Imitation Isn’t The Best Form Of Flattery (Composers inspired by their own tunes)

The phrase ‘Imitation is the best form of flattery’ makes moral sense if the person whose work is being imitated is credited for the originality. Otherwise, it’s stealing.

Several years ago, PTV telecast a program anchored by Zia Mohyedeen, the famous actor who is remembered for his many roles on the stage and cinema in Britain and Pakistan. The philosophically handled show, Dhun Hamari Tumhare Naam Hue, ran into several episodes, and traced the origins and journey of the tunes copied between India and Pakistan. People who prefer euphemisms call them inspired tunes. This show, which can be searched on YouTube, was beautifully illustrated, and offered none of the ‘we-versus-them’ air that characterizes much of how the two neighbours engage. In fact, the anchor had the objective grace to name a Pakistani film and its songs as putting this whole imitation/inspiration ball game into motion first. That happened via a Pakistani film, Bedari (1957), which was an exact copy of Jagriti, made in India in 1954. What happened, as Zia saab informed us, is Master Ratan Kumar (Nazir Rizvi), who had a key role in Jagriti, migrated to Pakistan, and starred in its remake, with the exact same story and him as the child-lead. Songs like Chalo chalen maan, De di humen azaadi, and Aao bachcho tumhen dikhaayen jhaanki Hindustan ki were lifted, with their lyrics tweaked and packaged for Pakistani consumption.

Quite after that, researching independently into the phenomena, I found that while both sides got inspired with the other’s tunes—often without even a Thanks, nice knowing you—the larger imitators had been us Indians. We defer my findings for another day, because it isn’t just our neighbours we have stolen from, we have lifted from the Arabs, from the Chinese, and from Hollywood? There’s too many to list here. But forget that, even at home we have a wide array of inspirational issues to sort out. Haven’t we seen so many composers using others’ tunes, mostly in the sign and cross lines that begin songs?

Not just tunes, but even lyrics. Majrooh Sultanpuri was peeved no end when Filmfare had him present a Best Music trophy to a composer who had used lyrics inspired by Majrooh’s own work! As for tunes, the great Anil Biswas, among the foundation-stone layers of Hindi cinema’s music, went on record to say that every significant Indian composer had taken something from the others, except one man: Sajjad Husain. Coming from Anilda, that was a gutsy remark.

We overlook inspirations from abroad now, and we leave aside even inspirations from other Indians, both of which can make the ground ready for combustible dynamics. Instead, let’s consider composers who took from their own tunes! Yes, a great number of tunesmiths have made melodies, become attached to parts of them, then thought these swatches needed to be offered afresh. So they went ahead and did just that. This was done usually in the starting refrains, but it must have happened in the stanzas too. Only they are so hard to spot in the middle of the song.

Staying alert

Let’s also not get into the trap of similarity in tune triggered by the use of the same raag, a common enough occurrence, and which is not copying by any logic. For instance, Laxmikant-Pyarelal made Wo jab yaad aaye and Jeevan dor tumhi sang baandhi, both rendered in shades of raag Yaman. Since the ascending and descending notes of given raags have a specific movement, it’s easy for us to brand what came second as the inspiration! Mistake.

Because look, Yaman has a very important catch-phrase, ‘Ni-Re-Ga…’ that underlines the raag significantly. Some songs in our films that have this phrase in a prominent way are Aansoo bhari hain, Zara si aahat hoti hai, Nigaahen milaane ko jee chaahta hai, and Ja re badra bairi ja ja ja re.

So here go the pairs we know for sure, the ones which at their start have more than a whiff of similarity between them, listed alphabetically by composer:

Ghulam Mohammed:

  • Taqdeer ki gardish kya kam thi (Sitaara, 1955), and Hungama-e-gham se tang aakar (Pak Daaman, 1957)


  • Aa aankhon mein aa (Nargis, 1946) and Ga koyaliya ga (Bambi, 1948)

Hansraj Behl:

  • (Punjabi) Jag waala mela yaaro (Jugni, 1953) and Aaye bhi akela (Dost, 1954)

Iqbal Quereshi:

  • Aaj mausam ki masti mein gaaye pawan (Banarasi Thug, 1962) and Ek chameli ke mandwe tale (Cha Cha Cha, 1964)


