Is Hindi losing out to English in Bollywood?

Pankaj Sharma/Zee Research Group/Delhi

Hindi’s long serving and possibly best known brand ambassador Bollywood is turning slowly but surely away from the language it helped transcend borders.

Bollywood, buoyed by its rising global appeal, is fast embracing ‘English’ as it borrows liberally from the ‘firang’ language. The penchant to go English is most visible in use of titles for Bollywood movies. And, the strategy is paying dividends too with mixed titles having a fairly good date with box office.

While for champions of the language Bollywood’s ‘go English’ move is a matter of debate, for the government busy with preparing for another Hindi Day (Divas) the trend remains by and large a non issue given its pre-occupation with the routine.

Come September 14, India will wake up to yet another World Hindi Day. An annual ritual, the Day will be spent by the official machinery and others with much fanfare and vows to promote Hindi across the country. Next day, however, it would be business as usual.

But for the Hindi film industry box office is the big driver behind what is bandied around as innovation. A Zee Research Group (ZRG) study unravels that more than half of Bollywood movies released during the last two years carried English words in their title. In 2011, 73 out of 131 movies released used English words in Hindi movies.

Sustaining the trend, 2012 has already seen 50 out of 91 movies released with English titles. And some of them like – ‘ No one Killed Jessica’, ‘Haunted’, ‘Ready’, ‘Delhi Belly’, ‘Bodyguard’, ‘Speedy Singhs’, ‘Rockstar’, ‘Agent Vinod’, ‘Vicky Donor’ and ‘Players’ have rocked box office collections.

Trade analyst, Komal Nahta reckons the increasing trend of using English words to capture youth imagination in the movie. He reasons, “This trend is bad as far as Hindi language in concerned but you can’t help it since ‘Hinglish’ has become the language of youth.” Moreover, “since only few attractive Hindi names are available, directors are relying on English names for the title.” Nahta adds.

While the trend may be good from Bollywood’s viewpoint, it is undercutting Hindi’s global positioning when the language is going places. ZRG had reported in September last year that already 374 words of Hindi etymology have been included in the Oxford Dictionary.

Hindi increasingly being edged out by English in Bollywood flicks is disheartening for literati. Hindi writer and author, Vishnu Nagar couldn’t hide his disappointment over declining Hindi usage in Bollywood movies. “For any Hindi writer or reader it’s pretty disheartening. Today maximum movies are being made to target people belong to urban and middle class; they don’t care about the poor people,” Nagar stresses.

Nagar also pointed that Hindi is not the language of upcoming stars who have studied in convent schools. Most of them are being forced to work in Hindi. From yesteryears, he gave the example of evergreen star Dharmendra who could only work in Hindi.

Is Bollywood going into overkill to expand its ambit?

Nowadays, Bollywood is experimenting with remakes of Hollywood and South Indian movies. Interestingly, most of the Bollywood movies that have joined 100 crore club are remakes of other cinemas.

In fact, the remake trend is gaining currency among foreign directors working in India as well. The famous Dutch director, Laurens C Postma has taken up the challenge to direct a Hindi movie ‘Cover Story’ which is an official adaptation of legendary Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh’s film ‘The Interview’.

Postma likened the challenge more than anything else which inspired him to direct a Hindi movie. He says, “I have done many a thing and doing something in a language which is rather alien to me would and has been a departure and marvelous experience.”

Expect the trend to sustain in future as more directors may see opportunity in Bollywood. Planning to direct more Hindi movies, Postma concurs, “As time goes on and Bollywood in a sense becomes more and more attuned to the Western Eye”.

However, the caveat for directors like Postma is limited scope for experimentation due to cultural differences.

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