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‘English titles chalta hai!’

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.

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