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Munni: Who’s line is it anyway?

A documentary tracing the origins of Munni badnaam negotiates the terrain of copyright and creativity.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | New Delhi |
June 2, 2011 10:45:00 pm

A documentary traces the origins of Munni badnaam hui,and negotiates the tricky terrain of copyright and creativity

No party is complete without Munni badnaam hui — Dabangg’s blockbuster item number — played at a high volume,and young girls attempting Malaika Arora’s sensual gyrations. Mamta Sharma’s throaty vocals,and the coarsely paced beats and instrumentation by Sajid-Wajid have redefined new-age Bollywood music,prompting music critics to hail the new folk flavour and sound in item numbers. Dabangg director Abhinav Kashyap,who is also the lyricist of the song,and Sajid-Wajid walked away not only with bags full of money but also a slew of awards.

Some time back,Mumbai-based filmmaker Paromita Vohra found out about little-known details about the song. Munni badnaam hui,apparently inspired from folk music,has actually been copied from a 1970s song that Razia Begum,a folk singer from Madhya Pradesh,used to perform. Her song was called Launda badnaam hua,naseeban tere liye. “Not only this. There are varied bhojpuri,Pakistani and even a Bappi Lahiri version of this song. There is also a vulgarised version of it by nautanki performers Rampat Haraami and Rani Bala,” says Vohra,who has used this song to comment on copyright and creativity issues in her documentary,Partners in Crime.

Vohra is well known for her films on politics and feminism and the screenplay for the critically acclaimed Khamosh Paani. Partners in Crime comes at an interesting time,as the Copyright Amendment Bill is set to be introduced in the Parliament. The film was commissioned by Delhi-based Magic Lantern Foundation and is available at The film not only talks about the history of Munni badnaam hui but also the history of capitalism,deciphering the ways of the market and addressing issues like piracy,illegal downloading of music and the relationship of music artists with the listeners. “Who owns a particular song becomes a question here,” says Vohra,who explores the grey areas in the issue of copyright and the people who make and sell music. The film showcases metalheads,who are marketing their music on the internet on their own,as well as people who are translating books into Braille for the blind. There are shots of a Mumbai-based musician,who has an archive of rare recordings,has cleaned them and archived them,but cannot publish them because of copyright issue.

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“Is this cultural freedom or is it illegal? Our market system has failed and that is precisely why a film on this grey area was needed. The solutions seem difficult,but for now,let’s not lock up the artist,” says Vohra,who adds that she has “narrated this documentary like a love story”.

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