Plagiarism in Hindi Film Music: Is Imitation the Most Sincere Form of Flattery?

Music directors in the Bollywood industry today are often accused of plagiarizing songs without giving proper credit to the original sources. Pritam Chakraborty, in particular, comes to mind as a composer who has been subjected to such accusations in recent times. Yet, lifting tunes is not a new trend in the industry: its origins can be  traced back to the industry’s earliest days when music directors of the Golden Era composed melodies heavily inspired by unattributed sources. Below, let’s take a listen to some plagiarized works composed by five of the greatest music directors of yesteryear: R.D. Burman, S.D. Burman, Shankar-Jaikishan, Salil Chowdhury, and O.P. Nayyar.

 R.D. Burman

Among the music directors of his time, R.D. Burman was perhaps the most notorious for composing inspired tunes.  Within the list that I’ve provided below, the magnitude of plagiarism varies from song to song. Some numbers below are direct lifts from their originals, such as the cult classic “mahbuubaa mahbuubaa” from Sholay (1975). Others represent more subtle variations of plagiarism: for instance,  the Kishore Kumar classic “dilbar mere kab tak mujhe” only takes it mukhDaa from “Zigeunerjunge” but has original antaras and interludes.  As a musician, I personally feel that the latter form of lifting is somewhat justifiable because it still reflects a level of creativity and originality on the part of the composer. The direct copying of tunes, however, raises ethical concerns and may have even placed music directors like R.D. Burman in legal trouble had such songs been released today.  Regardless of your opinion on this issue, what is universally striking about the list of songs below is the diversity of sources from which R.D. Burman drew his inspiration.  Collectively, the original melodies come from a smorgasbord of musical genres from all over the world: traditional folk, American pop, Greek, German, French, and even Iranian rock!

aao twist kare.n (Bhoot Bangla, 1965)  / “Let’s Twist Again” (Chubby Checker, 1962)
churaa liyaa hai tum ne  (Yaadon Ki Baraat,  1973) / “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium” (Bojoura, 1969)
teraa mujhse hai pahle kaa naataa koii  (Aa Gale Lag Ja, 1973)/ “The Yellow Rose of Texas” (Traditional)
mahbuubaa, mahbuubaa (Sholay, 1975) / “Say You Love Me” (Demis Roussos, 1974)
mil gayaa ham ko saathii (Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin, 1977) / “Mamma Mia” (ABBA, 1975)
jahaa.n terii yah nazar hai (Kaalia, 1981) / “Heleh Maali” (Zia Atabi, 1977)
kaisaa teraa pyaar (Love Story, 1981) / “I Have A Dream” (ABBA, 1979)
dilbar mere kab tak mujhe (Satta Pe Satta, 1982) / “Zigeunerjunge” (Alexandra, 1967)
kahii.n na jaa  (Bade Dilwala, 1983) / “La Vie En Rose” (Edith Piaf, 1955)
tum se milke  (Parinda, 1989) / “When I Need You” (Leo Sayer, 1977)

Zeenat Aman sizzles in “churaa liyaa tum ne” from Yaadon Ki Baraat (1973)

S.D. Burman

Like his son, S.D. Burman has also composed melodies that reflect marked inspiration from foreign sources.  Although we have already investigated the influence of Tagore’s music on S.D. Burman in a previous post, we now observe how his compositions also were inspired by non-Indian genres.  For a composer who was rather traditional in his musical output, who would have imagined that he lifted material from Mexican, Italian, and American country melodies?

chaahe koi khush ho (Taxi Driver, 1954) / “Tarantella” (Traditional)
jiivan ke safar me.n raahii
(Munimji, 1955) / “Mexican Hat Dance” (Traditional)
ek laDkii bhiigii bhaagii sii (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958) / “Sixteen Tons” (Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1955)
ham the vah thii (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958) / “Watermelon Song” (Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1957)
yah dil na hotaa bechaaraa (Jewel Thief, 1967) / “March” (Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957)
saalaa mai.n to sahab ban gayaa (Sagina, 1974) / “Chella Lla” (Renato Carosone, 1959)

