Posts Tagged ‘Bollywood’

The Changing World of Urdu

November 20, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

‘Urdu has changed from the Urdu of Mir and Ghalib but that simply proves it is a living language.’

That was one of the comments I received on earlier posts (here and here) about the past and future of the language. At one level, it is a statement of the obvious – nothing ever stays the same. At another, it invites a host of questions: What is the nature of the change? Who owns the language now? What functions is it serving?

Such questions could be answered by survey of Urdu speakers. A canvassing of urban centers would suffice in Pakistan since Urdu is not a regional language and hence not spoken widely in rural areas. (The situation might differ in India.) An organization like the National Language Authority could design the exercise but is unlikely to do so for any number of reasons. The best we can do for the moment is to rely on personal knowledge to generate longitudinal case studies going back almost a hundred years. (more…)

Singapore: Evidence from Bollywood

January 14, 2009

Picking up on a story in the New York Times we had suggested a counterintuitive hypothesis about Singapore – that despite the fact that it is considered one of the most successful cities in the world it could have a lot of unhappy citizens whose dissatisfactions were going unregistered and failing to affect its approval ratings.

A reader had asked why, if that were the case, the citizens were not protesting and making their voices heard? We had provided a speculative answer applicable to all cities but kept wondering if there was some real evidence we could bring to support our position.

Such evidence is very hard to find and the frustration was mounting till we had a brainwave – when in doubt, turn to Bollywood. Bollywood captures perfectly the mood and spirit of the times and records the major changes that occur along the way. So, if we were looking for the unhappiness of citizens that does not get captured in measures of urban success, we would have a good chance of finding it in the movies.

Aakar Patel has captured this aspect of Bollywood well in his claim that Indians often discover India through the movies. As late as 1964, the year Nehru died, India made movies in which politicians were noble (e.g., Dilip Kumar’s Leader). By the time of Rajiv Gandhi’s election in 1984, Indian’s believed that India could change but the vile politicians who were standing in the way were the villains of Bollywood. By the turn of the century, the economic optimism generated by Manmohan Singh had led the Indian middle class to disengage from both politics and the state – hence Shahrukh Khan and movies like Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum and Kal Ho Na Ho.

So what did we discover in Bollywood about urban life and the feelings of citizens?

Plenty, it turns out. For example there was the story that when Nehru had given a speech in which he had remarked “I am proud of India”, Guru Dutt asked Sahir to work the line into the refrain of a song. This was the result:

yeh kuuchey, yeh niilaam-ghar dilkashii ke
yeh luTTey huuay karvaan zindagii ke
kahaaN haiN, kahaaN hain, muhaafiz khudii ke
jinheN naaz hai Hind par who kahaan haiN?

these streets, these auction houses of pleasure
these looted caravans of life
where are they, the guardians of self hood?
those who are proud of India, where are they?

This taunt was followed by a harsh indictment of the national leadership:

zara mulk ke rahbaron ko bulaao!
yeh kuuchey, yeh galiyaaN, yeh manzar dikhaao!
jinheN naaz hai Hind par unko laao!
jinheN naaz hai Hind par who kahaaN haiN?

go, fetch the leaders of the nation!
show them these streets, these lanes, these sights!
call them, those who are proud of India!
those who are proud of India, where are they?

What was the response to the expressions of these sentiments?

“This mode of filmmaking soon ran into problems. The censor board, now under the control of the Indian government, kicked into gear, reflecting the government’s hyper-sensitivity towards any reference to people’s struggles, particularly in the cause of socialism…. The lyrics of phir subah hogii were considered so radical that two songs from the film were banned for a while.”

One of them was a parody of the famous Iqbal poem saarey jahan se achchhaa Hindostan hamaaraa (our India is better than the rest of the world):

Cheen-o Arab hamaaraa, Hindostan hamaaraa,
rahney ko gahr nahiiN hai, saaraa jahaN hamaaraa!

China and Arabia are ours, so is India
yet we have no home to live in; the whole world is ours!

jitnii bhii bildingeN theeN, seThoN ne baanT lii haiN
fuTpaath Bambaii ke, haiN ashiiyaaN hamaaraa

the wealthy have distributed all the buildings among themselves,
while we are left to take refuge on the footpaths of Bombay.

“These songs reflect a disenchantment of the urban poor with the state. The ban came into effect around the time of the second parliamentary elections and was not repealed till 1966.”

So here we have it: the proclamation of success by the leaders and the elites, the protests of the poor, and the silencing of their voices.

Case closed.

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The material in the text is from the chapter by Ali Mir (Hindi film songs and the progressive aesthetic) in the book Indian Literature and Popular Cinema edited by Heidi RM Pauwels, Routledge, 2008.