By Sandeep Sahu*
“What is the fuss all about?” asks the MTV generation of Odias, sounding suitably perplexed about the hullabaloo over the Coke Studio-MTV version of ‘Rangabati’, the cult Sambalpuri number that has been a mandatory feature in marriage processions across Odisha and many other parts of the country for decades.
Rituraj Mohanty of India’s Raw Star fame, who sang the ‘Bande Utkala Janani’ part of the Ram Sampath medley, was certainly speaking for many of his ‘remix’ generation when, asked for his reaction on the outrage it had sparked off, he asked, incredulity written all over his face; “I just can’t understand what is wrong with it? After all, Coke Studio is a huge platform that opens up to the whole world.”
It is a measure of the distance this generation has travelled from its socio-cultural roots that it is unable to see, much less feel, the hurt that this ‘fusion’ version has caused to millions who have grown up listening to, humming and even shaking a leg to the original ‘Rangabati’ and standing up in reverence every time ‘Bande Utkala Janani’ is played. It is equally a measure of the extent to which the ‘world’ has laid sieze to the collective consciousness of a whole generation that a young friend, during a rather animated debate on the issue on Facebook, actually defended the misspelling of ‘Janani’ as ‘Janini’ in the album blurb arguing it is quite commonplace in ‘world music’ and then went on to reel off examples of it!
Let me make it clear at the very outset. I have no problems with those who enjoy the ‘Rangabati Returns’. I can also live with those think it is ‘better than the original’. After all, musical tastes can and do differ. But what gets my goat is when the members of the MTV brigade offer the specious – and condescending – argument that Messrs Ram Sampath-Sona Mohapatra- Rituraj Mohanty have actually done Odias a great favour by taking this nondescript number to the ‘whole of India’ and the ‘world at large’. Indeed, going by the comments in the social media, it would appear as if Rangabati Mark II is the best thing that has happened to Odisha since it became a separate state on April 1, 1936!
They reel off the numbers – 10 lakh hits within just four days of the ‘item’ (which perhaps is the appropriate term for what is sought to be passed off as a song) debuting on YouTube – to prove their point. Since many of these MTV warriors were not even born when Rangabati was born, they would never know that a 100 times that many people have already listened to and relished the original number without any help from MTV whatsoever. I have heard it played by music bands during marriage processions in places as far off as Patna and Delhi and seen people dancing away in gay abandon to its electrifying beat. As for taking it to the ‘world’, it had already gone there way back in the late 1970s courtesy BBC and Voice of America. I do not have the slightest doubt that long after the numbers taper off on YouTube and ‘Rangabati Returns’ falls by the wayside, Rangabati, the original, would continue to regale millions with its verve and vivacity – as it has done for four decades now.
Rituraj’s rendition of ‘Bande Utkala Janani’ is even more outrageous. It takes the soul out of Kantakabi’s immortal creation, which has been rightfully accorded the exalted status of a state anthem, and trivialises it in the most brazen way possible. Senior Congress leader Niranjan Patnaik certainly had a point when he demanded that the Odisha Assembly should pass a legislation, which would make any fiddling with the state anthem, punishable – as is the case with ‘Jana Gana Mana’.
I am appalled – and at the same time rather amused – at the sheer hypocrisy of this ‘taking it to the world’ claim. If Coke Studio/Ram Sampath picked up Rangabati, it was not because their heart bled for this obscure folk song badly in need of some help from them to reach out to ‘the world at large’. Had that been the case, the least they would have done was to have taken due permission from the copyright holders. Had that been the case, they would have roped in Jitendriya Haripal and Krishna Patel (both of them alive and kicking) together and recreated the Rangabati magic in their state-of-the-art studio. Had that been the case, they would have at least stuck to the original notations, pace, words and pronunciation of the song.
They pounced on Rangabati because they saw an enormous business opportunity in it. They never thought of inviting Haripal and Patel to do the singing because they did not want their moolah shared with ‘outsiders’, even if they happen to be the original singers of the song. They tinkered with the words and intonations because they knew that is the only way they can sell it to a generation brought up on dollops of ‘remix’ stuff.
The problem with many of us who feel outraged at this gross chutneyfication of a cult number is that we get stuck on issues of copyright. Copyrights, after all, can be bought and sold across the table. My own objection is to this whole ‘business’ of remix/remake. My blood boiled when the late Gulshan Kumar set the ball rolling in the 1980s with his Super Cassettes/’T’ series offerings where Vipin Sachdeva and Vandana Vajpayee sought to pass themselves off as Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar respectively. And it continues to boil now when I find the whole flavour taken out of a number which has been such an integral part of my growing up process.
I believe that when it comes to a cult number like Rangabati, the copyright holders are not the sole stake holders. I am – and millions like me, who have grown up listening to it – are also stakeholders in its fate. Tomorrow, the copyright holders – lyricist Mitrabhanu Gauntia and composer Prabhudutta Pradhan – who have threatened to file a Rs 1 crore defamation suit against the makers of Rangabati II may patch up with Coke Studio and settle for an out of court settlement. But we, as music lovers, would continue to feel outraged.
It is not just music. I am equally vehemently opposed to remakes of films and have made it a point never to watch any of them, even when they are made by directors I like. Case in point: Farhan Akhtar’s remake of ‘Don’. I have never quite figured out why a man who gave us the refreshingly delicious ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ had to turn to a remake.
I am a firm believer in the sanctity and inviolability of an original creation. That is why I am opposed to film makers taking ‘creative liberties’ with original work, even when they are masters I have otherwise adored. Case in point: Satyajit Ray’s ‘Shatranj ke Khiladi’. My point is: why pick something original if you cannot adhere to its fundamentals? Why can’t you create something original instead? I abhor this business of ‘creative interpretation’.
For far too long, we have allowed the remix/remake brigade piggyback on others’ successes. For far too long, we have allowed them to make mincemeat of the original. The time has come to throw the ‘remix’ brigade out of business.
Unfortunately, however, the only way this can be done is through the Copyright Act. It is time the Act is suitably amended to put a cost to blatant plagiarism and unabashed bastardization of original creation. If even one company/individual is made to cough up an amount of a crore or two, I do not have the slightest doubt that it will be the end of the road for those who have made a fortune out of selling other people’s creations. After all, nothing talks like money!
* Sandeep Sahu is the Executive Editor of odishasuntimes.com