Sounds familiar?


Munni Badnaam Hui is all the rage across the border these days. One of the easier barometers to judge a singles popularity regardless of how connoisseurs define and measure its critical import is to determine its radio gaga.

Munni has just entered the list of top 20 most frequently played songs on radio in India!

However, theres the munna matter of Munnis origin or, as one Indian friend sportingly acknowledged, inspiration. The chartbuster has been lifted from a Pakistani single of a relatively little known 1993 flick called Mr Charlie (not to be mistaken for Charlie Wilson of the Cold War fame on these pages).

According to Times of India, one of the worlds premier broadsheets, the Pakistani number has been copied note for note by Lalit Pandit of the Jatin-Lalit fame for Dabangg (daredevil), a current smash hit and one of the highest grossing Bollywood movies of all time.

So is a Pakistani to feel proud that the art of a fellow citizen has been lifted or angry at the development since no credit has been given where due?

The paper quoted Lalit as denying plagiarism but summarily hanging up the phone when pressed. Arbaaz Khan, the producer of the film, whose wife Malaika Arora plays Munni in the song, also refused to entertain any call or respond to messages on his cellphone.

In the Pakistani version of the song, it was a male lead popular stand-up comedian Umar Sharif who attempted to create a flutter. Sharif, who is equally famous in India for his prowess, was blue about the latest copycat bid.

Ye chori nahi, seena zori hai, Sharif thundered (loosely translated, this is puffed up pretence, not mere stealth). He felt disappointed at not being accorded the decency of at least a courtesy call by any of the Khan Brothers involved with Dabangg.

Plagiarism is of course, not new to Bollywood or Lollywood (whatever little of that disappearing industry is left) for that matter. The trouble with delving into the issue in the Indo-Pak context is that, more often than not, it descends into a warfare run along patriotic lines. Try Facebooking the issue and chances are youll run into something like a disputed territory.

The fact however, is that both Indians and Pakistanis plagiarise work from each others country with gay abandon. That Bollywood copies work of Pakistani artistes is hardly news but it came as a bit of shock when a little research one did showed the massive extent of Pakistani fare being passed off as Indian.

Feed Bollywood plagiarism of Pakistani songs into the Youtube search engine and you come across a 17-part body of evidence that speaks for itself as much as it entertains.

The scale is puny on the flip side of the coin, which isnt surprising considering there is little to match: where Bollywood is the worlds largest film industry, Lollywood is currently gasping for breath.

However, this has never stopped film houses or theatre this side of the Indus from dipping into Indian titles for inspiration.

In fact, plagiarism is only a subtext of the larger stimulus that Pakistanis seem to pander to in relation to the subject under review.

For instance, it is inescapable for an average Pakistani wedding not to follow some part of the rituals associated with the fare across the border. This is reflected in the standard song-and-dance routine as well as the couture.

Similarly, the revival of cinema-going in Pakistan the subject is broadly contextualized simply as the revival of cinema in the republic, as if to suggest it has brought Pakistani filmdom to life is largely owed to the spice of Bollywood movies.

It is unlikely that the grand multiplexes, that now provide fun and entertainment to Pakistani cine-goers, will profit if Bollywood was to be taken out of the equation. Such is an average Pakistani fans appetite for it.

Maybe, at the end of the day, we are closer to each other (as geography unambiguously demonstrates) than we would like to think or pretend. Maybe a more reasonable approach would be to recognize this fact.

As for plagiarism, one is inclined to think it would hurt less if proper recognition is accorded; first, by necessarily seeking permission and then rolling the credits.

Frankly one is surprised at the lack of this regimen, for Pakistani and Indian artistes have long shared great bonhomie and mutual respect for each others work.

A string of Pakistani stars continue to reap the rewards for some fantastic work on a far bigger platform when they cross the border. The likes of Atif Aslam and Shehzad Roy have lent their previous work to recent Indian movies when requested without batting an eyelid.

Maybe its just down to recognising goodwill with credit.

The writer is a former newspaper editor and columnist