The ever-versatile Kishore Kumar stars in a comic role in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1955)


In my opinion, Shankar-Jakishan were the quintessential music directors of Bollywood’s Golden Age. They combined the authenticity of traditional Indian music with the modern sophistication of Western influences to produce songs that appealed to the masses. It’s not surprising that some of their tunes reflect inspiration from foreign influences, but what is remarkable is that several of the songs listed below are remembered today as some of this duo’s most treasured gems.  Two songs from Chori Chori (1956), two songs from Gumnaam (1965), and the title track of Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai (1961) — among many other hits — were heavily inspired by existing Western numbers. I think you’ll be surprised to see some of your favorites on the list below…

ghar aayaa meraa pardesii (Awaara, 1952) / “Al Balad El Mahboub” (Umm Kulthum)
aajaa sanam madhur chaa.ndnii me.n ham (Chori Chori, 1956) / “Tarantella” (Traditional)
panchii banuu.n uDtii phiruu.n (Chori Chori, 1956) / “Coming Through The Rye” (Traditional)
aigo aigo yah kyaa ho gayaa?
(Boyfriend, 1961) / Stupid Cupid” (Connie Francis, 1958)
jiyaa ho jiyaa kuchh bol do  (Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai, 1961) / “Broken-Hearted Melody” (Sarah Vaughan, 1959)
sukuu sukuu (Junglee, 1961) / “Sucu Sucu” (Ping Ping, 1961)
dekho ab to kis ko nahii.n hai khabar (Janwar, 1964) / “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (The Beatles, 1963 )
gumnaam hai koii (Gumnaam, 1965) / “Charade” (Henry Mancini and Orchestra, 1963)
jaane chaman sholaa badan (Gumnaam, 1965) / “Autumn Leaves” (Nat King Cole, 1956)
le jaa le jaa meraa dil (An Evening in Paris, 1967) / “Man of Mystery” (The Shadows, 1960)
kaun hai jo sapno.n me.n aayaa? (Jhuk Gaya Aasman, 1968) / “Marguerita” (Elvis Presley, 1963)

Rajendra Kumar definitely breaks conventions of automobile safety during the picturization of “kaun hai jo sapno.n me.n aayaa?” from Jhuk Gaya Aasman (1968).

Salil Chowdhury

Salil Chowdhury’s compositions always reflect an intelligent and sophisticated mastery of music that set him apart from his peers in the industry.  Instead of describing the songs listed here as cases of plagiarism, I would be more likely to categorize them as adaptations. When Salil Chowdhury used another Western melody as an inspiration, he always managed to make it his own by adding something special that would resonate with Indian audiences. Take, for example, the evergreen Talat-Lata duet “itnaa mujhse tu pyaar baDhaa.” Although the mukhDaa is clearly inspired by Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, Salil composes new antaras that beautifully complement the original melody.  As another example, consider “bachpan o bachpan” from Memdidi (1961).  Inspired by the children’s rhyme “A Tisket, A Tasket,” Salil takes the melody to a new level of complexity by inserting operatic interludes sung by our beloved diva Lata Mangeshkar.  Bravo!

dharti kahe pukaar ke (Do Bigha Zameen, 1953) / “Meadowlands” (Lev Knipper, 1934)
halke halke chalo saa.nvare (Tangewaali, 1955) / “The Wedding Samba” (Edmund Ros and Orchestra,  1950)
dil taDap taDap ke (Madhumati, 1957) / “Szla Dziewczka” (Traditional)
zindagii hai kyaa, sun merii jaan  (Maya, 1961) / “Theme from Limelight [from 3:27] ” (Charlie Chaplin, 1952)
itnaa na mujhse tu pyaar baDhaa (Chhaya, 1961) / “Molto allegro” from Symphony No. 40 (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1788)
bachpan o bachpan (Memdidi, 1961) / A Tisket, A Tasket” (Traditional)
aa.nkho.n me.n tum ho (Half-Ticket, 1962) / “Buttons and Bows” (Dinah Shore, 1948)

