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Time for change

It's hardly a coincidence that most of our celebrated lyricists today have parallel careers. Prasoon Joshi holds a day job as the executive chairman of the McCann Worldwide Group while others...

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | Published: February 19, 2010 5:18 am

The film industry hopes that the amendment in the Copyright Act of 1957 will finally give the lyricists their due credit

It’s hardly a coincidence that most of our celebrated

lyricists today have parallel careers. Prasoon Joshi holds a day job as the executive chairman of the McCann Worldwide Group while others,like Javed Akhtar,Swanand Kirkire and Jaideep Sahni double as screenwriters. Full-time

lyricists,like Gulzar and Irshad Kamil,are a rarity in the industry where the norms favour producers.

It is this pitiable state of lyricists — often recognised for their creative skills but not remunerated accordingly — that,after years of lobbying,the government has finally taken notice and has ordered a proposal for amendment to the Copyright Act to accommodate their interests. Joshi says,“Most of our legendary musicians and lyricists lived a hand-to-mouth existence. Many died in penury including Ustad Bismillah Khan.”

It was unfortunate then that the recent spat between Aamir Khan and Akhtar—an argument where the former supported the producers’ lobby whereas the veteran writer argued for lyricists’ rights — managed to temporarily derail the process as Khan resigned from the committee. However,there is some good news as the committee has requested to reinstate Khan on to the board. Also,the proposed amendment to

provide non-transferable rights to the “author of the literary work”,permission to reproduce the work in any form and a certain percentage of the profits as royalty is likely to be implemented.

In our country,film songs,ever since the silent films era ended,have shaped up as an art form the masses would indulge in. And lyricists were often placed on a pedestal. Kaifi Azmi,Shailendra,Anand Bakshi,Majrooh Sultanpuri and Sahir Ludhianvi are names that command respect even today. “The music industry wasn’t different back then and the concept of intellectual property rights didn’t even exist. Lyricists were just paid a certain amount for each film. If the system of royalty had existed,these legends would all have been millionaires by now,” Joshi avers.

The situation hasn’t changed much today. Music composers and lyricists sign off their rights on their work to the producer who,in turn,strikes his own deal with music companies. A member of the community,on condition of anonymity,cites how a reputed lyricist in this industry cannot dream of a lifestyle that the producers and actors enjoy. “We may be considered a part of a clique but financially,we can only go with them till the gate of a fancy restaurant,” he complains.

When compared to other professions,these creative fields don’t offer financial security like provident fund. The system of royalties in such circumstances will act as that back-up. “People discourage their children from becoming lyricists. However,this one move can change the future of this profession,” asserts Raqueeb Alam,one of the lyricists for Slumdog Millionaire. He also cites the example of how,internationally,being on the board of writers of one hit album can secure the future of a songwriter.

Anjum Rajabali,who represents screenwriters on the committee,says,“We were seeking statutory protection and contractual regulation to regulate the producer-writer relationship. However,I do not know to which extent the ministry has incorporated our concerns into the new version.”

A certain faction of the community fears that the recent controversy may affect the interests of writers who often suffer the same fate as that of the lyricists. Vishal Bharadwaj,who is also on the committee,seconds this. “As a writer,producer and director,I am able to understand points of view of both the sides. There is no doubt a change needs to be brought about.” Saif Ali Khan’s partner in Illuminati Films,Dinesh Vijan,also supports the cause and says,“The matter can be sorted amicably through talks.”

One may wonder what then the controversy is about if the producers seem to support the move. Alam claims much of it to be hogwash in the face of the media. “Who will want to sound unfair in public?” he quips.

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