Sunday, July 01, 2012

Bollywood and the death of Urdu

zabaan-e-hind hai urdu to maathe pe shikan kyun hai
vatan mein be-vatan kyun hai

The tragedy is evident right from when the opening credits roll. If you cast your memory back to any Hindi language film released up until the late 90s or early 00s, you might recollect that the film’s title was generally shown in three languages – English, Hindi and Urdu. It is therefore lamentable, that of the triumvirate, Urdu seems to have lost favor with the folks in Bollywood. For one cannot seem to remember the last film that advertised or depicted it’s title in Urdu. If the old adage about our films being a mirror to our society is true, then that mirror poses many uncomfortable and searching questions.

Urdu has thus far had a deep and meaningful relationship with Hindi cinema. Take the Bollywood court proceedings. Urdu finds pride of place within the legal representation in Hindi films. Terms like ‘chasmdeed gawah’, ‘mujrim’, ‘quaidi’, ‘tazeerat-e-hind ke tahat’, ‘ba-izzat bari’ etc are all examples of Urdu usage synonymous with the courtroom. It has also been the language of choice for love, longing and amorous expression, leaving many a memorable ghazal in its wake, primarily through the once common feature of our films, the courtesan or ‘tawaif’. Urdu was also associated with sophisticated poetry – a fortunate connection made possible in our cinema through the efforts of the likes of Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaifi Azmi, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and many others. Their efforts have immeasurably enriched the vocabulary of the Hindi film soundtrack. In light of these facts then, it is regrettable to note the almost complete disappearance of the language from our silver screens, right from the opening credits to the fall of the final curtain. It is perhaps reflective of the new reality of Hindi cinema, which is now rooted more in authenticity than ever before. Filmmakers nowadays oftentimes use the language and expressions of the region or milieu they place their films in. So you have the Mumbaiya ‘tapori’ tongue, the ever-popular jocular Punjabi language, the UP/ Bihari ‘bhaiyya’ usage and the increasingly popular urban Hinglish concoction. Even Muslim characters do not seem to speak fluent Urdu anymore (not that they alone should be the torchbearers). Urdu, in India today, does not really have a region of its own – with the possible exception of parts of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, both filmi backwaters.

So the antipathy towards Urdu in cinema may be understood in context of the gradual decline of the language itself. We have done ourselves as a nation a great disservice by failing our languages. There are instances where one hears of Urdu being branded a foreign language, a notion which may explain the gradual apathy. This is also a notion, which is patently false. Urdu is a completely indigenous language – a happy mix of Farsi, Turkish and Sanksrit – originating sometime during the Mughul rule and then coming to be known more commonly as ‘Hindustani’ in the northern regions of the country, and this was extensively patronized by both the later Mughal rulers as well as the British colonialists, who followed them. Post the 1947 bloodshed the idea that Urdu was the language of Muslims or Islam gained currency. This bizarre notion wasn’t completely bought even by Bollywood as recently as 1970, wherein Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s terminal but cheerful Punjabi Hindu hero Anand preferred to read and sing his poetry in Urdu rather than in Hindi (‘Kahin door jab din dhal jaye’), signifying ownership of Urdu as our very own, unfettered by religious affiliation. But continued skirmishes with Pakistan exacerbated the situation and further pushed Urdu from being ‘the language of Muslims’, to being the ‘language of Pakistan’. This in India, coincided with a calibrated move towards Hindi as the link language to unite the country and the later move towards English as the middle class elixir to globalisation and upliftment. Hindustani (the perfect amalgam between Hindi and Urdu) had failed to be established as a recognized formal language. Whilst efforts to promote Urdu are still alive with the dedicated news channels and pedagogy in schools, these are but tokenisms, which hardly arrest the decline in the language’s fortunes. Urdu now remains ghettoised, much like the majority of the nations’ poor Muslims, living in fear and unable to truly soar. With English (and occassionally Hindi) being the major business and governmental language in play now, there remains no major incentive to learn the Urdu script as well. This probably explains why Bollywood has dropped the Urdu title.

Our films are key repository and reflection of language, societal norm, custom and tradition. On current evidence, the fate of this wonderfully sophisticated language looks bleak, at least on celluloid. The dream merchants have all but abandoned it, a reflection of the wider malaise of the slow death of the language itself. For reference one will need to return to the cinema of the 40s, 50s and the 60s. It is true that languages tend to change in tune with aspirational motivations of the larger population and the prevailing politics of the day. Thus many languages remain dynamic, some atrophy and others metamorphose into something new. One hopes for regeneration in the case of Urdu – but it is clearly wishful thinking. It’s days seem numbered. 


This article first appeared in the July 2012 issue of KINDLE.


Harshit Gupta said...

I have always thought about this, missing the titles in Urdu. But remember seeing the Urdu title recently in some movie. Sadly, don't remember which one it was.

