Category Archives: Pop culture

Anand Bakshi’s Generation-Spanning Work

[Starting this week, we’ll re-publish here the Bollywood Retrospective series published in DNA blogs.]

This post is based on a question posed a few years ago on Twitter by film historian Pavan Jha, a passionate follower and chronicler of films and film music. The question – “Name the 5 pairs of father-son composers for whom Anand Bakshi has written lyrics”. It’s a fantastic question because it gives us a sense of how extensive Anand Bakshi’s career was. Anand Bakshi’s long career is indicative of compromises he had to make along the way (quality may have suffered at the expense of quantity) but more importantly, it speaks to his ability of connecting with the common man over several generations and his success in adapting himself to changing times.

Here are my pick of Anand Bakshi’s songs for the five father-son composers he worked with out of the 3000+ songs he wrote for Hindi films:

S.D. Burman and R.D. Burman

Anand Bakshi had debuted in 1958 and proven his mettle earlier with films like “Jab Jab Phool Khile” (1965) and “Devar” (1966), but he had to wait till 1969 for an opportunity to work with S.D. Burman. It is well known that R.D. Burman played an important role in the music of “Aradhana” (1969) – he was credited as Associate Music Director – and one wonders if the younger Burman had anything to do with picking Anand Bakshi for the first time for S.D. Burman. Anand Bakshi went on to work with S.D. Burman in many other films including “Jugnu” (1973), “Prem Nagar” (1974) and “Chupke Chupke” (1975), but couldn’t quite match Aradhana’s success. My pick from Aradhana – “Kora Kagaz Tha Yeh Man Mera”:

Anand Bakshi’s body of work with R.D. Burman is far richer than that with his father. It contains bona fide classics like “Kati Patang” (1970), “The Train” (1970), “Amar Prem” (1971), “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” (1971), “Namak Haram” (1973), “Aap Ki Kasam” (1974), “Ajanabee” (1974) and “Mehbooba” (1976. I consider “Amar Prem” to be the pinnacle of their partnership. Although I am in awe of the powerful lyrics of “Chingari Koi Bhadke”, my pick from the film is “Kuchh To Log Kahenge” because of the deftness with which Bakshi saab took a song of compassion and transformed it into an unflattering commentary on society.

Roshan and Rajesh Roshan

Roshan was one of the big-name music directors to work with Anand Bakshi early on in his career but they worked together on just a handful of films. “Devar” (1966) was the only film in which the two enjoyed a measure of success. My pick from “Devar” is “Baharon Ne Mera Chaman Loot Kar” because it’s one of the few songs in which Anand Bakshi challenges the average Hindi film music listener with limited knowledge of Urdu, while keeping his trademark simple core intact.

Rajesh Roshan’s only Filmfare Award came in a film for which Anand Bakshi wrote lyrics, “Julie” (1975). My pick though is from a film which came the next year “Tumhari Kassam” (1978).  “Hum Dono Milke Kagaz Pe Dil Pe” belonged to a category of Hindi film songs Anand Bakshi did very well in – the conversational romantic duet. As with other songs in this category penned by him, Anand Bakshi keeps the lovers’ exchange light-hearted, flirtatious and very real.

Kalyandji – Anandji and Viju Shah (son of Kalyanji)

After almost a decade of a rather unremarkable career, it was Kalyanji – Anandji who gave Anand Bakshi a blockbuster hit record with “Jab Jab Phool Khile” (1965), and almost overnight transformed him into the industry’s leading lyricist. I am not particularly fond of the album, but clearly I am in the minority. The film’s music was very popular and with its range of themes and genres, it had something for everyone. My pick from the film is “Ek Tha Gul Aur Ek Thi Bulbul”. Contrived as the situation is, I think Anand Bakshi does a masterful job of telling the film’s story in three verses.

In terms of popularity, “Mohra” (1994) and “Gupt” (1997), would surpass anything else Anand Bakshi wrote for Viju Shah. At the age of 64, Bakshi saab managed to write something as juvenile (some may say crass) as “Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast”. We could see the song’s lyrics as an unnecessary compromise by a senior lyricist or we could marvel at an old man’s ability to read the pulse of a generation far removed. My favourite Viju Shah – Anand Bakshi coming together, however, happens in the lesser heard “Tere Mere Sapne” (1996) with its two outstanding romantic duets “Kuchh Mere Dil Ne Kaha” and “Mere Piya Maine Jise Yeh Dil Diya”.  My pick – “Mere Piya Maine Jise Yeh Dil Diya”.

Chitragupt and Anand – Milind

There isn’t a lot to choose from when it comes to Anand Bakshi’s lyrics for Chitragupt – just six songs from two obscure films “Aadhi Raat Ke Baad” (1965) and “Angaaray” (1975). In fact, I came upon those songs only while writing for this post. My pick is Lata Mangeshkar’s ghazal from “Aadhi Raat Ke Baad” – “Mera Dil Baharon Ka Woh Phool Hai“.

