Amir Khan’s already acclaimed TV show ‘Satyamev Jayate’ hit an immediate road bump when “Euphoria’s” Palash Sen alleged that part of the theme music had been plagiarised from the band. This is not the first time Khan has faced charges of not properly acknowledging material or giving credit where it is due. His differences with author Chetan Bhagat on ‘3 Idiots’ had hit the news headlines not so long ago. Indeed, in his introductory sequence in ‘Satyamev Jayate’, he quoted Dushyant Kumar’s famous lines ‘…Meri koshish hai ki yeh surat badalni chaahiye’ without attributing it to the poet. Now, this may be because he believed that these lines are recognisable to any Indian, but it is not good practice. For the uninitiated, it might seem Khan’s own ‘revolutionary spirit’. It displays the lack of respect that the film industry has towards owners of intellectual property. It is not that most people would desire payment, but they would like what is theirs to be acknowledged.
The irony is that Khan is probably the more honest among producers in Bollywood. His work would not be of such good quality otherwise. It is more likely that the mistakes emerge from the general lack of regard in the Indian film industry, particularly Bollywood, towards ‘original’ artistes. This is simply because so much of what is done in the industry has been outright theft over the decades. Stealing plots and screenplays, even poster designs, has been common practice, with some ‘established’ and ‘celebrated’ directors actually copying films frame by frame. Those who acknowledged what is described in the industry as ‘inspiration’ were few and far between. Indeed, some very great directors and film-makers transformed the content enough for it to be actually claimed that, indeed, the movie though inspired was their original work. Some of Bollywood’s greatest movies belong to this genre.
The same has been the case with film music. It is not just a case of straight lifts of the Beatle’s melodies that were clearly so, with even the picturisation showing people with their type of haircuts playing the songs, but also some tremendously great music based on riffs lifted from the great rock guitarists of the sixties and seventies. Even today, with the Indian film and music enthusiast having greater and direct access to the ‘originals’, there is at least one very clever musician of international renown who obtains inspiration from phrases derived from Western classical music, a source not easily traced by the average person. This is the case when there already exists a perennial source in the public domain – the ragas and incredibly diverse folk music of India. It is an established fact that Indian film music based on these sources has had a much longer shelf life and popularity than any other kind.
All this is merely statement of fact and not moral judgment. For any society coming out of centuries of colonisation, having had its resources and intellectual wealth stripped by foreign rulers, it would actually be a national obligation to beg, borrow and steal whatever is required to rectify the imbalance. Developing countries like India and China have done this on a massive scale in the entire range from nuclear technology to software. These countries could not have afforded to pay the ‘licence fees’ for all this knowledge, which was otherwise denied to them. This is why the developing nations have worked so hard on conventions like TRIPS, etc., to integrate global trade, particularly now that they have intellectual property of their own to protect. Considering that Bollywood itself has been a great victim of piracy, it should now be more concerned with protection of these rights. To begin with, it would have to itself be more respectful of them.
It can be said that any emerging economy or industry would have to go through the stages of plagiarisation and integration. This can be countered, of course, with pricing products on the basis of purchasing power parity, ensuring thereby that the original artists not only get paid something for their work, but more importantly that it is credited to them. It is wrong, one, to pass off another’s work as one’s own and, two, to be too afraid to give credit where it is due. Theft can only be justified at the ‘struggler’ stage, not when one has arrived.