Interview Hindi Tamil Telugu

Karthik Srinivasan: Earlier, I seemed to be the only one cataloguing plagiarism, now the world does!

The music blogger speaks about his exhaustive website detailing plagiarism in Indian film music and how he manages his passion for music by balancing his life and blogging.

Courtesy: Karthik Srinivasan

Sonal Pandya

Bangalore resident Karthik Srinivasan began uploading audio clips of original versus copied tunes on to a server in 2001. His sharp observation led to a mention in India Today magazine and got him noticed by music fans, who were also noting similarities between Western songs and certain Indian songs.

A few years later, he started a website, ItwoFS (Inspirations in Indian Film Songs), archiving the instances when a song had been copied. It will shock quite a number of Indian music fans to learn that their favourite number isn’t actually the brainchild of an Indian composer.

Karthik also writes music reviews regularly on his blog, Milliblog!, which completes 12 years today (22 July 2017). spoke to the intrepid blogger on e-mail to discuss music plagiarism and more. Excerpts:

How did you get started with your website and decide to catalogue all of the music that had been plagiarized over the years?

The interest in tracing the original sources of songs came from my father. He loved Latin and Spanish music and often shared with me details about the originals that he heard as a radio fanatic when he was in college, in Kolkata. But in those days the only source of these songs was the radio and he couldn’t catch the song title many a time. But these originals used to fascinate me, and in the way they have been adapted by our composers.

The site idea came to me when someone mailed me information about two Middle Eastern lifts in Nadeem Shravan’s Dhadkan (2000). I searched online for the audio files of the two originals and was zapped when I heard them. It was plain, blatant plagiarism. Worse, they got paid for it. Even worse (and funny!), they claimed that they deserved a Filmfare award for Best Music in Dhadkan!

That’s when I uploaded an edited sample of the original tracks on a free server and spread the links in some music discussion forums. This was picked up by a publication no less than India Today, but since they were direct audio links (and not as a website), they did not know who did this. But, it was featured on the last page in India Today, in the issue dated 3 November 2001. A lot of people visited the site due to that article and mailed me! That’s when I decided to create an online catalogue of such lifts, but extended the scope to other South Indian film songs too, besides Hindi.

India Today November 2001 magazine scan
Courtesy: Karthik Srinivasan

Why do you think music plagiarism is so rampant in Indian films?

There are quite a few Asian and European countries that lift Indian film songs without permission. But their music industries are rather small and barring a YouTube video here and there, we do not get to hear them. But there are famous instances of the Greeks lifting liberally from our music.

As for why it is happening in India, I really couldn’t pin down an answer. We have such a treasure trove of classical music and so many cultural/folk musical traditions. And a composer goes out of his way to find a Greek source — RD Burman’s 'Mehbooba' from Sholay (1975), to be specific — and makes it sound so appropriate to an Indian filmi situation... now that’s the height of creativity. But, the unfortunate part is that as an artist, there is no integrity in that act. In the West, artists source the original’s details, pay the necessary royalty, and credit the original in every version, complete with the lyricist and record label mentioned in the CD. In that case, the intent of the artist comes out clearly and people appreciate that level of honesty.

To put it simply, I think we as a country have forgotten finer details in life such as honesty and integrity. You can see it every day on the road — the way we drive, without caring for any lanes or rules, and even shout at people who actually follow the rules.

I get a lot of mails telling me they do not care if a song is copied and that they love the copied version more than the original. That’s so beside the point — however simplistic it may sound, I give them a scenario where we are allowed to open any source/book in our exams, in school. If that can be legitimized, plagiarism can be, too. Worse, these composers make a living out of this!

But in the current hyper-connected times, I notice that things have changed dramatically. Any lift is usually discovered in a matter of minutes and there are tons of YouTube commentary in the next hour. Earlier, I seemed to be the only person cataloguing these lifts. Now, the whole world does!

How do you balance your website, blog, and daily life?

To be honest, with great difficulty. I have a full-time job, two blogs and two kids. But it's the passion for music that keeps me going, even though I have never learnt music formally. It's perhaps the regret of not having done it that keeps me attached to this periphery of music.

Do you get a lot of tips from your audiences?

Everything in the site is from people, either shared with me directly or posted in a corner of the internet. I merely collect them, add the audio clips, and add commentary from my perspective.

Which composer, according to you, is the worst offender?

Despite the fact that I love many of their songs, I would hand that title to Nadeem Shravan. This is more for their loud and aggressive soundbites to media about how talented they are. Pritam was, during a phase, as good (or bad!) as Nadeem Shravan, but he seems to have moved on from that point.

With so many songs 'lifted' and 'copied' on your website, does it make you jaded about the future of Indian film music?

Not at all. The percentage of lifts (at least as decided by the catalogue on my site) is dwarfed in front of the number of original songs produced by the Indian film industry (across languages). Probably in an attempt to showcase the other side and in a way to undo the damage I might have unleashed, I started a music review blog in 2005. The blog completes 12 years on 22 July, incidentally, and I have made it a point to keep it language-agnostic, given my love for Indian film music without any preference for one specific language.

Related topics