Anand – Milind did 10 films with Anand Bakshi but nothing really clicked. The duo could not really get the best out of the aging lyricist. My pick of this combination is an OK melody but to be honest, I picked it for the resplendent Madhuri Dixit. The song – Kumar Sanu and Sadhna Sargam’s “Kitna Pyar Karta Hoon” (“Phool”, 1993).

Nadeem – Shravan and Sanjeev – Darshan (sons of Shravan Rathod)

Nadeem – Sharavan did just two films with Anand Bakshi. Bakshi saab’s advancing age and the disruption in Nadeem – Shravan’s career due to Nadeem’s legal troubles (he was named accused in T-Series’ Gulshan Kumar’s murder) meant that they didn’t work together after “Pardes” (1997). But what an album “Pardes” was! The film had many good songs and deservedly won Nadeem – Shravan a Screen the award for Best Music Director. My pick is the mellow love ballad sung by Kumar Sanu, “Do Dil Mil Rahe Hain”.

Anand Bakshi’s work for Sanjeev – Darshan came in the last two years of his life when he was a spent force, although still prolific and with the ability to produce a sporadic good song. I’d rather not pick a Sanjeev – Darshan song.

Instead, I will end the post with a song Anand Bakshi wrote for his most significant collaborators, Laxmikant – Pyarelal. About half of all the film songs Anand Bakshi ever wrote were for LP. Theirs was a hit making team as they churned out one chartbuster after the other – “Do Raaste” (1969), “Aan Milo Sajna” (1970), “Mehboob Ki Mehndi” (1971), “Bobby” (1973), “Anurodh” (1977) and “Karz” (1980) – to name just a few. My pick is “Aadmi Musafir Hai” (“Apnapan”, 1977) which won Anand Bakshi the Filmfare award for Best Lyricist and is an apt song to revisit the beautiful memories the people’s poet left behind.

 

2016 Bollywood Music Review and Top 20 Songs

2016-collage

As in the past, critics were not happy with the state of Hindi film music in 2016. The charge – yet again – was that it Hindi films were using an “assembly line” approach to create songs using multiple composers and re-packaging hit songs from the past. One thing is certain – music is no longer crucial to the film’s storytelling. This is not an entirely new phenomenon. A spurt of action films in 1970s/1980s had also rendered film music insignificant for a period. Increasingly, music is being seen as a means to promote the film. To the surprise of film audiences, songs that top the charts, end up being abridged in the film or part of the film’s background score. Some don’t even make it to the film.

That said, 2016 did have some bright spots. Towering above the rest was Shankar – Ehsaan – Loy’s “Mirzya”. Given a free rein by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, S-E-L packed the album with uninhibited experimentation. “Mirzya” pushed the boundaries of film music and then some. The other highlight of the year was Amit Trivedi’s comeback after the brilliant, but commercially disastrous, “Bombay Velvet” (2015). He had three superb albums ins 2016 – “Udta Punjab”, “Fitoor” and “Dear Zindagi”. Pritam also did quite well in 2016 with “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” and “Dangal” after a relatively lukewarm 2015. At the end of this post, we list the year’s 20 top-rated songs. Here is a longer list of 2016’s best Hindi film and non-film songs.

Some brilliant artists bode us farewell in 2016 – lyricist Nida Fazli, composers Ajit Varman and Omi (of Sonik – Omi), singer Mubarak Begum and Carnatic musician and vocalist M. Balamuralikrishna.

Some notable debuts in 2016 were:

Bollywood made 150 films with 872 songs between them in 2016.

The most prolific composers of the year were:

  1. Vishal – Shekhar – 5 films, 34 songs
  2. Amit Trivedi – 3 films, 24 songs
  3. Clinton Cerejo – 3 films, 20 songs

Vishal – Shekhar compensated for their dry spell in 2015 (they didn’t score any film that year) by being the most prolific composers in 2016. Unfortunately, the quality of their output didn’t match the quantity. Amit Trivedi won 2016 with his consistency, creating 3 albums that won the hearts of music lovers. After staying in the sidelines for years, Clinton Cerejo finally had the spotlight shining on him with 3 films as solo music director (although “Jugni” did have one song by A.R. Rahman, I think it’s fair to slot it as a solo Clinton album). It’s interesting to note that Mithoon and Ankit Tiwari, who followed closely with 18 songs each, had more films to their credit in 2016 than the top 3 most prolific composers. It turns out that they happen to be part of multi-composer albums quite a lot.

The most prolific lyricists of 2016 were:

  1. Kumaar – 27 films, 74 songs
  2. Manoj Muntashir – 16 films, 55 songs
  3. Amitabh Bhattacharya – 5 films, 21 songs
  4. Javed Akhtar – 5 films, 21 songs

Kumaar has been on the most prolific list for some years now. It’s amazing how little we know about a lyricist who’s been as prolific as him. Manoj Mutashir’s presence on the list was a surprise as well, with big name lyricists like Amitabh Bhattacharya and Javed Akhtar relegated to the third spot.

