How 3 Songs In A 1999 Tamil Film Were Blatantly Ripped Off From The Backstreet Boys, A Tom Hanks Movie And A Nigerian Musician, Film Companion

For a film that eloquently showcases the travails of a music composer in the film industry, Mugavari (Tamil; meaning ‘identity’, even though the direct meaning/transliteration would be ‘address’) is remarkably intriguing in the way it treats (or, ill-treats) music rights.

The Tamil film, starring Ajith Kumar, repeatedly shows how the ‘talented’ (as shown in the film) music composer Sridhar tries to become a music director in Tamil films (for 8 years!), but his attempts get thwarted by utterly bizarre things like the death of a producer!

The irony in all this is the fact that the film’s actual music director, Deva, liberally ‘uses’ others’ compositions to create his songs!

The film has 5 songs, and the songs were very popular at the time of the film’s release (in 1999). Of the 5 songs, 3 songs are direct rip-offs!

The most famous rip-off, given that the original was very, very popular in India, was “Oh Nenje”. The song generously uses Backstreet Boys’ 1996 international hit, “Get Down” to create an utterly awkward mish-mash! The song starts with what sounds like a Kerala folk version of the English song’s prelude,

“You’re the one for me
You’re my ecstasy
You’re the one I need”.
This is rendered as ‘Thei tha thei thei thei’. The main tune (pallavi/mukhda) is Deva’s own, but he soon gets back to the English song, using it as-is to create the ‘Anbe Anbe Un Dhukkathai Vittu’ that directly matches,
“Get down
Get down
And move it all around”

Listen to “Oh Nenje Nenje” (Mugavari, 1999)

Listen to “Get Down” (Backstreet Boys, 1996)

The 2nd rip-off in the soundtrack was “Poo Virinjachu”. This song was the Tamil version of “That Thing You Do”, 1996 song that appears in the film That Thing You Do!, starring Tom Hanks. The song is performed by a fictional 60s band called The Wonders. The film, which was the directorial debut of Tom Hanks, tells the story of the rise and fall of a fictional 1960s one-hit wonder pop band.

The song was actually written by Adam Schlesinger, the bassist of the alternative rock group Fountains of Wayne.

The Tamil song by Deva is a note-to-note copy of the original. But what is truly astounding is how Deva manages to incorporate snatches of another song into this already ripped off song! The second interlude of the Tamil song (3:05 – 3:48) ‘uses’ the song ‘Alane’ by Cameroonian artist Wes, sung in the Duala language of Cameroon. The song, from the year, 1997, received wide airplay in India, thanks to MTV and Channel V. Deva, in his truly inspired interlude, adds mridangam and veena to the Cameroonian song, making it ‘world music’!

Listen to “Poo Virinjachu” (Mugavari, 1999)

Listen to “That Thing You Do” (The Wonders, 1996)

Listen to the second interlude from “Poo Virinjachu” (Mugavari, 1999)

Listen to Alane (Wes, 1997)

The 3rd (and thankfully, final) ‘inspiration’ from Mugavari is a song that plays both as a motif in the film, and was used as a song, twice in the soundtrack (male and female versions): “Keechu Kiliye”. The song was a blatant rip-off of the song “Enemies”, by Europe-based Nigerian musician Dr. Alban, from his 1997 album, I Believe. The entire pallavi/mukhda of the Tamil song is rehashed from Dr.Alban’s original.

This song was such an integral part of the film that the tune of the song was specifically used a humming piece in two places. One, for the now-ridiculous trope of the hero humming a tune to himself and the heroine hearing it from (quite a distance) and remembering the hero through the tune. Think Shah Rukh Khan whistling the tune of “Arre Re Arre” and Madhuri Dixit listening to it, and remembering him… from Dil To Pagal Hai!

The second instance where the song is used is both funny and severely ironic. Ajith is pitching musical talents to a film producer. After a lot of prodding, the producer finally relents and tells Ajith to showcase a tune that he (Ajith) thinks is his best. Ajith starts singing the tune of Dr.Alban’s “Enemies” very passionately! Listen to “Keechu Kiliye” (Mugavari, 1999)

Listen to “Enemies” (Dr.Alban, 1997)

Quite a sad state of affairs when a film with the theme of a struggling music composer approaches music rights so callously behind the screen.


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