I can talk English, I can walk English, I can laugh English

Published: 30 October, 2011 10:10 IST | Jeetu Kothari & Krutika Behrawala |

A far cry from the time when Premchand, Saadat Hasan Manto and other stalwarts of Urdu and Hindi literature were associated with the Hindi film industry, today's writers and actors are global citizens, who think in English, and prefer to have their Hindi dialogues typed using the Roman alphabet, finds Sunday Mid day

A far cry from the time when Premchand, Saadat Hasan Manto and other stalwarts of Urdu and Hindi literature were associated with the Hindi film industry, today's writers and actors are global citizens, who think in English, and prefer to have their Hindi dialogues typed using the Roman alphabet, finds Sunday Mid day

It's noontime on a warm Thursday, and Surti Mohalla in Mumbai's chaotic neighbourhood of Nagpada, is caught in a bedlam far removed from the everyday bustle. The curious look in the kohl-lined eyes of local women has to do with a film unit that's taken over a one-room home guarded from the community corridor by a flimsy floral curtain. Actor Raj Kumar Yadav, who the women seem to recognise from his role as the supermarket supervisor creep in Love Sex aur Dhoka, stands beside a clothesline, his head buried in a spiral-bound heap of dialogue.

In the Hansal Mehta-directed BOTS, Yadav is playing lawyer Shahid Azmi, the counsel representing 26/11 Mumbai attacks accused Fahim Ansari, who was shot dead in February last year at Kurla's Taxi Men colony by four assailants who barged into his office.

Actor Raj Kumar Yadav at Surti Mohalla in Nagpada, on the set of Bots,
a Hansal Mehta film that is based on the true story of lawyer Fahim
Ansari who was shot dead in his office. Yadav, like several other actors,
reads Hindi scripts that have been written in the Roman alphabet,
instead of Devanagari. Pics/ Bipin Kokate

'Pehle facts. Phir jaise marzi waise tod madod karo. Sirf ladoge toh har case haroge,' says a character identified as 'Menon' on the sheet Yadav is holding.

'Witness hai, sir?' Shahid asks. 'Hostile,' blurts Menon.

The dialogue sheet carries Hindi lines for what is a Hindi film, typed in Roman script. Yadav, a Film and Television Institute of India alumnus, and a native of Haryana, is probably as comfortable with Hindi as anyone can be. Yet, the absence of dialogue typed in Devanagari, the script used to write standard Hindi, isn't surprising.

Kalki Koechlin (in a still from The Girl in Yellow Boots) is an Indian
actress of French descent who prefers that her dialogues are written in
'Roman Hindi', making it easier for her to read. "It is really important for
me to understand the script. I should not get bogged down thinking, 'Oh
my God, I have to read this in Devanagari'," she says.

Writer-director Rumi Jaffry has a pithy line for the phenomenon, one that could easily fit into one of the 20 laugh riots he has written for comedy czar David Dhawan. "It's like having Sarson da Saag and Makke ki Roti in a Pizza plate with a knife and fork."

Today, a blend of Hindi and English, popularly known as Hinglish, is the lingua franca of Bollywood. While Hindustani may have given way to hip-speak a while ago, more recently, another cinematic bastion has crumbled, although silently. While scripts written in Urdu are now the stuff of nostalgia, Hindi dialogues are often transliterated using the English alphabet that most members of the cast and crew of a film unit seem to be familiar with.
So, when you spot the word 'main', it is unlikely that it will refer to 'the principal part', and is more likely to be the Hindi word signifying the first person in singular. 

Ranbir Kapoor with Nargis Fakhri in a still from Rockstar

Even when not in Rome
This hybridisation of language is primarily driven by the recent avalanche of young actors who aspire to lord over the Hindi film industry, but are actually English-spouting world citizens.

Dialogue writer and lyricist Niranjan Iyengar, an integral member of Karan Johar's think tank, says, "Several actors prefer dialogues in the Roman script. Preity (Zinta) likes it that way. But Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) prefers Devanagari, like I discovered during the making of Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. Shah Rukh (Khan) doesn't mind Hindi or English, although the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai dialogues were written in the Roman script."

When writer Robin Bhatt began work on the screenplay for the upcoming Hrithik Roshan superhero sequel Krrish 3, he wrote bits in English, and the rest in Hindi using Roman alphabets. "Sanjay Masoom, dialogue writer for Krrish 3, will write in Devanagari but I think it's important to have the bound script in English so that it's easy for the film's international crew to get a hang of things," says Bhatt, explaining the anomaly.