The most prolific male singers of 2016 were:

  1. Arijit Singh – 48 songs
  2. Vishal Dadlani – 23 songs
  3. Armaan Malik – 18 songs

Unsurprisingly, and in my opinion, deservedly, Arijit Singh dominated the male singers list with more than double the number of songs sung by the next most prolific singer.

The most prolific female singers of 2016 were:

  1. Sunidhi Chauhan – 22 songs
  2. Palak Muchhal – 19 songs
  3. Neha Kakkar – 18 songs

For some reason, two of my most favourite singers were conspicuously low key in 2016 – Shreya Ghoshal and Neeti Mohan. I hope they come back with a bang in 2017.

Based on the ratings of their 2016 songs, here are the best-rated artists of the year:

  1. Composers: Amit Trivedi, Vishal – Shekhar, Clinton Cerejo
  2. Lyricists: Amitabh Bhattacharya, Swanand Kirkire, Shellee
  3. Male Singers: Arijit Singh, Vishal Dadlani, Amit Trivedi

And the top 20 songs of 2016:

  1. Channa Mereya (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil)
  2. Aave Re Hichki (Mirzya)
  3. Dugg Duggi Dugg (Jugni)
  4. Hass Nach Le (Udta Punjab)
  5. Taareefon Se (Dear Zindagi)
  6. Haminastu (Fitoor)
  7. Pashmina (Fitoor)
  8. Hota Hai (Mirzya)
  9. Chitta Ve (Udta Punjab)
  10. Da Da Dasse (Udta Punjab)
  11. Ikk Kudi (Udta Punjab)
  12. Ud-Daa Punjab (Udta Punjab)
  13. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil)
  14. Titli (Bollywood Diaries)
  15. Love You Zindagi (Dear Zindagi)
  16. Kaaga (Mirzya)
  17. Bulleya (Sultan)
  18. Rootha (Te3n)
  19. Tu Hi Hai (Dear Zindagi)
  20. Hone Do Batiyan (Fitoor)

2014 Bollywood Music Review

2014

2014 was not a great year for Hindi film music. The Indian Express carried a bleak piece discussing the death of Hindi film music in 2014. We have observed the rise of multi-composer albums and albums riding on one or two item songs for a few years now. This trend continued in 2014. The other thing that happened in 2014 was that there were fewer solid, single-composer albums to offset the mediocre ones. For example, while 2014 had only Queen, Haider and Highway as the hit-the-ball-out-of-the-park albums, 2013 had Lootera, Kai Po Che, Raanjhana, Aashiqui 2, Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani, Bhaag Milka Bhaag and D-Day.

Moving on, to digging deeper into the year. 2014 saw the release of 142 films with 982 songs between them.

The year saw the passing away of Chandrashekhar Gadgil, Juthika Roy, Raghunath Seth and Sitara Devi. It also saw influx of new talent. Some of the notable debuts of 2014 were:

The most prolific composers in 2014 were:

  1. A.R. Rahman – 7 films, 68 songs
  2. Himesh Reshammiya – 4 films, 46 songs
  3. Shankar – Ehsaan – Loy – 4 films, 24 songs
  4. Vishal – Shekhar – 3 films, 24 songs

Since Rahman’s list includes 2 Hollywood films (“Million Dollar Arm” and “The Hundred-Foot Journey”) and 3 Tamil films dubbed in Hindi (“Kochadaiiyaan”, “Lingaa” and “I”), we have included 4 composers in this list instead of the usual 3.

The most prolific lyricists in 2014 were:

  1. Kumaar – 22 films, 60 songs
  2. Irshad Kamil – 9 films, 55 songs
  3. Amitabh Bhattacharya – 8 films, 39 songs

Kumaar tops the lyricist list again. As we had mentioned last year, the disconnect between how much he gets talked about and the volume of his work output is stark. Other than Irshad Kamil and Amitabh Bhattacharya switching spots, this list is the same as last year’s. The stability of this list gives us an indication of how much value Bollywood places on these three lyricists.

The most prolific male singers of 2014 were:

  1. Arijit Singh – 62 songs
  2. Mika Singh – 37 songs
  3. Himesh Reshammiya – 22 songs

If 2013, with Aashiqui 2, was Arijit Singh’s breakout year, 2014 was the year he established his dominance. With 62 songs, he ruled the charts and the airwaves. Despite murmurs of “over-exposure”, Arijit has managed to appeal to both the masses and the critics. Mika Singh’s presence on this list shows Bollywood’s continued and, for us, inexplicable, fascination for his voice and/or the genre he represents. Singer Himesh Reshammiya can thank music director Himesh Reshammiya for all the songs he got to sing in 2014.

The most prolific female singers of 2014 were:

  1. Neeti Mohan – 42 songs
  2. Shreya Ghoshal – 32 songs
  3. Shalmali Kholgade – 21 songs

The careers of Neeti Mohan and Shalmali Kholgade continue to be on the rise and deservedly so. Shreya Ghoshal is still placed comfortably although she seems to have lost a bit of her sheen. It is very clear that Sunidhi Chauhan is getting fewer offers, although, as you’ll see below, the songs she does sing are well-liked.

