Who owns that song? A copyright  take on Subramania Bharathi’s life

The frenetic  poetic imagination, revolutionary ideas and dramatic incidents of Tamil poet and writer Subramania Bharathi have taken a twist.

Published: 16th May 2018 05:45 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2018 05:45 AM   |  A+A-

Historian A R Venkatachalapathy and Gopal Krishna Gandhi during a discussion on a book on Subramanya Bharathi, in the city on Tuesday | Sunish P Surendran

By Express News Service

CHENNAI : The frenetic poetic imagination, revolutionary ideas and dramatic incidents of Tamil poet and writer Subramania Bharathi have taken a twist. Historian AR Venkatachalapathy has picked the life of the poet and re-written it in the context of the competitive publishing world.Bharathi sits perched on a carved wooden chair with his high collared black coat, dhoti, turban and staff on the turqouise cover of “Who owns that song?”.

Bharathi’s work was the first to be nationalised anywhere in the world, said Venkatachalapathy in a conversation with Gopalkrishna Gandhi at the launch of his book on Tuesday. Even Rabindanath Tagore and Gandhi did not get this honour, but Bharathi’s work was nationalised in 1949.“Growing up, I saw Bharathiyar’s writing being sold like matchbox and kerosene everywhere. And the books were always affordable. Even today, a 500-page book of his works could be bought for less than `100,” he said. 

In 1921, when Bharathi died in poverty, his unlettered young widow Chellama sold his works to his half-brother. Bharathi is among the legion of artists who remained unrecognised during his lifetime, only to become enormously famous after death, Venkatachalapathy writes in the introduction of his book. In the wake of freedom struggle and rapid growth in the music industry, Bharathi’s work re-evolved into a symbol of revolutionary writing.

A V Meiyappan of AVM Studios bought the broadcast rights from Bharathi’s brother. In the following years, another producer used Bharathi’s work in his film. Meiyappan contested this soon enough, stirring a wide-spread debate on copyright in Tamil Nadu and bringing about a public agitation demanding the nationalisation of Bharathi’s work.

“How could the iconic poet’s work that kindled so many souls be a private property? Who owns his song? The agitation soon led to the State government’s nationalisation of Bharathi’s work,” said Venkatachalapathy.  However, reading essays written by Bharathi, Venkatachalapathy pointed that the poet had even contemplated the idea of writing being a business. He lived in poverty and left behind a family in similar conditions. They never owned his song and private entities who later ‘owned’ his work had to soon part with it. After all these struggles, Bharathi’s songs are owned by us all, concluded Gopal Krishna Gandhi.

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