Vijayantimala coyly hides behind a tree in the picturization of “dil taDap taDap ke” from Madhumati (1957)

O.P. Nayyar

O.P. Nayyar is known for his characteristically Western-inspired approach to crafting melodies for Hindi films, but his contribution to our list of directly plagiarized songs is relatively small in comparison to some of his peers in the industry. The most well-known example here is, of course,  the Rafi-Geeta duet “yah hai bambaaii merii jaa.n” which has been lifted from its predecessor “My Darling Clementine.”

baabuujii dhiire chalnaa (Aar Paar, 1954) / “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas(Trio Los Panchos, 1947)
yah hai bambaii merii jaa.n (C.I.D., 1955) / “My Darling Clementine” (Traditional)
lakho.n hai.n yahaa.n dilvaale (Kismat, 1968) / Red River Valley” (Traditional)

Biswajeet hams it up for Babita during the picturization of “lakho.n hai.n yahaa.n dilvaale” in Kismat (1968)

What is your opinion on plagiarism in Hindi film music? Was it acceptable for music directors of this time to lift material from Western sources in order to introduce musical diversity to Indian audiences? Or, is it unethical for such plagiarism to occur without giving credit to the original musicians who created the songs in the first place? Let us know in the comments, and feel free to share any examples that go along the theme of this post!

-Mr. 55

​Raat Akeli Hai Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Now we will take a look at the lyrics and English translation of the seductive number “Raat Akeli Hai.” When it came to vamp songs, cabaret numbers, and being the voice any kind of seductress, Asha Bhonsle was the Queen. And yes, while this usually amounted on screen to Helen shaking her stuff in a skin-tight showgirl costume, Asha lent her versatile voice to many other actresses called upon for the vamp sequence, from Sadhana to Parveen Babi. One of her best is the Tanuja hit “Raat Akeli Hai” from Dev Anand’s hit Jewel Thief (1967) and we will now present the song’s full lyrics and translation. Asha Bhonsle gives an amazing performance–magnificently hitting both the highest of highs and hiding a sultry laugh beneath the lows. In the movie, Tanuja plays a fire-cracker “modern girl” (discussed more in our earlier post on Jewel Thief!) whose bold lines she uses to pick up Dev Anand would make anyone blush from awkwardness.

Even dapper Dev Anand is overwhelmed by Tanuja’s advances in Jewel Thief (1967).

In this song, however, her craziness works, and Tanuja is completely adorable. Bursting at the seams from her tight-fitting white dress, she seduces the hero by reaching into the living room’s classy mini-fridge and pulling out two coca-colas. Yes, it’s the 70s living at its finest. Who needs cocktails when you’re this smooth?

Tanuja shakes everything she has in a hip-hugging white dress from the seduction sequence of Jewel Thief (1967).

Enjoy our English translation of the tempting lyrics to “Raat Akeli Hai” below!

Raat Akeli Hai Lyrics and Translation:

Raat akelii hai, bujh gaye diye
The night is lonely, and the lights have gone out
Aake mere paas, kaano.N mei.N mere
Come close to me, and in my ears
Jo bhii chaahe kahiye, jo bhii chaahe kahiye
Tell me whatever you desire

Tum aaj mere liye ruk jaao, rut bhii hai fursat bhii hai
Today, stop a while for me, the atmosphere is right and we are at leisure
Tumhii na ho na sahii, mujhe tumse muhabbat hai
You may not feel the same, but I love you
Muhabbat kii ijaazat hai, to chhup kyuu.N rahiye
I have permitted you to love me, so why remain quiet?
Jo bhii chaahe kahiye, raat
Tell me whatever it is that you desire