Finally, based on a combination of ratings and number of well-rated songs in 2014, the most popular artists of 2014 were:

  1. Most popular composers: A.R. Rahman, Shankar – Ehsaan – Loy, Vishal – Shekhar, Pritam
  2. Most popular lyricists: Amitabh Bhattacharya, Gulzar, Irshad Kamil
  3. Most popular male singers: Arijit Singh, Vishal Dadlani, Papon
  4. Most popular female singers: Shreya Ghoshal, Neeti Mohan, Sunidhi Chauhan

“Song Templates” And Innovation In Hindi Film Music

This post is prompted by a conversation I had yesterday on Twitter regarding a lovely new song that had just come out – the Amit Trivedi composed, K. Mohan sung Kinare (Queen, 2014).

There were other such comparisons of Queen’s soundtrack with Amit Trivedi’s prior work including Dev.D, Lootera (comment above), Udaan, Isahqzaade and Kai Po Che. Within these comparisons is a critique (not always explicit) of Amit Trivedi’s work – that he is not experimenting enough or that he’s using “song templates” that are making his work predictable. In this post, I intend to present an alternate view.

But before that, here is an observation that most will agree with  – that Amit Trivedi has a sweet spot in terms of genres – Pop/Rock, and Pop/Rock fused with semi-classical or folk music. So then the question becomes if his sweet spot takes away from his music. My opinion is that it does not. Trivedi’s sweet spot is not a spot, it’s really a large, multi-dimensional kaleidoscopic canvas. Considering that history has produced great artists who’ve spent their entire careers on a single genre of music, even if Amit Trivedi restricts his music to a combination of only Pop/Rock/Semi-classical/Folk – he will still be able to produce a rich, solid body of work, provided he keeps producing the kind of stellar tracks that he has till date. My personal belief is that he will do that and more.

Now my take on the “song template” criticisms.

A lot of the time, when people talk about “templates” or “hangover” in the context of music, I believe they’re referring to the artist’s signature or style – a pattern for structuring and arranging songs. Pancham’s was one such, easily identifiable signature. For me, the signature is not necessarily a bad thing. It is possible for the signature to be used in several different songs and still stay fresh. The appeal of Pancham’s signature thrived across not just many Pancham songs, but also songs composed by other composers, eg: Ulfut Mein Zamane Ki (composed by Sapan – Jagmohan) and Vaada Karo Jaanam (composed by Basu – Manohari).

In the instance of Kinare (Queen), Shikayatein (Lootera) and Naav Hai Teri (Udaan), in addition to Amit Trivedi’s signature, there are additional elements of similarity – the singer – K. Mohan – and the general theme/mood of these songs. It appears to me that for some people, a combination of these similarities is distracting enough to appreciate what are really very different songs. I draw consolation from the fact that even A.R. Rahman, has not escaped the “song template” criticism – a song as lovely as “Aise Na Dekho” (“Raanjhana”) had people disapprovingly talking about how similar it sounded to “Tu Bole Main Boloon” (“Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na”).

Progress in Hindi film music has been incremental for the most part. There are very few music directors who have been innovative enough to change the course of music in Hindi films. There are two who come to my mind in terms of the biggest impact – R.D. Burman for his experiments with instruments and arrangement and A.R. Rahman for experiments with the song structure. However, depending on your taste in music, you may like the work of other composers more than R.D. Burman’s or A.R. Rahman’s – and that’s all right. In other words, our taste in music isn’t determined by how innovative the artist is – it is quite simply what sounds good to our ears. Innovation in music is great as an aspiration but doesn’t always make for songs we like. In fact, experiments may not always have the desired effect – I felt that Raanjhana’s music was cluttered and Milliblog’s verdict on Highway -“occasionally accessible”. Conversely, there are several composers through history who may not be known for their experimentation but are considered great nevertheless. Therefore, I believe it is as meaningless to exhort musicians, who make good music otherwise, to experiment more as it is to pull good composers down if their experiments don’t work. They all play a role in the music ecosystem and I believe we should encourage and support them.

And to seal the argument, here is a video that proves that all hit pop songs are really the same. (Kidding!)

PS: Plagiarists and truly unimaginative music directors (you know who they are) are out of the scope of this discussion.

2013 Bollywood Music Review

Another eventful year had come to an end and it’s time to take stock of year that was for Hindi film music. We did a similar review last year, if you’re interested.

2013 saw the release of 154 films with 999 songs between them.

We lost a number of artists in 2013. Some were young and their end was unexpected – Ajay Jhingran, Rituparno Ghosh and Sandeep Acharya. Others left behind a substantial musical legacy – Lakshmi ShankarMadhubala Zaveri, P.B. Sreenivas, Pran, Reshma, Shamshad Begum, VaaliVitthalbhai Patel and the last of the male singers from the classic era of Hindi films – Manna Dey.

