[VoxSpace Selects] Imitation Vs Inspiration Part One : Case In Study Telugu Film Industry And It’s Music Barons


My intention is not to degrade Telugu Film Industry in any manner or say that other film industries are devoid of flaws. But being a Telugu native and following Telugu Film Music ardently almost 80% of my life, Tollywood film music is my area of expertise to analyze and even get surprised with the patterns which are being set by Tollywood film songs!

The Sweet Taste Of Original Music

Being a music composer is quite a daunting task. Irrespective of the composer’s background and upbringing- or even personal likes and dislikes, the music to be composed for a particular film should sound unique and be appreciated by the majority of the audiences. Whether it is World Cinema or our own Tollywood- the rule remains! Out of many Hollywood themes- why did Mission Impossible theme gain the most admiration and popularity? Sure there are more complex themes which are musically superior and also used nearly 200 piece orchestra, but why did it become a hit? Unfortunately, even the composer wouldn’t be able to answer this question of why a particular work of his becomes a hit!

However, being a Tollywood film composer is even more adventurous and even like “Driving a Porsche in Old City Roads” as termed by a dialogue writer and successful filmmaker Trivikram Srinivas! The composer should not just satisfy his yearning for giving good music, but also impress the hero, producer, director and at times- the entire film unit! Once the song comes out, it should be loved by every section of the society. In short, a song is termed as a hit if an autowala, as well as, a CEO could enjoy the song with equal zeal and fun!

The X-Factor Of Music And Soundtracks…

So where does the “ originality” factor stand here? Should the new song be entirely innovative, experimental and be a never before heard melody? Is there a guarantee that it would be a hit? In the midst of too much pressure to deliver a Box Office hit, the producers and directors plan to stick to an “already successful formula”, instead of experimentation or finding a “new sound”. Unless you are Maestro Ilaiyaraaja or A.R.Rahman, who themselves create a new trend and have a tremendous following in the country, a new composer will definitely face all this pressure at some level or the other.

Alright, I am coming to the point! Due to this pressure, the “recycle and reuse” formula of film music has come up. When the producers and directors come to a composer requesting (or even ordering) to compose a tune which “resembles” an already hit number (whether in Telugu or in another language), the successful process of imitating a song begins.

Why add new layers to a song when the already popular song is template ready for the composer to deliver a chartbuster?

Why struggle writing notation or brainstorm on a never before explored Classical Raaga when a successful song is in front? These matter of conveniences lead the composers to succumb to the “imitation” of a successful song. I’d like to give some song examples here which were directly lifted by composers from other languages:

1. Oho Basti Dorasaani – Abhimani (Original- Leke Pehla Pehla Pyaar)

2. Entha Vaaru Gaani – Bhale Tammudu (Original- Baar Baar Dekho)

3. Aanati Hrudayala – Annadammula Anubandham(Original-Yaadon Ki Baarat)

4. Magic of the Music – Ugadhi (Original- They Don’t Care About Us- Michael Jackson)

5. Chinni Tandri Ninu Choodaga – Sisindri (Original- Sweet Lullaby: Deep Forest)

6. Ninnu Road Meeda Choosinadhi – Allari Alludu (Original- Mere Sapnon Ki Raani)

7. Roop Tera Mastana – Rickshawvodu (Original- All That She Wants- Ace of Base)

8. Chik Chik Bam Bam – Aadi (Original- Simarik- Tarkan)

9. Athadu Title Song Athadu (Original- Christina Aguilera- Fighter)

10. Chandamama – Businessman (Original- Lion King Soundtrack)

The Legacy Of Inspired Music…

If you see the above list, the imitation has been a part of Tollywood since the Black and White era. However, there is one brilliant thing which happened by this imitation and copied versions which are – the international genres were brought closer to Tollywood when the world was less connected with technology. Many international artists became popular and loved by Telugu folks only after being released in the Telugu version. This might sound over-optimistic but there was some good which happened because of imitation. But, here are the bad effects of it:

Innovation is totally lost in this process. The possibility of new sounds, exploring rare genres of music and original thought is gone in the air.

Lyricists are also losing their zeal because they are forced to write lyrics which suit the tune, the innovation of new wordings and language is lost by 70% in this process.

No challenge for the singers, mainly because the template is ready in front of your eyes and you HAVE to follow it. There is zero scope for improvisation or get the so-called work satisfaction. More or less, the playback singers become track singers to just deliver a subtitled version of an already popular song.

Enter Inspiration – Somewhat Relieving than Blind Imitation!

It is impossible for an artist to work without inspiration from existing work. Right from ancient Classical composers like Saint Thyagaraja, inspiration was a lifeline for a new dimension to an existing composition. Following a composer’s style and flavours are considered to be more like a tribute and fan-moment for a music director.  Ilaiyaraaja himself confessed once that he is a huge fan of S.D.Burman and made a song Ohoho Kaala Kuilgale which has a strange resemblance to Khoya Khoya Chaand- an all-time favourite. But unless observed too carefully, the inspiration is not obviously evident! Such was the brilliance of some composers who took an existing rhythm, pattern, or a melody and improvised it with their own perception!

Here is the song:


Maestro also was inspired by the eternal Raj Kapoor melody Kisi Ki  Muskuraahat and made this amazing song Raja Raja Chozhan which in turn became another all-time hit.

Here is inspired melody:


The inspiration lies in the Jazzy rhythm, harmonica and the pallavi but the interludes and the charanam are a new world altogether!