Savaal banii huii dabii dabii uljhan siino.N mei.N
The confusion buried in my heart has surfaced as this question
Javaab denaa thaa, to Duube ho phasiino.N mei.N
You were supposed to give an answer, but you became drenched in sweat
Thaanii hai do hasiino.n me.n, to chup kyuu.N rahiye
When there is a resolve between two beautiful people, then why remain quiet?
Jo bhii chaahe kahiye
Tell me whatever it is that you want
Raat akeli hai…


akelii: lonely; kaan: ear; rut: atmosphere, season; fursat: leisure time; ijaazat: permission; chhup: silent; savaal: question; siin: chest; javaab: answer; Duubna: to become drenched, to drown; phasiinaa: sweat; thanii: resolve, commitment

Tanuja coyly wraps herself in a curtain in “Raat Akeli Hai” from Jewel Thief (1967)

Wondering what that glass-shattering note is Asha hits over and over again in this song? It sounds fancy, but it’s really just a high F.  Our girl Asha can go higher–more on this in our post on Lata and Asha’s highest notes!

-Mrs. 55

Who Is Mani Rabadi?

You’ve probably never heard of Mani Rabadi, but I’ll bet you’ve seen her work before. A behind-the-scenes legend, Mani Rabadi was a fashion designer to the stars. This woman was the final word in costume design for Bollywood films of the 60s and 70s (even continuing to work until Hum Aapke Hain Kaun in 1994)! If you wanted something run-of-the-mill, Mani Rabadi was not your woman. But if a director wanted something to stand out, to set bold trends, and to wow the audience with glamour, she was the only choice. When you see some of the pictures below, you can readily understand how this silent woman in the background transformed the careers of the stars. Her styles turned actors into icons, and made actresses into idols.

Starting her career in a humble toy factory to help pay tuition, and then joining the Indian People’s Theatre Association, Mani got her first break doing Gujarati films before moving to Bollywood. Here is a gallery of her designs from the movies we all love:

An Evening in Paris (1967)

Sharmila actually plays a dual role in the film. The villainous side incidentally always shows her tummy–just to help the audience keep things straight.
Uhh, what precisely are you looking at Pran?
Cutsy hair clip that’s bigger than my nose? Don’t mind if I do.

Jewel Thief (1967)

I’ve talked a lot about my feelings for Helen in a chicken suit from this film, but this picture definitely deserves one more mention.
Yup, those are cotton balls puffing out of that red sari like polka dots. Just saying, it takes a bold and confident woman to try and pull that off.
Dev Anand poses as a French jewelry importer. Can’t you tell by the beret?

Aradhana (1969)

Who can forget Rajesh Khanna’s tall Nepali hat as he bellows “Mere Sapnon Ki Rani” on a hillside?
Rajesh Khanna in a blue suit with a hot red turtleneck during “Kora Kaagaz Tha” is the epitome of suave.
Unarguably the most famous scene from Aradhana, Sharmila Tagore makes a sari out of a flimsy blanket…and the rest is history.

Bobby (1973)

Youth and freedom must mean a tight leather jacket!
Umm, ok Dimple Kapadia, where did the rest of your shirt go though?
Cute but completely arbitrary villager costume for “Jhoot Bole Kauva Kate.”

Farz (1961)

Nice ascot, Jeetendra.
Oh, those tight white pants that made you who you were. It’s no wonder Jeetendra was nicknamed “Jumping Jack”!

Prince (1969)

Did someone say “hep cat”?!
Helen and Vijayantimala dance off in “Muqabla Humse Na Karo.”

Kati Patang (1970)

Asha briefly portrays a 70s bride before running away from the ceremony.
Bindu makes a spectacle of herself in comparison to Asha’s stark white sari..