But the show went on and a number of new artists made their debuts. While some of them were indie artists making what might just be a brief foray into Bollywood, others are probably going to be Bollywood staple in years to come. Some of the notable debuts of 2013 were:

  1. Composer: Advait Nemlekar,  Akshay Hariharan, Atif Afzal, Bramfatura, Harpreet Singh, Indraneel HariharanKaran Kulkarni, The Lightyears ExplodeMaatibaani, Mangesh DhakdeModern Mafia
  2. Lyricists: Ali Hayat RizviGurpreet SainiPunam HariharanRam Ramesh SharmaSiddharth – GarimaUbaid Azam Azmi
  3. Male Singers: Atif AfzalGeet SagarGopi SunderIndraneel HariharanMunawar MasoomNajim ArshadNitesh KadamOsman MirPadmanabh GaikwadSanam PuriVikas Ambhore
  4. Female Singers: Chaitra AmbadipudiJonita GandhiMili Nair, Nirali KartikSaba AzadZebunnissa Bangash

The most prolific composers in 2013 were:

  1. Pritam – 8 films, 51 songs
  2. Sachin – Jigar – 7 films, 37 songs
  3. Sajid – Wajid – 5 films, 23 songs

While Pritam’s appearance at the top of this list is no surprise, 2013 will be seen as the year Sachin – Jigar established themselves as bankable composers and entrenched themselves in Bollywood. Surprisingly, Sajid – Wajid continue to be on this list despite their lackluster scores.

The most prolific lyricists in 2013 were:

  1. Kumaar – 16 films, 72 songs
  2. Amitabh Bhattacharya – 11 films, 42 songs
  3. Irshad Kamil – 5 films, 37 songs

Kumaar has been perhaps the most low profile of the current lot of lyricists so his name at this top of this list and the margin between him and the Amitabh Bhattacharya comes as a surprise.

The most prolific male singers of 2013 were:

  1. Mika Singh – 49 songs
  2. Sonu Nigam – 31 songs
  3. Arijit Singh – 28 songs

Mika Singh appears to be the industry’s favorite singer right now. It’s pity though that he is stuck in a rut in terms of the kinds of songs he sings. 2013 was Arijit Singh’s breakout year in terms of both the number of songs he sang as well as the mass appeal he was able to generate, thanks primarily to Ashiqui 2.

The most prolific female singers of 2013 were:

  1. Shreya Ghoshal and Sunidhi Chauhan – 38 songs each
  2. Monali Thakur, Palak Muchhal – 14 songs each
  3. Mamta Sharma, Shalmali Kholgade – 13 songs each

While the divas – Shreya Ghoshal and Sunidhi Chauhan – continue to dominate the scene, there seems to be a lot of competition amongst female singers. It’s good to see a newbie – Shalmali Kholgade (2012 was her debut year) on this list as it is to see Monali Thakur, who as been around for a few years now, finally get her due.

Finally, based on  a combination of ratings and number of well-rated songs in 2013, the most popular artists of 2013 were:

  1. Most popular composers: Pritam, Amit Trivedi, Sachin – Jigar
  2. Most popular lyricists: Irshad Kamil, Amitabh Bhattacharya, Kumaar
  3. Most popular male singers: Arijit Singh, Sukhwinder Singh, Amit Trivedi
  4. Most popular female singers: Shreya Ghoshal, Sunidhi Chauhan, Palak Muchhal

Why Lootera Is A Better Music Album Than Raanjhanaa

Before I delve into the post, let me state two things:

  • I’d rather not make comparisons but I saw the albums being compared on social media and was disappointed at how dismissive some people were about Lootera – as if it did not even deserve to be compared with Raanjhanaa! I thought it was important that someone present an alternate view.
  • This is not a comparison between A.R. Rahman and Amit Trivedi. I have the deepest respect for both and love their music. I completely agree with Amit Trivedi when he says “there can’t be another Rahman”. Based on the music he has made so far, I also believe there can’t be another Amit Trivedi.

Now, on to why I believe Lootera is a better album. The answer to that lies partly in why I like Raanjhanaa less. Many have used words like textured and layered to describe Raanjhanaa’s music and they are right, except that I found Raanjhanaa’s music to be too textured. There is a LOT going on and many of those individual elements are brilliant (like the sitar in Banarasiya and how he’s used the KMMC Sufi Ensemble in Piya Milenge), but put together the music feels cluttered. The whole is less than the sum of parts. For example, Ay Sakhi uses the following percussion instruments – tabla, ghatam/matka, drum sticks, dafli, dhol and maybe others that my ears did not catch. It’s overwhelming and not in a pleasant way. The second issue, I have with Raanjhanaa is a very basic one – except for two or three of songs (my favorite being Tu Mun Shudi), I found the songs “unhummable”. A lot has been said about Rahman defying norms (like not using traditional song structures with mukhda/antara) but it isn’t this that makes his music work. It makes his music interesting and it gives his music that unique ARR character. But, what makes his music really work – for me – is the underlying melody. I found Raanjhanaa’s music lacking in this regard.

