It was just a couple of days back that filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra was writing one of the chapters for a forthcoming book on the making of Delhi 6. More than half of the chapter was turning out to be about the iconic A. R. Rahman-Prasoon Joshi-Mohit Chauhan song Masakali. Mehra was writing about the composition, the pigeon, the symbolism behind it and its relation to Old Delhi, the location that also doubles up as a character in the film. The next day I got a call from Rahman about the remixed Masakali 2.0, Mehra tells us on a phone call from his country home in Kale village near Lonavla where he has dropped anchor for the lockdown.
The music we have created has stood the test of time. There was a whole thought process that went behind it. It took a year to make the music, three years to make the film. Tinkering with it was avoidable and uncalled for&we felt the need to voice our concern rather than stay silent. We decided to bring it out; put the paper on the wall, he says, adding that it was heartening that people in general and the film fraternity have not liked it [Masakali 2.0] and come out in their support.
His film is a smorgasbord of small vignettes of Delhi 6, where Mehra himself grew up and Bittoo, played by Sonam Kapoor, highlights a certain traditional, conservative aspect of the place and the society. Mehra recalls narrating her character to Rahman. How she craves freedom in the face of suppression. It is about a girl who wants to fly high, get off the branch that is holding her back, he says. Rahman hummed a bit from the other end of the phone, what Masakali would sound phonetically. I said that it wasnt just sounding good, but it was awesome. It was literally like I wrote the pigeon into the script. It is Om Puris favourite pigeon. [With the song] it became the metaphor for Bittoo, he says.
Those were the days of physical music, of CDs. There was the need for partnership for a distribution chain and system. Which is where the T Series label came in. It is they who have come up with the remixed Masakali 2.0 featuring actors Sidharth Malhotra and Tara Sutaria in the music video. The song is sung by Tulsi Kumar and Sachet Tandon, while the music has been recreated by Tanishk Bagchi.
Mehra talks of their remix as painful beyond the legal remedy. But did he consider legal recourse at all? Mehra admits having felt at a loss when it comes to a formal measure. With the lockdown, so much else is happening that I would have felt slightly small [in bringing this up]. And after two months it will be out of public memory, he says.
According to him, gunning for remix king Bagchi alone would be clouding the picture. There is a whole eco-system of remixes created by the big music publishers; Bagchi is a cog in that larger wheel. He has done it, but I wont hang him for that. Someone thought about doing it, financed it, shot it, there are people who acted in it [music video], says Mehra.
Mehra says that he cant understand the concept of remixes at all. That permission needs to be taken from the original creators and, if at all, they should be the ones doing it. Not that they would do them [remixes], he adds.
We talk about the 50s and 60s as the golden era of film music. And when we make that kind of music now, you go ahead and spoil it, he says. The logic offered is that people want it, it is selling. But even a badly-fried samosa also sells in the market, he argues, adding, It is a trend that hasnt come from the people, but created by the music publishers who cant create anything themselves. They should leave music to the music makers than tinker with somebody elses work, he says. Would a book publisher do that with the contents of a book that has become a classic? Would they change words, sentences, paragraphs? he asks rhetorically.
According to him, it is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently. If not, we will all be more careful with the contracts moving on from here. With the changing digital distribution scenario why does one need a publisher? I have been talking to music composers to publish their own music, he says. Clearly Rahman has stirred the hornets nest. Now to where the film and music industry goes from here on the remix debate.
Statement from Masakali lyricist Prasoon Joshi:
Masakali is not just the word I created, but the entire song is special for many reasons.
Though all the songs I have written are special for me, a few are milestones in their own right.
The entire album of Delhi 6 is truly iconic. As I have shared earlier, Masakali is a word which I coined. It has no meaning and its not part of any language. I tried to intricately infuse meaning in it through imagery, which painstakingly and masterfully AR Rehman composed and singer Mohit Chauhan added many more dimensions to. Director Rakeysh Mehra, cinematographer Binod Pradhan and, of course, Sonam Kapoor who made it visually come to life.
I remember soon after the Masakali song came out, a young girl wrote to me that she was fighting a life-threatening illness and in her journey to recovery the song Masakali, and especially my words Udiyo Na Dariyo (Fly, dont be scared) from the song were her strength constantly.
Things created with heart and painstaking craft reach out and make a genuine difference. So when they are simply re-used with sole commercial purpose, it is indeed sad.
There is a larger point here and that is: Who will protect the sanctity of original music and poetry? Is there any accountability to the music lovers here or whoever feels like can tamper with the soul?
A song or poem has a unique narrative and we need to protect the minute threads of this intricate fabric.