AR Rahman's measured response to Masakali 2.0 acknowledges an era where original music and remixes must coexist

Devansh Sharma

Moments after 'Masakali 2.0' dropped online on Wednesday, Twitter echoed what Karan Johar says in the opening moments of 'Aankh Marey,' "Oh god! One more remix!"

Commissioned by T-Series, Tanishk Bagchi's version reinterprets AR Rahman's song from Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's 2009 film Delhi-6. The original, written by Prasoon Joshi and sung by Mohit Chauhan, was filmed on Sonam K Ahuja and Abhishek Bachchan. While Prasoon had mentioned the word 'Masakali' is devoid of a literal meaning and was in fact borrowed from the dummy lyrics, it was attributed to a pigeon, a motif of the film set in Old Delhi.

Lyricist Varun Grover expressed his displeasure over the new song through a graphic tweet.

Lyricist-singer Swanand Kirkire and Mehra also retweeted the picture. While a lot of purists or Rahman fans would be on the same page as Grover, Rahman's reaction came as a pleasant surprise. He shared a short note on Twitter, tagging every major artist associated with the song, along with the YouTube link of the original version.

Rahman has not even commented on or mentioned 'Masakali 2.0' nor anyone associated with the recreation. But his statement is evidence enough to claim he does not approve of the new version. Or maybe he just wanted to bring the original song to the notice of the new generation (who may have missed it over 10 years ago) and tell them it takes a village, and sleepless days (nights in his case) to come up with an original song as memorable as 'Masakali.'

Maybe he is directing his words to that section of the new audience which believes 'Tamma Tamma' and 'Yeh Jawaani' have their roots in Badrinath Ki Dulhania and Student of the Year 2 respectively. Maybe he wants to inform them that while they may find the recreated versions pacier, the originals should be credited for the combined hard work and talent invested in them. Maybe he just wants to juxtapose the original with the remix, and let each member of the audience decide individually what their cup of tea is.

This is a sign of a man confident of his craft, and less bitter towards the system. It is not the first Rahman song that has been rejigged. In fact, he was offered to remix his own song 'Hamma Hamma' from Mani Ratnam's 1995 film Bombay for what turned out to be 'The Humma Song' in Shaad Ali's 2017 romantic comedy Ok Jaanu. He said while he had turned down Ali and producer Karan Johar's offer, Badshah's remixed version turned out to be successful. "Maybe they were right in thinking Badshah could give it a spin and make it for a younger audience," he said, not denying the reach and appeal of the new version.

Aditya Roy Kapur and Shraddha Kapoor in a still from 'The Humma Song'

Aditya Roy Kapur and Shraddha Kapoor in a still from 'The Humma Song'

His response was more scathing when his song 'Ishwar Allah' from Deepa Mehta's 1998 period film 1947: Earth was rehashed by Hitesh Modak for Omung Kumar's 2019 biographical film PM Narendra Modi. He said since it was written by a veteran lyricist like Javed Akhtar, whatever was added to the song was not respectful to him. "I hate to use the word but the song was bastardised."

His reaction then came closest to what Prasoon Joshi's response has been to 'Masakali 2.0.' He took to Twitter to express his displeasure in direct, albeit not harsh, words.

Rahman's reaction is the most dignified in comparison to other music composers who have not pulled any punches when it came to critiquing remix versions of their original songs, the rights of which lie with the common music label, T-Series.

For instance, the most recent example is that of Vishal-Shekhar, who threatened legal action against anyone rejigging their songs without permission. Singer Sona Mohapatra responded to Vishal Dadlani's tweet by saying the composer duo were being hypocritical since they have remixed original songs of other composers, such as the Nepali song 'Musu Musu' for Raj Kaushal's 1999 musical romance Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhi, RD Burman's 'Bachna Ae Haseeno' from Nasir Hussain's 1977 film Hum Kisise Kum Naheen for the Ranbir Kapoor-starrer in 2008, and Pankaj Udhas' ghazal 'Ghungroo Toot Gaye' for Siddharth Anand's 2019 espionage thriller War.