On the other hand, I love Lootera because it is a collection of simple and beautiful songs. After Barfi, it’s the first album that I liked after a single listen (although it took a few listens for me to get over Sawar Loon’s percussions). Every song is extremely melodic, the singers do a superb job (Monali Thakur, Amitabh Bhattacharya, Amit Trivedi, K. Mohan, Swanand Kirkire and Shilpa Rao will all count Lootera amongst their best work as singers) and I can easily see myself listening to and humming these songs for years to come. A key strength of the album is it’s no fuss, no frill approach. I am not sure if all great things are simple but Lootera’s music certainly supports the adage.

That said, I encourage everyone to buy both these albums – for both albums deserve to be heard – and form their own opinion. I don’t agree with people who wring their hands and claim that the music today ’s music isn’t as good as it used to be. Every generation says that and that’s nostalgic bullshit. I think we’re lucky to be living in the times of composers like A.R. Rahman and Amit Trivedi. It is a privilege to have both of them release albums within days of each other and it is as good a time as any to be a music lover.

Piracy, Copyright Law and Social Trends

This post is prompted by a comment on my review of Partners In Crime, a documentary covering the grey areas of piracy. In my view, the grey areas discussed in this DVD do not legitimize piracy, they expose deficiencies in copyright law.

Piracy has been around for a long time and will continue to be around forever. That does not make it legitimate. (Is the world’s oldest profession legitimate?) However, some people take its pervasiveness in society as an indicator of its legitimacy. Some people engage in piracy because they either don’t understand or are confused about what counts as piracy. While I am not a legal expert, I think the following guidelines can be used to determine if copyright violation is involved:

  1. Performance – Any commercial, for-profit performance without licensing is a violation. IPRS publishes a list of performances that require licensing – http://iprs.org/tarifflist.asp
  2. Distribution/Publishing – If you’re distributing/publishing copyrighted work, you should have a license. If you don’t, you’re infringing on someone’s copyright. There are some exceptions for fair use. For example, if you’re reviewing a book, quoting small excerpts from it is OK.
  3. Consumption – You are probably involved in copyright violation if your content comes from a distributor/publisher who has not acquired license to distribute the content. (Hint: If a website gives away for free, what others sell; it is highly probable that they don’t have a license to distribute the content.)

Taking these guidelines, here’s my assessment of some cases that seem to confuse people:

  1. We made photocopies of books in college. Isn’t that legal? – Not legal. Every book notifies the readers of copyrights – “No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form….without the prior written permission of the publisher.”
  2. Singing a song in college fest – Since it’s not for profit it’s not a copyright violation.
  3. Artists make songs inspired by other tunes all the time. Isn’t that a problem? – Yes it is. These artists would be deemed as infringing copyright if similarity with the original, copyrighted song can be proved. There are several cases of artists being sued because of this.
  4. Artists sample music of other artists all the time – Sampling of music is a contentious area. Some contend that it is copyright infringement, others say it’s fair use. Here is one site that describes what is fair use and what’s not when it comes to sampling.
  5. Everybody records songs at concerts – If it’s without permission, it’s an infringement. Most concerts inform you that you cannot record the performance.
  6. Sharing with friends and family.
    1. Sharing digital music with immediate family is OK.  This is the reason digital stores give you a license to download/copy purchased music on a certain number of devices.
    2. Sharing digital content with friends is a violation of copyright. Let them pay for their own music/movie/book.
    3. Lending a book or a CD/DVD to a friend is OK. But if the friend rips the CD/DVD or photocopies the book, then there is copyright violation.
    4. Listening to your CD while your friends are home is not a copyright violation.
    5. We see copied pictures of Mona Lisa everywhere. Isn’t that an issue? – No. Mona Lisa is out of copyright and in the public domain. People can make copies of it, or copies of copies and not be in violation of copyright. The same rule applies to Shakespeare’s works, classical compositions and folk art. You can freely copy and distribute current Bollywood movies/songs in another 60 years (provided the law does not change). Here is the copyright duration in various countries.

The guideline of “it’s OK to download stuff for free and share if it’s for personal/friends and family entertainment” is naïve and just plain wrong. Artists, musicians, authors, publishers, distributors would be robbed of their livelihood if every consumer started to use this rationale to get content for free from illegal sources.

This is not to say that copyright laws are perfect. There are people far more knowledgeable than me who are asking these laws to be amended. Here is one assessment of the copyright amendment bill that was passed recently in India. At a high level, I think copyright law should do the following:

  1. Facilitate easy, legal and fairly priced access to content to all consumers
  2. Enable copyright owners and content creators to profit from their content
  3. Enable publishers, distributors to license copyrighted content easily and at a fair price.

Partners In Crime – Documentary Review

After my posts – Piracy is Mainstream and Why People Don’t Talk About Pirate Consumers – one of the readers of the blog recommended that I watch a documentary called Partners in Crime. I had heard about this documentary on Twitter but never got around to seeing it. I finally saw it last week and I am glad I did.

