at local video shops on the day of release and sometimes even earlier.

When a cultural entity is split into two by politics, the people use subterfuge to maintain it. So you have this heady cocktail of traditional music and tunes not getting much patronage in their native place, being copied on the other side of the border, attaining heights of popularity and sneaking back in as pirated videos and VCDs, and grabbed by a populace starved of good entertainment.

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