I have been tracking plagiarism in Indian music for almost 2 decades. There are some fantastic stories behind connecting the dots between many countries’ music, and Indian film music, particularly when seen from a pan-Indian, multi-lingual point of view. This new, weekly series Carbon Copy, aims to do just that.

The Spanish series La casa de papel (called Money Heist, in its English version) has been an international blockbuster for Netflix. The series was also responsible in resurrecting interest in a song, incidentally. A song that connects Hindi superstar Ranbir Kapoor and Telugu superstar Mahesh Babu!

Sung by two of the lead characters in the series first (Professor and ‘Berlin’) and used at many points in the series, the song, ‘Bella ciao’ has a rich history. It is originally an Italian folk song which later became an anti-fascist resistance song, used against the fascist Italian Social Republic and its Nazi German allies. The Netflix series revived interest in the song all over again and there were 8 new versions of the song in just the first 8 months of 2018!

The song, by The Red Army Choir:

Here are some of the versions from La casa de papel:

Indian cinema seems to have discovered the song’s worth a few years ago, however. In 2012, for the soundtrack of Mahesh Babu’s film Businessman, southern composer S.S.Thaman used the tune to create a song titled (wait for it…!) ‘Pilla Chao’. The direct source of Thaman’s version seems to be a dance variant of the song by 3 Turkish DJs – Hüseyin Karadayi, Yalcin Asan and Cem Nadiran (who goes by the stage name Funky C). Their Bella ciao a catchy, pumped up dance-floor reimagination.

Thaman uses pretty much the same template for his Telugu version.

The Hindi version of the song is from the 2013 Ranbir Kapoor starrer Besharam. Composer Lalit Pandit makes a mish-mash by using the original to open the song (the ‘Love Ki Ghanti’ part) but eventually takes the tune to a typical Hindi filmy route.

Given the folk origins of the song that goes all the way back to late 19th century, using the tune may not invite copyright claims. So, Thaman and Lalit may be legally safe. But they cannot escape crowd-sourced infamy anywhere the song is shared online – almost every YouTube upload of the Telugu and Hindi version has scores of comments on how the song is copied.

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