The documentary directed by Paromitra Vohra does a great job of asking a series of questions related to piracy but allows the viewers to draw their own conclusions. Some insights from the documentary:

  1. Many people don’t realize that piracy is illegal and they don’t believe they’re downloading for free because they pay for the internet connection and for membership to torrent sites (according to one interviewee – $10 for lifetime memberships for unlimited downloads). People also don’t view playing of music in public as illegal, since music is available for free in the first place.
  2. Some people feel that listening to music or watching movies is a social experience and sharing them only enhances the experience.
  3. Rare, concert recordings of masters are available in people’s private collections but cannot be released to public because of copyright issues. Record labels will not pay for these recordings and legal heirs of musicians are not willing to release these recordings for free.
  4. A lot of rare songs, specially non-film songs, are not archived or available easily to public.
  5. The business of pirated CDs and DVDs happens with the approval of the police. Cops need to get paid no matter what – it could be either to stop piracy or to allow it to happen.
  6. There is another way to look at roadside piracy – it provides livelihood to sellers and also gives cheap access to movies/music to a class of people who would not be able to afford them legally.
  7. It’s extremely difficult and/or expensive to legally license copyrighted work. Copyright owners are arrogant and unwilling to negotiate fair deals.
  8. Big companies copy/adapt folk songs to produce copyrighted songs. If they lifted the music in the first place, how can they own it? For example, how can Munni Badnam Hui be a copyrighted song when it is really just an adaptation of a folk song?
  9. Copyright owners are greedy and want supernormal profits. They stiff content creators by getting exclusive rights and paying content creators a pittance. As a result, content creators are either not motivated to produce original content or decide to self-publish.
  10. The anti-piracy crowd has it’s share of not-very-pleasant characters – a) The head of an NGO against piracy who talks about getting funding from CSR budgets of companies and compares piracy with illegal drug/gun trade. b) Companies that became big by flouting copyright rules in the first place, c) Big corporations who are capable of influencing governments to change laws in their favour. d) Bollywood film makers who have copied ideas from Hollywood.
  11. Intellectual Property Rights create barriers to content for people with disabilities. It’s very difficult to reproduce content in a format that can be accessed by people with disabilities.
  12. Copyright owners have no interest in catering to smaller, niche markets. This creates artificial shortage in supply, which in turn results in piracy.

Recommended.

Why People Don’t Talk About Pirate Consumers

I engaged in a long debate on Twitter yesterday with popular blogger, Karthik Srinivasan (entire conversation at the end of his post). To boil things down, I was asking why illegal downloaders don’t get called out for doing the wrong thing and his point was that it was not really going to make a difference. That argument didn’t sit well with me because ever since social media gave all of us a microphone, we haven’t really held back on anything just because nobody was listening. People rant about plagiarism (Heck, Karthik runs a blog dedicated to it!), traffic, politicians, air travel and noisy neighbours. Why are they wishy-washy about illegal downloading?

Yesterday’s Twitter debate didn’t answer that question for me, so I decided to write about the potential reasons for the deafening silence on this subject.

Publishers are not doing enough to solve service and content availability issues. I have written earlier about how difficult it is sometimes to get hold of content legally. It is hard to not empathize with people who depend on illegal sources when they can’t get it legally.

Piracy is seen as a victimless crime. People don’t see piracy as impacting individuals directly. In fact, some people feel that piracy works as a marketing tool and helps artists increase their fan-base. As for the content publishers, they’re not really losing any money and if they are, the greedy corporations deserve it.

Pirates have managed to spin themselves as being hip and anti-establishment. They have managed to project themselves as people who are helping solve the service and availability issues that exist in the market today. It’s another matter that they also distribute content that is available legally and easily. Nobody wants to call out the pirates unless it’s someone like Kim Dotcom who does not manage his PR as well as his peers have.

People don’t want to say things that others don’t want to listen to. If a large number of your followers, readers, etc. are illegal downloaders (which I believe is the case in India today), calling them out is not really going to help you win the social media popularity contest. In fact, being soft on piracy is probably going to win you brownie points. My guess is that I am not winning any with this and yesterday’s post.

People with a voice (bloggers, influencers, journalists, etc.) are engaging in piracy themselves. Not only are they not in a position to speak out against piracy, they, in fact, have to find justifications for their actions so they can retain their high moral ground. Nobody likes to feel guilty.

Why are you not calling out illegal downloaders?