Amar Akbar Anthony (1979)

Rishi Kapoor dresses as a qawwal by night.
There actually aren’t really words for this.
Moss green pleather jacket with religious bling.
You are wearing a fedora? Clearly, you have become a millionaire.

Don (1978)

Nothing says “bad boy” like a big red bowtie.
Don’t mess with her scarf.
Or his.
Helen rocks an overly slitted dress for “Yeh Mera Dil” in Don (1978)

The bottom line here is, could Jeetendra have seized Bombay by storm without his famous tight white pants? Could Dimple Kapadia have shot to stardom without costumes that only covered half of the minimum required? Doubtful. Sure, you might not want to be caught dead in a ditch with many of these outfits, but her work is so diverse, eye-catching, and unpredictable: Mani Rabadi is unarguably genius. Next time you watch one of these hits, consider the people behind the scenes and appreciate their fluid artistry hidden within the films.

-Mrs. 55

Losing Yourself in Jewel Thief

Dev Anand and Vijayantimala dance for their lives in Jewel Thief (1967)

I recently went on a Dev Anand binge after hearing the news of his passing last month. This man was an absolute auteur—his films were always ahead of his time. Among my favorite of his films is the 1967 kitsch classic Jewel Thief–an addictive crime thriller centered around the identity of a mysterious jewel thief who wreaks havoc across the nation. I kid you not, I watched this film 4 times in just as many weeks (not recommended).

The first time you watch the film, you might feel overwhelmed by the clash of colours and intentions in the costume and set design, by the flashy effects, and thrilling soundtrack. You ask yourself superficial questions that don’t have real answers–like why on earth is Helen dressed like a chicken? Who seriously keeps a fridge in their living room? And how did Vijayantimala fit into these outfits?

Helen shimmers proudly in a chicken suit at a bar.

The second time, you can appreciate the rich music direction—from Lata’s lilting swan song in Rulaake Gaye Sapna Mera, to let’s not forget one of Asha’s greatest moments as a seductress in Raat Akeli Hai. Perhaps the greatest strength of Jewel Thief is its evergreen soundtrack—and the exciting dance number Honton Pe Aisi Baat. As you watch this song, you’re almost tempted to believe that Vijayantimala really did dance for Pope Pius XII himself at the Vatican when she was discovered at five years old (true story).

By the third time you see the film, you start to wonder why you’re still doing this instead of studying for exams next week.

But on the fourth pass, it dawns on you that beneath the glitzy exterior, 60s kitsch and melodrama, Dev Anand actually made an extremely sophisticated emulation of the greatest Hitchcock thrillers. The theme of double identities runs rampant in many of Hitchcock’s films—and Jewel Thief take this idea of an average man unwittingly mistaken for a look-alike to a new level. Like Mr. Kaplan of North By Northwest, our hero Vinay is so doggedly mistaken for a mystery man he has never heard of, that he joins the hunt to track down his doppelganger himself. The idea of doubles is cleverly underscored in the film’s mis-en-scene–through mirrors, camera angles, and editing. Dev Anand invites the viewer into a flashy glamorous world of deceit and intrigue–and soon, the reader is forced in the best Hitchcockian style to doubt the credibility of the film’s own hero–after all, has Vinay in turn been tricking the audience all along?

Perhaps then it is not surprising that Jewel Thief carries a deeper message underneath all of Asha Bhonsle’s high notes and crazy strobe lighting. Tanuja, who plays the likeable “modern” girl (and makes some awkwardly forward passes for the 60s), coincidentally only dresses in traditional saris after deciding to stand up for what’s right. And like India herself toying with the colorful lures of a Western way of life, Vinay loses and rediscovers his own identity, fighting to uncover the truth behind a glittering facade.

Do we really look that similar…? Hideous clash of plaids aside, though?

Bottom line? You need to see Jewel Thief. Forget the political commentary, forget the sublime soundtrack–just go for watching Helen in a chicken costume.

-Mrs. 55