Within minutes of launching 'Genda Phool', Badshah's yet another song, it became a hit on social media. A few days later, the popular singer-rapper was accused of plagiarising a popular Bengali folk song without crediting the songwriter.
The rapper's music video shows him cajoling Jacqueline Fernandez who apparently plays a Bengali woman in case you missed that by our very stereotypical attire: white saree with a red border. A few seconds into the song, singer Payel Dev breaks into the Bengali folk song that has now stirred the hornet's nest.
After the music video was released, social media users pointed out that an 85-year-old songwriter, Ratan Kahar, who lives in Birbhum district of West Bengal, should have been credited for the song. Mr. Kahar has claimed that he has written and sung the song.
"I felt really bad. I wrote and sang the song in 1972. Shouldn't I get some recognition for it? When I was first showed the song, I couldn't believe this," Ratan Kahar told News18 over a telephonic interview.
Kahar also added that many artists have met him in the past to seek permission to use his music. He said that since the song was composed in 1972, several record companies and music composers have adapted the song from him.
"I am 85 years old. I still write and sing songs. Music is everything I have, I cannot imagine a life without it. I really do not want anything much, I don't want money either. All I ever wanted was due credit and recognition. If the song has been written by you, wouldn't you want the same?" said Kahar.
On Tuesday, however, Badshah denied all accusations and said that Kahar's name wasn't mentioned in the records. Taking to Instagram, Badshah said as an artist, he would never rob another of his credit. He mentions the lyrics as "Bengali folk" on YouTube as Kahar's name was nowhere in the records.
We have reached out to Sony Entertainment India for a quote, but they are yet to respond.
Meanwhile, a petition has also been filed under Change.org which demands that Kahar should be paid royalties for the song.
Legally, Mr Kahar's hands are tied. Any traditional song which has been classified as a folk song ceases to belong to one individual and instead belongs to the community as a whole.
This is more so because most traditional folk songs lack a clear author, although the first person to have sung the song may be traced.
Radhika Ganesh, who started the organisation 'Ek Potli Reth Ki' and has worked actively towards protecting the rights of folk musicians said, "It is not about royalties. These folk musicians do not really care about money because music, to them, transcends all that. What they really care about is custodianship."
Ganesh believes that folk culture has been undergoing a metamorphosis in the country and very soon, folk music as we know it will cease to exist. She says that the concept of copyright is lost on most folk musicians. "All they really want is to be credited and recognized," she said.
Ganesh explains that this is not the first time Bollywood has taken music from the folk culture without actually asking for permission. For example, the cult song, Nimbooda from 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' is originally a Rajasthani folk sung by the women of the Manganiar community. "When the movie released, the women of the community had no idea that their song had been adapted. It was only eight years later when they got to know," Ganesh said.
According to World Intellectual Property Organization or WIPO, folk music is essential for cultural and sustainable development of the community at large and therefore becomes "common heritage."
"Folk music falls under the category of traditional music which is a part of the public domain. There is no concept of authorship in these cases. Therefore, the idea of copyright isn't really applicable in these cases," said Toshani Mukherjee, a trademark lawyer.
The main problem with folk music is that it is almost impossible to trace its origin. Since it is meant to belong to the community as a whole, no folk artist really cares about ownership. In fact, as Ganesh says, folk artists want more and more people to listen to their music, adapt it, imbibe it and rework it to suit the taste of the audience. "But just because there aren't proper laws in place, it's unfair to take these communities for a ride. That is exactly why urban artists like Badshah get away with it," said Ganesh.
She also believes that crediting the songwriter can go a long way in helping the community of folk musicians as a whole. Usually, folk music represents the culture-specific to a community. Crediting the song to a particular community would bring them to the limelight and benefit them in the long run.
Yet, to challenge urban Bollywood artists in a court of law isn't really feasible for folk musicians. "India has really flimsy IP (Intellectual Property) laws. The copyright laws in our country can't really protect folk artists," said Ganesh.
"What we really need is a separate legislature which states that if you're using folk music, you must accredit. There have to be checks and balances in place to protect the rights of these folk musicians. In Australia, there are several restrictions and limitations on how much of Aboriginal culture or tradition you can adapt for your own use. Only when this is put in paper can we hope to build better patronage for these communities and their artists," she added.
Badshah, on Tuesday, denied copying Ratan Kahar's song. But this wasn't the first time a Bollywood composer has taken from folk songs, and it won't be the last. But without proper laws and provisions to protect the rights of such artists, where does this leave folk music as a genre?