Vishal Dadlani is furious. On Wednesday, the Hindi film music composer tweeted that he would sue anybody remixing any more Vishal-Shekhar songs after Saaki. Composed along with Dadlani’s musical collaborator Shekhar Ravjiani for the movie Musafir (2004), Saaki was recreated by Tanishk Bagchi for Batla House this year.
“This is not about one song, one person, one company or one remix,” Dadlani told Scroll.in. “This is about a screwed-up system that allows the exploitation of what should be a composer’s legacy without any regard for the original composers themselves.”
Armaan Malik and Badshah tweeted in support of Dadlani after his outburst.
The rights of film songs rest with music companies, which makes it difficult for composers or lyricists to establish their ownership over tunes or prevent them from being remixed in any way. However, pointed out Dadlani, “Each agreement for a music composition is made for a specific film, with a specific production house, cast and title. I don’t think songs from one film are randomly transferable to another, but we will only find out when I go to court the next time a Vishal-Shekhar song is remixed.”
When a song is retooled, the original composers rarely get royalties despite the existence of the Indian Performing Rights Society, which is supposed to ensure that music makers and publishers are not deprived of their royalties. “Yes, original composers should receive royalties through IPRS,” Dadlani said. “However, because at this point the major remix-waale labels have not joined IPRS, the original composers are probably not receiving their just royalties.”
Ironically enough, Vishal-Shekhar had popularised the contemporary Bollywood recreation in films such as Jhankaar Beats (2001), which featured a reworking of Humein Tumse Pyaar Kitna (Kudrat, 1981). The composers were also responsible for the title track of Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008), a retooling of the song from Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977), and Student of the Year (2012), which reintroduced Nazia Hassan to a new generation through The Disco Song.
“We have done five reworkings in a career of over 350 songs,” Dadlani said. “Each time, it was a tribute. The originals were credited ahead of us, and where possible, I spoke to the original composer before putting anything out. The people who are defending themselves with the crappy argument that recreations used to be done before have made careers out of taking credit for other people’s work.”
Remixes are being “peddled hard, shoved down audiences’ throats with money-muscle behind them”, Dadlani added. “The value of original tunes will be realised when filmmakers admit to themselves that music not only promotes the film, but also keeps it alive in people’s minds after the film is no longer in theatres,” he said.
Praising directors such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Karan Johar, Farah Khan and Aditya Chopra, Dadlani pointed out, “People will always remember the music of DDLJ, Om Shanti Om, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Nobody remembers films by remixes.”
In 2017, there were 30 remixed tunes, including The Humma Song (OK Jaanu), Tamma Tamma Again (Badrinath Ki Dulhania), and Tu Cheez Badi (Machine). This year, the number has been 22 so far. The five-song soundtrack for Luka Chuppi is made up entirely of recreations. Except for Saaki this year, no recreated track has topped the charts.
“The reason remixes haven’t gone away is that some desperate people are doing them cheaply and indiscriminately, just to continue to have work,” Dadlani said. “Rather than depend on their own talents, which they definitely have, it is easier to depend on the strength of an already successful composer’s previous hits. It’s scavenging of the worst kind, honestly.”