In the March 17 release Machine, the popular dance track Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast from the 1994 movie Mohra has been remixed as Cheez Badi with additional lyrics by Shabbir Ahmed and music by Tanishk Bagchi.
Should Machine’s directors Abbas-Mustan have procured permission from lyricist Anand Bakshi and composer Viju Shah, who composed the tune in Mohra? Or should they have stretched further back into antiquity?
Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast has been ripped from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s qawwali number Dum Mast Qalandar. The lyrics of Khan’s spiritual song were written by fourteenth-century poet Amir Khusro and later modified by eighteenth-century poet Bulleh Shah. Dum Mast Qalandar has been through numerous iterations since, and has been sung by several artists, including Noor Jehan, Runa Laila, Abida Parveen, Reshma and the Sabri Brothers.
When Viju Shah produced the track Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast Hai, lyricist Anand Bakshi replaced the words of the Sufi paean in praise of the saint Shahbaz Qalandar. The trance-like rhythm of Dum Mast Qalandar that was intrinsic to Khan’s version acquired sexual and sexist overtones. The “mast cheez” in this song was the woman, played by Raveena Tandon. Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast Hai was a resounding hit.
The latest remix allows Ahmed and Bagchi to legitimise what is in some ways a theft of Khan’s work. In their favour, Ahmed and Bagchi could always argue that the song does not belong to Khan either. The loophole can’t be used for the remixed Tamma Tamma Again in Badrinath Ki Dulhania, which reworks the song Tamma Tamma Loge from Thanedaar – itself a copy of Mory Kante’s Tama.
In both cases, the producers could argue that they have purchased the rights to and retooled the Hindi versions. Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast is owned by the music label Venus, which were sold to Bhushan Kumar’s T-Series for Machine. Tamma Tamma Again bypasses the original creator by focusing on the rip-off by by Bappi Lahiri.
The lyrics of Cheez Badi provide a clue into the free-flowing attitude towards copyright infringement. Udit Narayan sings, “Tera husn hi zabardast” (Your beauty is terrific) and follows it with the refrain word dast (which also rhymes with mast) to keep step with the beats. One translation of the Hindi word dast is diarrhea.