Making Hindi Movies In English

Making Hindi Movies In EnglishI am no movie buff or expert, but I do like to stay in touch with what’s happening in the movies and the changing mannerisms of moviewalas…

Article touches on movies, regional languages, Hindi and English. Published as part of my column for the Maharashtra Herald that’s published on alternate Saturdays.

I am no movie buff or expert, but I do like to stay in touch with what’s happening in the movies and the changing mannerisms of moviewalas. Only a few years back it seemed like Indian movies would gradually lose out to English movies partly because of the spread of English education but primarily because Indian movies lacked innovation. They were beating the same stories to death. I was certain that Hindi movies were in big trouble once English movies dubbed in Hindi started being screened.

But it’s amazing that like in various other fields, healthy competition seems to have done wonders for the movie industry. Gone are the days when 80% of Hindi movies would be almost the same. Today you get movies dealing with varied subjects not just in the Hindi movie space but even in Marathi. Marathi theater has always had good stories and actors but that wasn’t true of Marathi movies. Also if you look at the college scene, today it’s no longer uncool to not be well aware of English movies or only sing Indian songs.

On the moviewala mannerisms front, I find it amazing that those in the Hindi movie business never seem to speak Hindi. Take any award function and it’s an all English affair. The recent Filmfare award went to the boring extreme where all affairs were conducted in English and most men wore suits. One man in a crowd wearing a business suit looks good, but everyone wearing black suits is boring. It also seems unlike Indian tastes. Most Indian women wouldn’t even buy a dupatta if a store stocked another identical one. And here we have 10s of men wearing almost the same thing. I hope that Indians aren’t heading the Chinese way, where conservative suits in subdued colours are today the norm. The Mao suits are long forgotten and western business suits are the standard.

Coming back to movies, it’s not just the award functions that are conducted in English. If you watch the “Making of x movie” kind of documentaries, you realize that Hindi movie sets also function entirely in English. It’s sad and amusing to see newbies to the industry struggle with their English on a Hindi movie set.

I wonder where this fondness for the English language comes from. The obvious conclusions could be that it is just a hangover from our colonial past or that our moviewalas have a Hollywood inferiority complex that they are trying to get over through English. But maybe the English / foreign educated Kapoors, Bachchans, Chopras etc. really are more comfortable communicating in English. It’s they who decide what’s the acceptable language for a newcomer to speak in. English is anyway the business language of India, so maybe the movie folk also feel that as they are running a business they need to be speaking English.

It’s ok to be communicating in English on a movie set but holding a Hindi movie awards function in English is absurd. A majority of viewers would not have understood one line of what their favourite stars were talking.

However awards night is perhaps the exception that proves the rule. Cartoon channels, sports channels and even entertainment channels like Discovery and Nat Geo are broadcasting an ever increasing percentage of Hindi content. Even MTV that began with English songs only, now plays Hindi music all day. There are also several popular TV channels in every regional language. English soaps that were quite popular in the early 90s are now history and have been replaced by home-made soaps that are just as bad. The widespread shift in TV and movie patterns show that a) A very small portion of India understands English b) The non-english educated India is getting more assertive c) Even those who understand English prefer their mother tongue or Hindi when it comes to entertainment.

So although we haven’t completely come out of our habit of looking down at our regional languages and putting English and all things ‘foreign’ on a pedestal, I do think that things are changing. The return of the Indian languages is heartening. Looks like a stronger more confident India is breaking an old habit.