beastoftraal
You Will Never Kill Piracy, and Piracy Will Never Kill You http://t.co/SGy622uE “Realize piracy is a service problem”
2/20/12 10:40 AM
taparam
@beastoftraal Intellectual, theoretical & flawed. Most people I know who download stuff do it because they don’t want to pay for stuff.
2/20/12 10:51 AM
beastoftraal
@taparam Yes, I’m aware of that. Service is an issue that has not been tried adequately. Difference in timing of availability, in specific.
2/20/12 10:59 AM
taparam
@beastoftraal My problem is that the valid argument of service/availability gives a clean chit to a lot of freeloaders.
2/20/12 11:02 AM
beastoftraal
@taparam Unless we try, how do we know that freeloaders are freeloaders just for the heck of it? They will exist anyway, no?
2/20/12 11:03 AM
taparam
@beastoftraal People freeload even when there are no service/avl issues. Too many people taking easy/cool route of railing against “system”.
2/20/12 11:19 AM
beastoftraal
@taparam Have we given people enough paid options that are convenient to opt for?
2/20/12 11:22 AM
taparam
@beastoftraal Last week you got a recco to buy a cheaper, DOS based laptop because you can get a Windows CD “anywhere”. What was that about?
2/20/12 11:23 AM
beastoftraal
@taparam Buying Windows CD separately. I can order it along with the DOS-based laptop and can choose a cheaper version.
2/20/12 11:25 AM
taparam
@beastoftraal That’s you. Am positive the guy making the recco didn’t have a purchase in mind.
2/20/12 11:26 AM
beastoftraal
@taparam The only other option in that model was the same config with Win premium something. Base home version would do for me.
2/20/12 11:26 AM
beastoftraal
@taparam Why should that be a problem? If there was a Win-based cheaper option, assumption is, he’d have chosen that.
2/20/12 11:27 AM
beastoftraal
.@taparam Don’t you think we/RIAA/everybody is talking ONLY about freeloading pirates right now? 🙂 And not about service *at all*?
2/20/12 12:02 PM
taparam
@beastoftraal Can you point me to discussions on moral/ethical issues around piracy? Not focussing on Kim Dotcoms but on consumers.Genuine q
2/20/12 12:58 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam Haven’t come across any on moral/ethics of it – best dealt with churches, IMO. Pointless to go in that direction. If that be the…
2/20/12 1:26 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam …case, we should also have periodic articles on rape and theft, and how both are ethically wrong, leave alone legally.
2/20/12 1:27 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam This Techdirt piece tries to be more sane – dissecting numbers quoted by RIAA/industry http://t.co/QGgeIAhO
2/20/12 1:29 PM
taparam
@beastoftraal Disagree that morality should be left to religion. Society must decide. Solid examples of religion messing up morality.
2/20/12 2:11 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam Didn’t mean it that way; just meant that there’s nothing solid to put forward, as an argument, in the moral debate. That it’s 1/2
2/20/12 2:12 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam 2/2 obvious, but given the endless supply, people don;t see it as wrong. Question then is, if moral argument has any point at all.
2/20/12 2:13 PM
taparam
@beastoftraal Think the discussion is important. Problem in India is widespread. Many of my friends/relatives download. Feel bad.
2/20/12 2:27 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam When people buy pirated CDs on the roadside, of films that released the previous day, why should this be any badder?
2/20/12 2:29 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam There is no point in the ‘It is wrong, morally/legally. You could go to jail’ argument. Only Burma Bazaar pirates are arrested…
2/20/12 2:29 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam …’cos they do it in large scale. Individual downloaders may never feel anything wrong whatever media writes about morals here.
2/20/12 2:30 PM

 

Piracy Is Mainstream

I’ve been an anti-piracy advocate in my friend circle for many years now. Over time though, I realized that people like me were rare and specially in India, we became outcasts. Friends and relatives look at me like I am nuts when I refuse to lend them my iPod so they can copy songs from it. The burden of guilt was specially heavy when I refused to copy songs on a USB drive for my niece (I bought her CDs instead). It has now come to pass that I have to exercise caution while expressing my views on piracy and people who indulge in piracy don’t give a damn! How the heck did we get to this stage?

Take this exchange on Twitter  –

Guy 1 – “I notice it is without Windows and only with DOS. Possible reason for low price I suppose.”

Guy 2 – “Yes comes with DOS. You can get the windows CD anywhere. I bought this laptop 2 months ago. It’s amazing.”

Guy 2 is recommending a lower-priced laptop which does not have Windows on it because “you can get windows CD anywhere”. In other words, why pay for something when you can get a pirated copy for free. I found this conversation disturbing to say the least:

  1. Guy 2 is advocating piracy in public and doesn’t give a damn
  2. This exchange has a fairly wide audience. Guy 2 has 6000+ followers and Guy 1 has almost 7000 followers and my guess is that they share many followers (like me) who are following this exchange.

It’s important to point out that Guy 1 is asking an innocent question and from what I know of him (via his tweets and blog posts) someone who goes out of his way to get stuff legally.

This kind of exchange is hardly an exception. Conversations on socials networks range from discreet (sanitized references to piracy like “download”, “link please”, “linkesh”, “pdf version”) to “naughty” (nudges and winks indicated through an assortment of smileys) to outright blatant (railing against the ban of pirate sites).

As I have said in a previous post, one of the root causes of piracy is the poor availability of content from legal sources. While I don’t support that argument, I do understand it. The other root cause is simply people not wanting to pay for stuff. Many of these people rationalize their “downloading” ways by citing arguments that sound intellectual but are basically flawed – “Why should I pay for bad quality content?”, “Unfair pricing”, “Big companies are greedy”, “Sharing is good for content creators”, etc).

However, the biggest emerging cause for piracy seems to be the fact that people don’t even think of unpaid downloads as piracy. It has become mainstream. How can something be wrong if everyone is doing it? This is probably the single biggest problem the music industry faces today.