Mind your language

Mind your language

The diction and quality of dialogues in Hindi cinema are suffering as more and more filmmakers — and actors — gear up to address the ‘now generation’

By Khalid Mohamed

Published: Fri 29 Jun 2012, 4:05 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 2:54 PM

HITS & MISSES: In Ferrari Ki Sawari, Boman Irani (extreme left) as the Zoroastrian grandpa is word-perfect with his colloquial Parsi; Sharman Joshi (extreme right), as his son Rustam, isn’t

Truly, I’ve been at the point of breaking into tears on lending an ear to aspiring heroines… and heroes, for that matter. They don’t have a clue about the language the movie is being produced in because Bollywood no longer demands its characters speak in Hindustani. Anything goes.

The correct accent, diction and pitch of dialogue delivery in Hindi-Urdu are either missing or mangled. Take the case of Prosenjit Chatterjee as Professor Ahmadi in Shanghai. He just didn’t make an effort to invest an Urdu lehza in his dialogue delivery. Why take the trouble?

Boman Irani, as the Zoroastrian grandpa in Ferrari Ki Sawaari, was word-perfect with his colloquial Parsi. Sharman Joshi, as his son Rustam, wasn’t. And often, I really can’t figure out the argot of all those rural badland movies set in Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. It’s a polyglot lingo peppered generously with cuss words; some directors take the abuses to the extreme, others are more restrained.

GETTING IT RIGHT: (clockwise from top) The inimitable Dilip Kumar; Amitabh Bachchan; Naseeruddin Shah and Vidya Balan; and Rekha

All factors considered, when it comes to diction and dialogue delivery, Dilip Kumar is still boss. Lend today’s newbies a DVD of any Dilip Kumar film (and not necessarily Mughal-e-Azam), it’ll be understood right away what separates the men from the boys, or the natural-born artistes from the mediocre ones.

Fluency in Hindustani is certainly not one of the must-possess qualities nowadays. And to think there was a time when even English-language newspaper editors would demand an awareness of the nuances of Urdu and Hindi before assigning you a review of a Bollywood movie. For instance, I was put through a language test before being permitted entry into the critics’ club, so to speak. The logic was: you can’t review an English language film without knowing the language; so why shouldn’t it be the same for Hindustani?

When filmmakers give this elementary requirement the go-by, you are subjected to Katrina Kaif who was terribly dubbed at the outset of her career. Even after several films, her diction leaves a lot to be desired. It’s severely angrezi-accented. For quite a while, Deepika Padukone spooked out directors the moment she opened her mouth. And Priyanka Chopra has been a misfit as anything but a pardesi girl. Sonakshi Sinha may portray the quintessential village belle but speaks with the attitude and accent of a la-di-dah urban girl.

And there are at least three seasoned stars who, after decades of exiting and entering the dubbing studios, have yet to smoothen their diction. Hema Malini doesn’t seem to care if her pronunciation is in shambles. Ditto Nana Patekar. Paresh Rawal, an extraordinary actor, is pretty ordinary when it comes to conveying an accent that is anything but his.

Rani Mukherjee is a film sound designer’s nightmare just the way Raakhee was once upon a time. Sanjay Dutt is frequently incomprehensible, and Salman Khan’s peculiar twangs can occasionally set your teeth on the edge.

Indeed, it’s a proficiency with language that makes an actor an artiste. Think of terrific diction and you think of Dilip Kumar (of course), Amitabh Bachchan, Naseeruddin Shah, Sanjeev Kumar, Rishi Kapoor, Rekha, Shabana Azmi, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Tabu, Vidya Balan and Ajay Devgan.

IT GRATES!: Katrina’s diction is heavily accented; in Shanghai, Prosenjit (below) made no effort to improvise on his Urdu

Most of these actors belong to the pre-new-millennium. Even as Dilip Kumar is no longer worshipped 
by the Now Generation — they don’t know what they are missing — cinema is now throwing cuss-tard pies at the audience. Four-letter words from American movies are upon us. As are street-side expletives which may be relevant at times 
(as in Anurag Kashyap’s 
Dev D and Gulaal) but are used far too often.

Dialogue laced with English became popular to connect with the overseas NRI viewers in the UK and the US. A top-line filmmaker even stated, “I aim to earn at the box-office in dollars and pounds. That’s where the money is.” Fair enough. In the process though, Bollywood is now going through an era where it’s no longer essential to mind your language.

(The writer has been reviewing Bollywood for decades, has scripted three films and directed 
three others.)

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