  • Kabhi khud pe kabhi haalaat pe rona aaya (Hum Dono, 1963) and Ajeeb saaniha mujhpar guzar gaya yaaro (Gaman, 1978)



  • Zara thehroji Abdul Ghaffar (Satta Bazaar, 1959) and Main to bhool chali babul ka des (Saraswati Chandra, 1968)

N. Datta

  • Kya-kya na sitam tujhpe hue mehlon ki raani (Mohini, 1957) and Tu Hindu banega na Musalmaan banega (Dhool Ka Phool, 1959)

OP Nayyar:

  • Aeji jaan-e-man apnon se yoon (Mehbooba, 1954) and Ab ye bata jaayen kahaan (Baap Re Baap, 1955)
  • Sar par topi laal, haath mein resham ka rumaal (Tumsa Nahin Dekha, 1957) and the parody Ghar apna Bangaal aur hai Bambai mein sasuraal (Khoon Ka Badla Khoon, 1978)


  • Chhedo dhun matwaalon ki behki-behki chaalon ki (Ghar Sansaar, 1958) and Aata hai to aane do, aisi-taisi Monday ki (Ghar Ki Laaj, 1960)


  • Garjat barsat bheejat aayilo (Malhar, 1951) and Garjat barsat saawan aayo re (Barsaat Ki Raat, 1960)
  • Tera dil kahaan hai, sab-kuchh yahaan hai (Chandni Chowk, 1954) and Rahen na rahen hum, mehka karenge (Mamta, 1966)

SD Burman:

  • Dheere se jaana baghiyan mein (non-film, year unknown) and Dheere se jaana khatiyan mein (Chhupa Rustom, 1973)
  • Main kal phir miloongi isi gulsitaan mein (Dr. Vidya, 1962) and Kisiki muhabbat mein sab-kuchh luta ke (Kaise Kahoon, 1964)
  • Tasweeren banti hain (Jeevan Jyoti, 1953) and Dil pukaare aare aare aare (Jewel Thief, 1967)
  • Dekho aayi pehli muhabbat ki raat (Shabnam, 1949) and Dekho mohe laaga solva saal (Solva Saal, 1958)
  • Humre munder bole kaaga sakhi ri (Baabla, 1953) and Champakali dekho jhuk hi gayi re (Ziddi, 1964)

SN Tripathi

  • Chham chham chham naache mere nainon mein pyaar (Nav Durga, 1953) and Taaron ki thandi chhaiyaan(Naag Devta, 1962)
  • Wo dekho udhar chaand nikla gagan mein (Roop Kumari, 1956) and Nigaahon mein tum ho (Jaadu Nagri, 1961)
  • Phool bagiya mein bulbul bole (Rani Rupmati, 1959) and Janam janam ka saath hamaara (Been Ka Jadoo, 1963)
  • Nain bina meri duniya andheri (Amrit Manthan, 1961) and Jaadu bhare tore naina kateele (Jadoo Nagri, 1961)

So then we have put these above composers in one room, and maybe they are singing to each other the song Apni dhun mein rehta hoon, main bhi tere jaisa hoon (like you, I too stay in my tune), lending a new, literal dimension to the subject under our scanner here J

But did you notice SD Burman as the clear winner here? Jaate-jaate, look at this one from him again, a part of his own song that inspired him not once, but twice:

Saari khushiyaan saath aayi (Jeevan Jyoti, 1953) and Tumre sang to rain bitaayi (Sagina, 1974). So do you think he waited 21 years—from 1953 to 1974—to reuse that start? Naah! He put the same little tune in the stanzas of Albela main ik dilwaala (Miss India, 1957). These stanzas started with Raat ho ya din mujhe kya, mast main hurdum, and Aaj ka din zindagi hai, maut ka din kal.

Yes, Dada Burman was right in front in taking from his own songs. When he was repackaging his own songs so much, he was as if pampering himself. We are not complaining, because he deserves all the pampering. He was one of a kind.


(Photos: Top, Ek chameli ke mandwe tale, and above, Aaj mausam ki masti mein gaaye pawan)

Originally published: 8th June 2014

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