The forthcoming superhero sequel starring Hrithik Roshan, Krrish 3 is a
medley of influences. Robin Bhatt says he wrote bits of the script in
English, and some in Hindi (using the Roman alphabet). The film's
production designer Sabu Cyril and cinematographer Thiru are from the
South Indian film industry, the visual effect supervisor hails from London,
and their action director is from China. English is the common language
of communication among the crew members

Krrish 3 production designer Sabu Cyril and cinematographer Thiru belong to the South Indian film industry, the visual effect supervisor hails from London, and their action director is from China. English is the common language of communication.

"Aamir (Khan), Shah Rukh, Sanjay Dutt and Ajay Devgn are all from a Hindi-speaking generation, and they read and write well in Hindi. Hrithik is good with Hindi too. But Preity Zinta thinks and talks in English; Hindi does not come naturally to her. So, for stars like her, Hindi dialogues are written in the Roman script," he adds.

Offering Zinta company is Kalki Koechlin, a young actress of French descent, who has had four Hindi releases this year -- more than any other Bollywood actress. Koechlin, makes no bones about "requesting that (her) Hindi dialogues are written in the Roman script, because it is easier to read. It is really important for me to understand the script. I should not get bogged down thinking, 'Oh my God, I have to read this in Devanagari'," she says.

Rajendra Kumar and Babita in Mohan Kumar's Anjaana. The filmmaker
had a background in Urdu since he had migrated from Pakistan. Raj
Kapoor wasn't familiar with Urdu (although Rajendra Kumar was), and
Kumar wasn't comfortable with Hindi, so his assistant would rewrite the
dialogue in Hindi and distribute cyclostyle copies to the cast

The 28 year-old who has worked with some of the most promising young directors of the industry, says Zoya Akhtar (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara) is more comfortable writing in the Roman script, while Dibakar Banerjee (Love Sex aur Dhoka) and Anurag Kashyap (Dev D) are fine with Devanagari.

Young actor Ranbir Kapoor attributes his comfort with Hindi to his Mumbai upbringing. "I'm fine with Devanagari and the Roman script. But for Rockstar, Imtiaz (Ali, director) handed us dialogue written in Devanagari. I have grown up in Mumbai, so I speak Hindi, and think in Hindi. Yet, I may not be as good a speaker as, say, someone from my father's generation. There was more respect for the language then."

For newcomers, diction and language classes may come second in importance to hitting the gym, but Jaffry says a few like Ranbir and Tusshar Kapoor have been tutored in Urdu and Hindi. "Unki zubaan saaf karayi gayi hai," says Jaffry, who is shooting his next film with Akshaye Khanna. When Khanna was sent a transliterated script, he insisted on a Devanagari version. "If it's Salman (Khan), Sanju (Sanjay Dutt), Anil (Kapoor) and Govinda I am dealing with, I make sure the scripts are in Devanagari," shares Jaffry.

Award-winning story, screenplay and dialogue writer Kamlesh Pandey says in what script dialogues are written depends on the genre of the film, and preference of stars. Action, he says, is easier to describe in English. While Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Bajpai may be exceptions, reading and writing Hindi is not a strength with most actors, especially those brought up in urban centres like Mumbai. "I don't believe actors read Hindi literature," he shrugs.

Veterans think that's a shame, drawing attention to the Hindi film industry's history that's littered with some of the most illustrious names from Hindi and Urdu literature. Recognised in India as the foremost Hindi-Urdu writer of the early twentieth century, Munshi Premchand shared a short-term association with the Hindi film industry through Mazdoor, a 1934 film he wrote. He also took on the job of scriptwriting Ajanta Cinetone in Mumbai to repay the loans he had incurred while editing two weekly publications, Hans and Jagran.

One of the most widely read and controversial short story writers Saadat Hassan Manto was on the payroll of Bombay Talkies, a premiere film production studio, and wrote scripts for Kishan Kanhaya (1936) and Apni Nagariya (1939). Progressive Urdu writer-playwright Rajinder Singh Bedi was known for his role as dialogue writer for Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Abhimaan, Anupama and Bimal Roy's Madhumati starring Dilip Kumar.

