Rahman and Om Shanti OmIn an interesting development, A.R.Rahman is reportedly no longer composing music for "Om Shanti Om", Farah Khan's reincarnation flick. The coming together of Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Rahman would have been quite fascinating to see given the penchant of the first two towards the "mass-ala film" and that many have missed a A.R.Rahman score for an unabashed entertainer for a while.
Now, the circumstances of this parting of ways are not clear, with the usual plague of "sources" muddling rivers, but one aspect (if not the only reason) seems to be Rahman's demand for publishing rights of the music to be shared between the producers (the Khans), the music director, and the lyricist (Gulzar). Now, in the world of mainstreams Indian films, this seems to be a fairly revolutionary request. When remakes or reusing of songs in India have been reported (as in a recent case with reusing "Khaike Paan" from "Don"), lyricists and sometimes music directors have known to complain about they having no say in the matters, essentially because in India, the film soundtrack belongs to the producers of the film. From my little informed opinion, a soundtrack in other places also belongs to the music composers, and so, what Rahman is asking for is quite fair. This kind of rights-sharing need has been whispered about because some of the creative backroomers such as writers of stories and screenplays, lyricists, playback singers have been historically given a raw deal in terms of credit and pay.
If memory serves me right, the likes of Salim-Javed used their clout to demand more fair credit for screenwriters. Rahman, who it can be recalled has seen a bit of life as the son of a struggling musician and spent years growing up among professional instrumentalists, has the clout right now to make this kind of demand. What "publishing rights" exactly entails is not clear to me, but there must be significant financial implications such as sharing royalties on use, playing, reuse etc. For instance, when the "Bombay theme" or "Chaiyya Chaiyya" are reused in ads or in "Inside Man" respectively, does Rahman get a share or do the original film producers get the sole benefit? With their music now transcending just the original film score (on many Tamil media outlets and even channels like Channel V, you can hear snatches of music from Rahman film songs), I think it's only fair the music director also gets compensated. Especially if he talks about sharing it fairly with the many instrumentalists and vocalists in his team (the average Rahman soundtrack will have a comprehensive listing of credits for all musicians on that album, which has helped raise the profile of many a talented musician). Rahman is, by all accounts, clearly India's highest-paid music composer and doesn't really need to make that extra buck. But the goal seems to be larger.
That said, I hope he has worked out a set of criteria as to this attempt to tilt at the windmills of the staus quo. Will he make this demand in each of his forthcoming albums? Will it be restricted to certain kinds of big banner productions? What will happen if on the next Mani Ratnam movie, the producer declines to share these rights? People are going to demand consistency and watch these actions like a hawk. However, the experiences of greats such as R.D.Burman make it imperative for some form of creative and financial protection to be extended to people who follow in their footsteps.
* A clarifying note via a Subhash K. Jha article which confirms the issue, but absolves the producers - it's the music company (T-Series) that proved obdurate
* A post by Aravind with some info on where the law stands vs the ground reality