New Delhi: Last week, amid much fanfare, co-producers Dharma Productions and Excel Entertainment launched the first piece of promotional material from their upcoming September release Baar Baar Dekho starring Sidharth Malhotra and Katrina Kaif. Titled Kaala Chashma, the dance number featuring the two actors that received 20 million views within five days on video-sharing platform YouTube is a reworked version of early 2000s Bhangra pop hit Tenu kaala chashma jajta ve by Punjabi singer Amar Arshi.

Not that Bollywood has ever been a stranger to retuned old hits. As long back as 2010, director Sajid Khan’s comedy Housefull had featured a reworked version of Amitabh Bachchan’s 1981 hit song Apni Toh Jaise Taise. More recently, among umpteen other examples, there was Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt-starrer Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania that borrowed old Punjabi hits Saturday Saturday and Samjhawan. The latter in fact had been sung by Pakistani singers Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Farah Anwar for a Punjabi film called Virsa. Earlier this year, Akshay Kumar-starrer Airlift had come out with a Hindi version of Punjabi song Soch originally sung by Hardy Sandhu and composed by B Praak.

“It’s great that we’re able to revamp some of the old tunes. There are some beautiful melodies and lyrics and when given a modern twist, help introduce the youth to the classics," said Ramesh Taurani, managing director, Tips Films Ltd. “Also, I think people revamp numbers presuming they have a hit song confirmed for their film as audiences are already familiar with the tune. It works both for the old composer whose song stays alive and the new musician if his remix is good."

Revamping songs is much easier for a giant music label that has its own library to keep going back to. Last year, T-Series released Yo Yo Honey Singh’s Dheere Dheere, a single adapted from its own 1990 hit album Aashiqui. This year, apart from Airlift’s Soch Na Sake, they have also redone Taz Stereo Nation’s Nachange Saari Raat for a film called Junooniyat.

“Yeah, it’s very easy (for us) because we have many superhit songs which were not promoted enough considering there weren’t so many platforms earlier," said Bhushan Kumar, chairman and managing director, T-Series. “Then there are so many songs that were shot on less high-profile faces, with bigger actors, they go to a different level. At the same time, we can’t recreate a song as it is. For Nachange Saari Raat, we took the hook line but added four new lines before that. So it’s like a new song with a new tune and lyrics, but benefits from recall value at the same time."

To be sure, revamped songs may be of two kinds—a cover version and a remix. Of the latter, the Indian Copyright Act makes no mention. The primary difference is that a cover version is created using new singers and instrumentalists, reproducing the same song with its original musical notes and lyrics. A remix is a far more altered version, with pieces added, removed or changed from the original item.

“With cover versions, there are a number of directions in the Act. That, for example, there should be minimum tampering with the original lyrics and musical notes unless it is absolutely necessary," said Ankit Sahni, a lawyer practising at the Delhi high court, specializing in intellectual property rights. “Then in case the author or the owner of the copyright of that song doesn’t give you a license, there is a provision for a compulsory license under Section 31 ( C ) for a cover version."

Issues, however, arise because it doesn’t make the resolution of disputes easy.

“In case of a dispute on say, how much the license fee should be, the Act provides for a copyright board to be the intermediary. But for more than two or three years now, there is no copyright board in existence since the vacancy hasn’t been filled," Sahni said.

But for a willing owner with whom the license fee is privately negotiated, there is no problem, Sahni added. That owner, in most of these cases, happens to be the music label or record company. A private singer who brings out an independent composition without being associated with a music label is regarded as the author, composer, singer and owner of a particular piece of music. But the major trend in the industry is for singers to sign up with music labels and assign the copyright of their own songs to them to exploit. Usually, the artist receives a one-time fee plus a recurring percentage of total revenue from sales which is paid in quarterly or half-yearly instalments.

Which is what makes the acquisition of these songs most tricky as far as the composers and singers are concerned. Hardy Sandhu admits he wasn’t aware of T-Series’ plans to redo the Soch song.

“The rights were always with the music company and they could do what they wanted with it," he said. “If you see, most of these old songs have been major hits in Punjab. Earlier people didn’t even understand Punjabi. But now social media has come in. So they’re being picked up because people know they’ll work at the national level too."

Composer Viju Shah, whose hit song Oye Oye from 1989 action thriller Tridev, was recently used in Emraan Hashmi-starrer Azhar, feels there is more to this trend than just the battle for rights and royalty. Shah has seen disputes to do with the work his father, music director Kalyanji Virji Shah (of composer duo Kalyanji Anandji) stay pending for years.

“If you go for any commercial or reality shows today, you’ll see 90% of the songs played and sung are old numbers. That says it all. You can’t fight change. But I feel it has to be a healthier atmosphere where you just sit across the table," Shah said. “But you feel happy, a song released in 1989 is finding currency 27 years later. Even though on the technical front, it may not be done the right way."

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