MUCH before the release of ‘Lootera’ last Friday, the media was flooded with snippets alleging that composer Amit Trivedi was the latest to be bitten by the plagiarism bug. His theme music from the Vikramaditya Motwane-directed film, they claimed, was a direct rip-off of Rachel Portman’s instrumental ‘We had today’ from the 2011 Hollywood film ‘One Day’.
Listen to both closely, and there’s no denying an uncanny similarity between them. The basic melodies are the same, even though the instruments are different and they go into separate directions after a while, with the ‘Lootera’ version picking up in tempo. However, what nobody seems to have got is that both of them sound very much like Nino Rota’s score ‘A Time for Us’, used in Franco Zefferelli’s 1968 film ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Rota, of course, is best known for his ‘Godfather’ music.
Whether the ‘Lootera’ theme music was original or not is a matter of debate, which I shall address below. And if it actually is an instance of deliberate copying, there should be no justification at all.
However, before getting into that discussion, a word of congratulations for the overall quality of the film’s background music. It’s simply stunning, to say the least — the portion just before the intermission is a class apart. Moreover, both Motwane and Trivedi have worked on an admirable balance between scintillating music, total silence and minor sounds like birds chirping and short dialogues. The way music has been used is a lesson to all aspiring filmmakers.
Sadly, nobody is talking about that. Everybody wants controversy, and public opinion often prefers to highlight the negative elements. So let’s get back to the subject of whether Trivedi’s version was a blatant copy or not, keeping in mind the three tunes discussed.
Quite clearly, Portman’s ‘One Day’ seems to have been inspired by Rota’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, even if sub-consciously, and even though it’s slower in tempo. And Trivedi, while admitting his ‘Lootera’ tune and ‘One Day’ match to some extent, claims it was just a coincidence. In an interview to Shakti Shetty of Mid-Day, the Bollywood composer said: “I’m not a fool to steal music. All of a sudden I was hearing stuff like ‘Amit Trivedi has become like Pritam and Anu Malik. He has become a chor too’.”
Was it downright plagiarism, smart inspiration or sheer accidental similarity? Should one believe Trivedi’s version and be convinced this was just a coincidence? For that matter, should one absolve Portman for being inspired by the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ theme?
Considering that Trivedi is one of the rising stars in Hindi film music, and has had a very clean record ever since he shot to fame with ‘Dev D’ in 2009, one might as well give him the benefit of the doubt. At this stage in his career, he would be the last person to think of directly lifting a tune, and facing ire and flak for it.
Let’s now look at the tune in isolation. From a melodic point of view, it’s a very simple tune, using just four basic notes, which have been improvised on three more times. There’s nothing complex about it at all, and anybody with a basic knowledge of the keyboard and a compositional bent of mind would be able to create that tune, using those same four notes in four sequences. And if required to set it against a romantic or sad background, the same person would use a similar tempo and metre, and give it an orchestral effect. In other words, it’s not something really pathbreaking from the creatve viewpoint. However, by creating a wonderul atmosphere, a composer can take it places.
Keeping that in mind, it’s highly probable that Trivedi would have composed the ‘Lootera’ theme without being inspired by ‘One Day’. It’s also possible that Portman would have created her piece without being directly inspired by the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ theme.
In his interview, Trivedi says he was initially shocked on hearing allegations of plagiarism, but on introspection, acknowledged that it wasn’t the fault of people who made them, as the tunes matched to some extent. He even found Portman’s e-mail and wrote to her, though he didn’t get any reply. If what he’s saying is true, it implies he hadn’t heard Portman’s version before.
So how did the tunes sound so similar? Let’s look at another theory — that of sub-conscious inspiration.
As part of their research and their passion, most composers listen to various types of music, as often as they can. For the background music, one would assume the current generation of Hindi film composers would listen to the way background music is used in other Indian films, both old and new, and in Hollywood films and world cinema. They would also be tuned in to sweeping types of orchestral music, as one finds in the western classical genre, or into more experimental stuff found in modern dance and new age music.
