Ilayaraja – from being naive, to being better informed!

(I had written this on Milliblog’s Facebook page and realized, by the 30+ mails I got, that they preferred it in the blog too, away from Facebook’s walled garden. Here it is, as a result, though you should perhaps head to the Facebook page post for comments on this piece, including those from Karki Bava).

I see a LOT of dismayed chatter about Ilayaraja asserting his rights over his (his own) songs, and how he sent a legal notice to a radio (FM) station that had a program in his name and played his songs.

A lyricist Karki Bava (not to be confused with Vairamuthu’s son, Madhan Karky) has even penned a much-shared Medium post (It’s in Tamil text) on how he was a life-long devotee of Raja and how he doesn’t respect Raja anymore because of these new actions by him. He alludes to the fact that at 70+ years, Raja should not be money-minded!

I’m not sure where Karki got the sheer entitlement to ask Raja not to be money-minded. If Karki assumed and believed Raja was some ascetic who cares only about sharing his art and not wanting any money for it, or be contented with the money he got for it already, then I’m not sure why he’d want everyone else to think on those lines, let alone assume Raja himself living by Karki’s assumptions.

Karki goes on to explain about how Raja would ask for money from kids who would wear a t-shirt with Raja’s face on it. So? Really? That’s a logic to what end?

Raja is a brand. He has earned his right to be a brand by composing wonderful, timeless music over the years, for 3+ decades. If he has legal rights over his compositions – and this is something entirely between Raja, the record labels that released his music and his film producers – he can assert it in any form he wants. At any age he wants. Without caring about how people would judge him, or not. These things do not change the kind of music he has produced. If it does, then I think the person for whom it changes the music has intricately confused Raja’s personality with his music. Both are different. But again, personality worship is an old trait in Tamil Nadu.

And seriously, how does it matter to anyone how Raja is, in his business dealings? Or, how Raja is, with his assertiveness? That’s his livelihood. He has every right to go about it in a manner that is within legal limits. If that means asking Police to intervene if inter-city buses play Raja’s songs using pirated mp3 CDs, so be it. Is that wrong? Of course not. The music label that owns the songs would anyway assert that right, so if Raja has some of that right, why can’t he assert it? It’s his music, after all.

The most astonishing thing in Karki’s post is a line that invokes Raja’s caste – that he’s a Dalit, and there’s a follow-up insinuation that Raja pandered to a higher caste when he composed a song that goes, ‘Potri paadadi ponne, Thevar kaaladi manne’. THIS IS SO POINTLESS as an argument that I can’t believe someone with a sane mind would even bother using it in a discussion about asserting legal rights.

I see that Karki is responding to certain fans of Raja who call him a ‘social worker’ or a ‘reformist’, like Bob Marley. But why let those comments by certain fans be assumed as Raja’s view? And bring it amidst a discussion about asserting legal rights? I guess Tamil Nadu continues to be wonderfully outdated when it comes to invoking caste, regardless of how educated people are.

There are other issues in that argument – like sympathising with poor people that they cannot ‘freely’ listen to Raja’s music and enjoy their life. As if Raja is out to extract money from poor people for listening to one song or other that they have been listening to freely over the years. The crux is free music, not who is listening to it. If it was free all these years, the systems were poor or inadequate to not let it happen, or not let the rightful owner gain from it (in terms of loyalty). Again, this is between Raja and his labels and producers. If the labels don’t do it, Raja should do it. Why? Because he composed them – simple.

Rahman does it as well. As do other composers like Shankar Ehsaan Loy, who own the rights to their compositions, along with the labels and producers. This is a simple commercial agreement being enforced. If freeloaders were profiting from it and a composer comes out to assert his rights, why bring his age, caste or interest in money to discredit his rightful, legal assertion?

If the basic crux is that Raja does not own rights to these songs, then the debate is vastly different and strictly legal. It still doesn’t need age, caste or other emotional appendages in the argument.

Or, if the crux is that Raja hasn’t been assertive all this while and has woken up suddenly to do this, again, that’s his prerogative. I’m not sure why anyone would even ask him not to assert his right over his own songs using emotional, cringe-worthy points like age, caste and interest in money.

As for the specific charge that it was Raja himself who inaugurated that Radio Mirchi program, and it is again Raja who is asking it to be stopped on counts of them playing his songs (without rights? That sounds bizarre, from a radio station) and without seeking his permission to title it in his name, there are 2 ways to look at it.

1. That Raja was aware of the program’s name during inauguration and assumed that necessary permissions were sought through his manager, perhaps? After all, a person of that stature may not find it appropriate to ask during inauguration if they had sought permission for the title.

2. That he didn’t even bother to consider that they need to seek his permission for having a title that his name and thought it was like a new saloon shop with Ilayaraja name and his face outline as image. Should he go after the saloon shop owner? Technically, and legally, he should, but I don’t think he’ll do that. Should he, after realizing late, go after the radio program (which makes money from advertisers) he himself helped inaugurate? I’d think – why not? Is realizing this late a crime? I don’t think so. Would people blame him using this episode, for being money-minded? Perhaps – but why is it even wrong?

Legally, he isn’t doing anything wrong. A change of mind – or late realization in this case, isn’t even wrong. At best, the argument could be that he was naive earlier and now is better informed.