They even approached T-Series to rehash their own (so that no one else does a worse job, in their defense) song 'Dus Bahane' from Anubhav Sinha's 2005 action thriller Dus for Ahmed Khan's Baaghi 3 earlier this year. Clearly, they follow the adage, "If you can't beat them, join them."

Tiger Shroff in a still from 'Dus Bahane 2.0'

Tiger Shroff in a still from 'Dus Bahane 2.0'

Amit Trivedi confesses he is also guilty of rehashing one song under pressure though he considers it an aberration of his career. The song was 'Halka Halka' from Atul Manjrekar's 2018 coming-of-age musical Fanney Khan, a reinterpretation of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's ghazal 'Ye Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai.' "I did it because of Rakeysh Mehra (co-producer along with T-Series Films). He was also under pressure so he just told me to get him out of it. But when they offered me another remix (of 'Jawan Hai Mohabbat'), I opted out and asked them to get Tanishk. I did that one remix but I don't plan to do another one ever again," Amit told this writer in an interview.

Trivedi's contention with remixes is neither about his due being taken away or 'classics being touched.' His rationale is pretty simple: he does not feel creatively challenged to rejig a song. "Have you ever heard someone say 'I feel creatively charged to remix a song. It's my passion!' Who says that?" He reinterpreted another song, 'Hungama' from Vikas Bahl's 2014 coming-of-age film Queen. But there, the situation demanded a retro song for Kangana Ranaut's character Rani, who feels at home dancing to a Bollywood song in a London pub. Thus, he chose to rehash Laxmikant Pyarelal's 'Hungama Ho Gaya' from Ravi Tandon's 1973 suspense drama Anhonee.

Even when Rahman rehashed his own song, 'Urvashi Urvashi' from S Shankar's 1994 film Kadhlan, he used 'crowdsourced lyrics' to reinterpret the track inventively, incorporating then-burning issues like demonetisation and Donald Trump's win in the 2016 US Presidential Elections into the lyrics.

Context becomes priority for several when it comes to participating in remixes. When Madhuri Dixit-Nene was asked for her comment on 'Ek Do Teen' from Ahmed Khan's 2018 action drama Baaghi 2, she said as long as the producers have the necessary rights, they could rehash any song to suit the context of their story, including her breakthrough track, composed by Laxmikant Pyarelal for N Chandra's 1988 action romance Tezaab. She added even she had danced to 'Paisa Yeh Paisa' in Indra Kumar's 2019 adventure comedy Total Dhamaal, which was a remix of Laxmikant-Pyarelal's original from Subhash Ghai's 1980 revenge saga Karz.

Madhuri's Tezaab and Total Dhamaal co-star Anil Kapoor is being seen in an interesting commercial for Spotify these days. Ishaan Khatter, cast as his son, plays RD Burman's 'Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani' from the 1972 film Jawani Diwani, and says, "Dad, aapke zamane ka gaana" (the song from your generation). Anil disapproves, changes the song to 'The Jawaani Song' from Student of the Year 2 last year, and corrects his son, "Mere zamaane ka gaana."

This commercial reiterates every artist, whether an actor, lyricist or composer, has to move with the times and meet the need of the current generation. The views on the YouTube video of any remix shows the phenomenon is hugely popular. In that case, every composer need not take up rehashed songs if they feel they would not do a good job of it, but surely need to make room for rehashes of their compositions. It may seem an unfair world, unless you have tremendous faith in your craft and its reach, like Rahman.

When this writer interacted with Shubha Mudgal at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival earlier this year, the veteran singer succinctly put across her point of view: "I am okay with a remix making all kinds of noise," she said. "But I need not hear it again if I don't like it."

All images from YouTube.

Also See: Masakali 2.0: AR Rahman takes a dig at rehash of his Delhi-6 song; Prasoon Joshi criticises T-Series

Masakali 2.0: Delhi Metro confesses it's biased towards AR Rahman's original; Jaipur Police takes dig at new version

Tara Sutaria, Sidharth Malhotra team up for Masakali 2.0, Tanishk Bagchi's recreation of Sonam Kapoor song from Delhi-6

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