The Contemporary Melodies Of Music Men

The Mozart of Madras A.R.Rahman couldn’t get off the grip of inspirations as well, and the infamous Jazzy number Hello Mister Edurkattchi (Iruvar) is a “neat” inspiration from the Jazz melody Memphis Stomp. However, Rahman added Tamil flavours and the classical touch of Harini which made it a classic.

Inspired Melody:

Original :

The most unlikely inspiration which Rahman would have got (knowingly or unknowingly) is from the 90s Bollywood chartbuster ‘Pardesi Pardesi Jaana Nahin’ from Raja Hindustani. The tune has a strange resemblance to Rahman’s amazing hit ‘Nelloori Nerajana’ from Oke Okkadu!

Inspired Melody:


Raj-Koti is another duo which was greatly inspired by Hollywood and International Music and delivered some brilliant hits. In fact, the all-time hit Priya Raagale from Hello Brother has the loop lifted straight from Deep Forest’s ‘White Whisper’! But the brilliance of Raj-Koti comes up when they fused Indian Melodic form of Classical Raaga Madhyamavati and fused an international New Age number into Telugu Audience’s appeal.

Inspired Melody:


Raj, in particular, was quite a fan of 90s techno and Pop sensation, which was a fever hard to miss. This must have led the duo to draw inspiration from La Bouche as well!

Inspired Melody:


After the big estrangement with Raj, Koti continued as a solo composer and the inspirations never stopped! In fact, all-time favourite Chiranjeevi’s chartbuster Nadaka Kalasina Navaratri is a straight lift from Arabic singer Amr Diab’s Nour El Ain!

Inspired Melody:


However, Koti added Megastar’s charisma and interesting Telugu melody into it which made it an all-time hit!!

Another fun-filled song ‘I am Very Sorry’ from Trivikram’s Nuvve Nuvve is a neat inspiration from Shakira’s Whenever Wherever.

Tamil Film composer Deva is greatly known for plagiarizing songs and one such “thrilling” inspiration is in Pawan Kalyan’s Tholi Prema. The song is Emaindho Emo Ee Vela sung brilliantly by SPB! The original is sensational Ricky Martin’s single Maria.

Inspired Melody:


The inspiration is so strong that even Pawan Kalyan’s costumes in the song resemble that of Ricky Martin’s trends!!

Keeravani also joined the club of inspirations when he took the loop from Engima’s Age of Loneliness for Criminal’s Telusa Manasa. In fact, the song goes totally mesmerizing from the first interlude and the charanams are out of the world in the inspired version!

Inspired Melody:


Global Music – Indian Inspirations – Local Hits

In short, our Tollywood composers did get inspired by many interesting kinds of global music but they innovated by adding their own aura into the compositions. This is definitely a fun thing to do and quite a healthy period for Telugu Cinema. But a new dangerous trend has begun in Telugu Cinema- it is getting inspired by own compositions! This is nothing but re-using the same loop and making a little exploitative use of technology leading to negligible innovation.

It is indeed sad to see the composers falling into the loop and when success becomes a curse- experimentation ends! Despite having much more talent and capability to create wonders,  most of the mainstream Telugu Cinema music is sounding repetitive, similar and lacking individual fervour. I’d like to speak about such composers who somewhere started becoming more monotonous and even to an extent of being “boring!”.

The Enigma Of Devi Sri Prasad

This energetic composer made humble beginnings with a supernatural flick Devi and slowly was noticed with fantastic songs in Srinu Vaitla’s Anandam. The entire album is quite fresh and fun-filled, in an era when Mani Sharma was giving melodious mass numbers. Telugu Fraternity took a breather with the young composer’s fresh sounding and string arrangements. Every album of DSP was something to look out for and when the commercial shadow started propping up, the composer had to fall for his own creation. He slowly started getting into the “mass duet” format in which he made nearly every song for each album to date! In fact, if these songs are kept together like a huge megamix- they would sound more or less the same!

Here are some examples of DSP which I would quote for the mass melody category:

1. Yedho Priya Raagam- Arya

2. Kannulu Terichi Kalagantaamani- Bommarillu

3. Rakhi Rakhi Naa Kawasaki- Rakhi

4. Hoyna- Aata

5. Gallo Telinattundhe- Jalsa

6. Tu Tu Tu- Ready

7. Atu Nuvve Itu Nuvve- Current

8. Uppenantha- Arya 2

9. Dil Se- Gabbar Singh

10. O Madhu- Julayi

11. Violin Song- Iddarammayilatho

12. Kirraku- Attarintiki Daaredi

13. O Sayonara- 1 Nenokkadine

14. Ori Devudo- Alludu Seenu

15. Chal Chalo Chalo- S/o Satyamurthy

16. Hey Pilla Subhanalla- Sardar Gabbar Singh

17. Ammadu Lets do Kummudu- Khaidi no 150

18. What Amma What is This Amma- Vunnadhi Okate Zindagi

19. It’s a Family Party –MCA

If you listen to these songs back to back- many similar patterns including

Chord Progression


Bass Guitar


Are almost in close relation to each other. By the end, we can easily understand that most of these songs are made on a template basis with a hope that every song will become a hit! While people might call it a signature- the experimentation and new sound which is expected of DSP is lost in this regard.  It is interesting to see that the same composer gave some brilliant numbers when it was a smaller budget film (one such brilliant song is Meghale Lekunna from Kumari 21F) but such experimental films are lesser in proportion.

It is indeed saddening to see a gifted composer like DSP who is a disciple of Mandolin legend U.Srinivas fall into the trap of template music and not working on innovating himself for the majority of his projects.

More (about composers) in the next part!