Thus, their audio systems would be filled with Hollywood musical geniuses like Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Nino Rota, Hans Zimmer, Vangelis, James Horner, Ludovic Bource and James Newton Howard, to name a few, and with classical composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Stravinsky. This is besides electronic dance music acts like Paul Van Dyk, Sasha, Deadmau5 or Swedish House Mafia, and new age acts like Yanni, Enigma, Delirium and Kitaro. Examples abound.
In all this, one is bound to get influenced by certain compositional styles and by certain tunes. A great piece of music can stick to one’s head today, be forgotten and reappear much later while one is composing something new. At times, one may not even remember the actual source. As such, it’s natural for every musician to get inspired by whatever he or she has heard before. In both Trivedi’s and Portman’s cases, it’s very likely that the ghost of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ would be haunting their brains while they wrote their respective pieces. Both may have been sub-consciously inspired, and done what any composer would do with that same basic tune.
In the Indian context, there have been scores of unfortunate instances when tunes have been lifted directly, even by some of the greatest music directors. There have also been many times when composers have been inspired by other tunes, either sub-consciously or knowingly (as with Salil Chowdhury who openly acknowledged his ‘Chhaya’ song ‘Itna na mujhe se tu pyaar badhaa’ was influenced by the opening movement of Mozart’s 40th Symphony). There have also been numerous occasions when certain Hindi film songs have sounded similar because they have been composed in the same classical ‘raga’.
And then, there have been instances when the media has gone on and on about songs which weren’t copied at all. To take a recent example, half the Internet was filled with stories that A R Rahman’s ‘Challa’ (‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’) was a direct lift of Eagle Eye Cherry’s ‘Save Tonight’. Frankly, there was nothing similar between the songs except that they used the same guitar chord in the opening strumming portion. And when Rahman rehashed his own ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ title song to create ‘Tum Tak’ in ‘Raanjhanaa’, hardly anybody noticed. Interestingly enough, both these songs are somewhat reminiscent of (and maybe sub-consciously inspired by) the antara of the ‘Padosan’ tune ‘Main chali’.
Talking of the ‘Challa’ and Rahman controversy, one is baffled how quickly half the Internet writes about such instances when the so-called ‘originals’ haven’t been really popular in India. When the ‘Barfi’ promos were out last year, everyone wrote about how Pritam’s theme music was lifted from the soundtrack for the French movie ‘Amelie’, which actually has a limited following in India.
In the case of ‘Lootera’, everybody is writing about ‘One Day’ which was a box office disaster and whose theme music was hardly heard in India. And if they loved the ‘One Day’ music so much, it’s shocking not one of them thought it was similar to ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which is actually one of the most famous Hollywood tunes ever. It’s like one person writes something, and everyone is just ripping that off. Plagiarism exists there too!
For Trivedi, of course, this should be a lesson learnt. He’s done some remarkable work in ‘Dev D’, ‘Udaan’, ‘Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu’, ‘Ishaqzaade’, ‘Kai Po Che!’ and even in ‘Lootera’, with the songs ‘Sawaar loon’, ‘Monta re’ and ‘Manmarziyaan’ being the highlights. And as mentioned before, the overall background score of this movie is simply awesome.
One sincerely hopes this instance was just a coincidence, probably the result of some basic compositional attempt, or even inspired sub-consciously by ‘Romeo and Juliet’, than being a direct lift of ‘One Day’ as is being touted. Just when his career is flying high, allegations of plagiarism are the last thing Trivedi would want. Hopefully, he’ll come out strong and clean. At this stage, he certainly wouldn’t want to gain a reputation of being a ‘lootera’.
PS: The only reason why I didn’t put the link of all the three pieces is that had I done that, it would be natural for readers to directly see them, without reading my views on this subject. They’re all available on YouTube, so one can quickly gain access.