Priyanka Khimani: We are not an artist-friendly industry, period
A young Indian legal entrepreneur is at the Grammys to talk about why our industry is facing the music
It has been six years since Priyanka Khimani got Lata Mangeshkar on board as a client during her first stint as a legal associate at Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe. She had been on the job only for six months. Her colleagues couldn't believe it. Today, Khimani is partner at celebrity law firm Anand & Anand & Khimani whose clientele has heavyweights such as Sonu Nigam, Shreya Ghoshal, Prasoon Joshi and Kangana Ranaut. But, even now, every time Khimani speaks to Mangeshkar, or "Didi", on the phone, she pinches herself and thinks "this is really happening!"
"She's one of the coolest people I know. Her humour can calm most tense situations. I feel proud that she turns to me for advice — it's a responsibility I look forward to shouldering always," she says in an e-mail interview from New York. As part of the Grammy week, Khimani is there to speak on a panel titled India Goes Global, where she'll be analysing the culture and music economy of India. "We'll also be talking about the challenges the [Indian music] industry poses to outsiders, given its complex copyright and the licensing regime."
How does the world see us? With the escalation of the music business in China, there is a whole new level of curiosity about India among international players, feels Khimani. She says, "The parallels are inevitable. But, while China is on the upward trajectory, we have some distance to go before we can claim a spot in the global market. Don't get me wrong. The world's love for Indian music is up there — everyone is waiting for us to give them the next Despacito!" However, this industry is not without its red flags. "Unlike the West, India rarely sees a distinction between a publisher and a record label. The concept of co-owning publishing with the songwriter is alien here. Also, there's an absence of a fully functional copyright society here. Often poor, or no documentation at all leaves artists gaping in the dark about their rights. We are not an artist friendly industry, period."
A contract shy industry Thanks to lack of adequate documentation, most legal disputes, she tells us, are related to rights in songs. "Artists and labels shy away from long-form contracts, often settling for one-pagers, that are riddled with loopholes. I don't expect artists to be savvy. But, it is disappointing to see [their] managers clueless of what rights their client can potentially hold. The focus is only on booking the next destination wedding or upping live show rates."
Find your own sound She observes that while for most uninformed international audience, Indian music is Bollywood, the only other genre that is an instant hit is Punjabi music. "That really should be a cue for India — to be true to its own music. I've often seen Indian artists, including established singers, wanting to crossover. Disappointingly, all of them want to, and some even end up sounding like an imitation of popular American music. We're all obsessed with collaborations with a Bieber or a Selena Gomes. While it's fun to explore that, I wouldn't want to hear my favourite Indian singer putting on an accent on a beat that I can listen to otherwise from an endless list." That's possibly why, she feels, that India is yet to shine on a global stage like the Grammys. "I want that desi beat in there with the foreign artist!
Despacito is the perfect example, true to its Spanish roots. Why don't we see more Jai Hos from India?" Handling celebrities Having had a long stint in television writing [prior to becoming a lawyer] Khimani had the chance to see the entertainment business inside out. "The glamour of it fades out, you're not the least bit star-struck," she says. That's perhaps why she can deftly handle the baggage that comes with a big name. "There was a time when I was petrified of Sonu [Nigam]; I still am, a little bit. He's a perfectionist and can be very tough on his feedback. I remember having a difference of opinion while strategising the Mika case, and got told off by him. But, how we went on to handle that matter really set the tone for a lifelong friendship. Now, Sonu teases me and introduces me as his
'soldier' all the time."
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