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‘English titles chalta hai!’

November 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Way before Hinglish was even bornBollywood has rediscovered the KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) rule, at least where film titles are concerned. Having had its fill of long names — Bollywood’s now high on short words, and most of them straight off the English vocabulary rack. (via ‘English titles chalta hai!’ – The Times of India).

See .. it is all in English

Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood

This is an interesting (though superficial) article on how Hindi film industry, out of Mumbai, uses English.  As far back as my memory goes, Hindi film industry (out of Mumbai) used English in all their print material. Whether it was Mother India or Mera Naam Joker, all text was in English. If the film was based on an Indian-English novel like RK Narayan’s  Guide or a Bengali classic like Devdas, the language was English.

Hindi film posters always used English. In the age of LP records, LP sleeves of Hindi film music were in English. Later cassette covers were also in English – and now CDs, DVDs also come in English jackets. Even though a vast majority of the Hindi-film audience had no knowledge of English, Hindi film industry persisted with English.

Interesting! Just why did Hindi cinema end up using English so extensively! I could think of three reasons.

The law of the land

Was it because the Censor Board certification happened in English? The Censor Board bench for South India is different – and standards and norms followed by them are different. Did the South India Censor Board accept South Indian languages – which may have allowed South Indian film industry to use local languages.

Censor legislation was introduced in India at a time (1918) when her British rulers were determined that cinema should serve, unflinchingly, their colonial interests. There was no indigenous film industry at that time and the canons of censorship targeted films imported from the west, especially the US. The British wanted these films to create a rosy picture about the west and the western people’s intentions in the colonies. The Regional Censor Boards, were constituted in 1920 and each one technically autonomous … (from From Coercion to Power Relations: Film Censorship in Post-Colonial India by Someswar Bhowmik).

Tamil industry was different ... why!

Tamil industry was different ... why!

Ours is not to reason why …

Was it because the scripts had to be typed in English. Remember, no Hindi type writers, till the 1960s and Hindi typists were rare and far in between. Or was it because multinationals controlled the Indian music scene till the late 80s – and the gora bosses did not know Hindi.

Kodambakkam (home of Tamil and for some time Telugu cinema) used Tamil and Telugu mostly on their cassette covers. Tamil and Telugu posters were also in Tamil and Telugu respectively.

That ‘insecure’ feeling

The Mumbai film industry always had a complex about not being ‘good enough’ in comparison to Hollywood. Bollywood (Bombay based film industry), Kollywood (Kodambakkam based Tamil/Telugu industry) and Tollywood (for Telugu film industry) were deprecating names used by the gossip journalists – which stuck.

The Tamil and Telugu film industry had no such insecurities – and were always clear about their audience. The look and feel of the Tamil /Telugu films is also different from Mumbai-Hindi film industry.

Chennai storms Hindi film turf with Jeetu, Jaya Prada and SrideviBetween 1967 upto nearly 1973, Chennai invaded the Hindi turf. Using actors like Jeetendra and Mumtaz, they worked on lower costs films, raunchier choreography of the songs and invited the description of ‘spaghetti’ Bollywood. Curiously, it coincided with the spaghetti wave in Hollywood. The second invasion of Chennai into the Hindi turf happened during the 1980-1990 decade. This time with major stars like Amitabh Bachchan in tow.

The glory of the English

There is the usual argument trotted out that English serves as the ‘link language in the Mumbai film industry. As can be seen from some simple data, this argument is fallacious.

The South Indian film industry is significantly insular – catering to its specific clientele, attracting artistes from its home ground. But the Mumbai film industry attracts people from all over India. Is it that they found it easier to deal with each other in English – than in Hindi? Doubtful.

90% of the movers and shakers in Mumbai film industry are either Muslim or Punjabis. There is a token presence from the rest of the communities. It would have been easy for the Punjabis and Muslims to work in Urdu or Hindi. Till about the 60s, Indian actors had to change their name – from Yusufbhai to Dilip Kumar for instance.

All this raises more questions in my mind – and maybe some readers will have answers.

What should Indian film industry expect in ’09?- Business of Bollywood-The Economic Times

January 15, 2009 1 comment
Indian film montage

Indian film montage

India’s biggest money-spinner film was a Tamil film—Sivaji, starring none other than the superstar Rajinikant. Of course, there is the fact that the Aamir Khan starrer Ghajini is a remake of a Tamil film.

Even at debated figures, Sivaji’s gross of over Rs 100 crore was unheard of for Indian films, leave alone any regional cinema. India’s status as the largest film industry in the world comes from the combined forces of 22 languages, including Hindi which released 1,146 films in 2007 (according to the Ficci Frames PwC E&Y report 2008).

Of the over 1,000 films, only 257 were Hindi with Telugu coming close with 241 and Tamil in third place with 149, Kannada with 111 and Marathi with 97. The figures changed to mostly lesser numbers for regional yet the order remains more or less the same. Even if Hindi films muscle in with more commerce making up approximately 45% of the total Rs 96 billion filmed market (apprx), the other 55% cannot be ignored. (via What regional film industry should expect in ’09?- Business of Bollywood-Features-The Economic Times).

A few interesting aspects: -

1. The English media in India and the Westernized Indians snidely refer to the Indian film industry as Bollywood (Mumbai), Tollywood (Telugu film industry) Mollywood (Madras, Malayalam) Kollywood (Kodambakkam, Kolkatta) – as one would refer a poor country cousin.

2. Fact is the Indian film industry is driven by a completely different idiom, ethos when compared to Hollywood. In fact, Indian film industry itself is actually about 4-5 centres of film making (for different languages) – spread all over the country. Each of these centres have different film styles. So, the Indian film industry owes nothing to Hollywood – and Indians have difficulty in believing that. Hollywood is singularly unsuccessful in India.

3. The State is possibly the biggest drag on this industry – which is weighed down by heavy taxes.

4. The Mumbai industry remains dominated after a 70 years, by Punjabis and Muslims. There is something about (their cultural mix which enables) this dominance.

5. Isolated international success and limited (international) distribution organization of the industry, has stopped this industry from competing in the world markets. The completely different idiom and the creative mix, will create its own separate market.

6. Till about 10 years ago, Indian film industry was considered too ‘infradig’ to be studied, analysed or even understood – by the academia. That is slowly changing. Some interesting books and writers have emerged in the last 1 decade.

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