Anonymous said...

Urdu is dying slowly... it's only because when Hindustan said it's a Muslim Language and in fact it's not, it's Language of Hindustan including Muslims. However, Urdu can not and will not die that quickly as Bollywood can not find such an extensive vocabulary of their songs in any other language. Apart from that' the pronounceable and way of delivering the dialogues are much easier for the actors. The treasure built by Bollywood Cinema in 50s,60,70s,80s can not fade from the world. It is the extreme hypocrisy of Film Makers that they use all Urdu resources in their movies but title them in Devanagari style. Even, the big banners movies like Yash Raj Films failed to promote the Urdu Titles. Lastly, I would say.. Urdu which is language of millions, can not speak for itself... Urdu must be crying today over the lost love Hindustan. If Urdu ever will speak, it will say " Dushman na kare Dost ne woh kaam kia hai..Ummar Bhar ka Gham hamain Inam dia hai"..


What a well written article!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but Urdu will never die, Urdu is the beating heart of Bollywood. without it hindi movies would sound more like a mahabharat drama serial, In the indian subcontinent Urdu is well known for its poetic beauty, it has no problem stringing lyrics together it does it with ease like a master craftsmen, but not only in music Urdu is also used extensively in dialogue also.



English Translation

दोस्त – Dost

मित्र – Mitr


शुक्रिया – Shukriya

धन्यवाद – Dhanyavad

Thank/Thank you

दिल – Dil

हृदय - Hardiya


औरत – Aurat

स्त्री – Stri


आज़ादी – Azadi

स्वतन्त्रता – Svatantrata


कानून – Kanoon

नियम – Niyam


साहब – Sahab

श्रीमान – Shrimaan


खून – Khoon

रक्त – Rakt


इमारत – Imaarat

भवन – Bhavan


दिन – Din

दिवस – Divas


हालत – Halat

स्थिति – Sthithi


कमरा – Kamara

कक्ष – Kaksh


दरवाजा – Darwaza

द्वार – Dwar


शर्म – Sharam

लिज्जा – Lajja


इज्ज़त – Izzat

प्रतिष्ठा – Pratishta


किस्सा – Kissa

घटना – Ghatna


ईमान – Imaan

गरिमा – Garima


किस्मत – Kismat

भाग्य – Bhagya


अखबार – Akhbaar

समाचारपत्र – Samacharpatr


ज़हर – Zahar

विष – Vish


वक़्त – Vaqt

समय – Samay


ख़बर – Khabar

समाचार – Samachar


तारीख – Taarikh

दिनाक – Dinaak


वतन – Vatan

देश – Desh


ख्वाब – Khvaab

सपना – Sapana


हुकुम – Hukum

आदेश – Aadesh


बहादुर – Bahaadur

निडर – Nidar


हवा – Havaa

वायु – Vaayu


किताब – Kitaab

पुस्तक – Pustak


सिर्फ – Sirf

केवल – Keval


साहिल – Saahil

किनारा- Kinara


यार – Yaar

मित्र – Mitr


गुनाह – Gunah

अपराध – Aparaadh


I found this from another website

Some very common Urdu words used in bollywood movies and their hindi equivalent, also remember that alot of the lyricists in bollywood have to be versed in urdu, which hindi speakers automatically assume is hindi,just because they heard it in the movie, dont forget bollywood movies are also exported to the arab world and africa with a large amount of words in urdu coming from arabic. An urdu speaker can always tell you whether the word is from Farsi (persian language) or arabic.

Anonymous said...

Be assured my Indian pals - Urdu is alive and well on the other side of the Indian border :)
Greetings from an overseas Pakistani

Anonymous said...

Recent major Bollywood films that have shown their title in Urdu are: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and My Name is Khan.
A lot of fimls these days show the title in Hindi Alphabet, let alone Urdu.

Paritosh Sharma said...

These days the lyricist are using urdu and Islamic words more frequetly than ever,for example- songs such as alfa allah hu(bhaag milkha bhaag),alif allah ishq di booty(cocktail), allah wariyan(yaariyan),shubhanallah(Yeh jawani hai deewani. In all these songs these urdu and Islamic words are used without any relevance to the story.
You Pseudo intelluctualls always complain about death of urdu while muslims in pakistan are complaining about use of hindi words in their culture.

And BTW the Majority does not understand Urdu so their is no point of using Urdu Title

khaja nawas said...

The day urdu dies is the day THE BOLLYWOOD IS DEAD

Swati Swati said...

and hindi has already died ..............still ppl are crying for urdu

Anonymous said...

Very good Article.
Looks like India we speak a "Khichadi" of Hindi, Kadi-Boli, Rajisthani, Haryandvi, 'UP Bhaiyyan', 'Lucknow Navabi' etc. And as per our perspective we can think it as Hindi or Urdu. I think proper term now should be 'Hindustani'.

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