Jaffry attributes the fading of linguistic purity to a gradual shift in reading patterns. "Earlier, most actors, producers and directors came from literary backgrounds. And there was little else by way of entertainment � everyone was either interested in reading or listening to music. Poetry, mushairas, and ghazal programmes were popular. Abhi entertainment itna zyaada hai that the new generation has veered away from literature."

Expectedly, the younger breed of writer-filmmakers prefer a Macbook over a writing pad. There is no 'right' way to draft a script, they say. Director Nupur Asthana (Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge) says she writes her scripts in Hindi using the Roman alphabet. "My writer Anvita and I construct scenes in our head in English and Hindi. So when we write, it's a combination of the two." Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge's actress Tara D'Souza, who is of Swiss-American descent, would rewrite her dialogues, marking them with signs that would help her pronounce key words. "A decade ago, when we wrote the television serial Hip Hip Hurray, we did it using the Roman alphabet. It was a first back then. Now, everyone is doing it," says Asthana.

The yuppie invasion
And with the gradual corporatisation of Bollywood, with international crew collaborating on Hindi productions, things are changing as a Westernised flavour is creeping into Bollywood. "What was once a predominantly Hindi-speaking industry is now an English-based industry," says Vikramaditya Motwane, known for the critically acclaimed Udaan.

The industry is no longer culturally insular. A visit to any film set introduces you to a myriad of languages, where English is the common thread. "The language used in scripts has more to do with the socio-cultural mileu than the process of filmmaking. We are anglicised today, and that's bound to reflect in our cinema. Most of us are educated in English; Hindi is a 'second language'," reasons Iyengar. 

And as the profile of the young actor has changed, so has that of the assistant director and production assistant. Those entrusted with the laborious task of preparing dialogue sheets are often graduates from film schools in the West.

They are technocrats
Bhatt says the advent of computers has played a key role. He claims to be one of the first to use computer software to draft scripts.

"Ever since computers came into the market and scriptwriting software like Finaldraft or Moviemagic started being used, it made writing easier and faster. I formulate my thoughts in Hindi, but the words on my laptop appear in Roman letters. Typing Hindi characters takes a long time," says Pandey.

"Who has Hindi software installed on their laptop, yaar?" laughs Asthana.

Most writers argue that creativity and the choice of language aren't associated with each other.

"Who says you can only make a work of art in the language you think in? I'm Tamilian but I think in English, and sometimes even in Hindi or Marathi. Ultimately, it is not about how a dialogue is written, but how it's remembered. Every actor has a different formula. Some actors prefer to have the dialogue read out to them.

Most directors I work with don't read my dialogues; I read them out. The written word is just for reference. When I'm discussing lines with an actor, the piece of paper I am holding has no relevance," says Iyengar.
Bhatt, of Krrish 3 fame, however, holds the old school view that comfort with the language translates into a more compelling performance. "If the language comes naturally to the actor, the lines don't seem rehearsed. The actor can then focus on other areas, like say, facial expressions and body language," he says.

Lekh Tandon, the name behind prominent films from the 1960s including Shammi Kapoor's runaway hit Professor, and Amrapali which headlined Vyjayanthimala, says it's sufficient that the actors understand what they are reading. "My basic education is in Urdu. Whether my writer writes in Hindi or in the Roman script, I get it converted into Urdu. When I made Amrapali, the dialogues were written in Hindi. Vyajanthimala, although from the South, didn't have a problem reading Hindi. But I preferred to have it all in front of me in Urdu," he says.
His contemporary, Mohan Kumar, who directed a string of box office hits like Ayee Milan Ki Bela (Rajendra Kumar, Dharmendra, Saira Banu) in the 1960s to Avtaar (Rajesh Khanna, Shabana Azmi) in 1983, has a foundation in Urdu on account of his Pakistani roots.

"I wrote in Urdu but if I was working with Raj Kapoor, it did not help to have him read a dialogue sheet in a language he wasn't comfortable with. Raj Kapoor didn't know Urdu, and I wasn't familiar with Hindi, so my assistant would write out the dialogues in Hindi, and cyclostyle copies were handed out to the cast and crew," recalls Kumar.

Most scripts back then, he adds, were written in Urdu. It was only after the Partition that the use of Hindi words increased.

"Sometimes, we'd have Hindi, Urdu and Sanskrit words in the same sentence, and if we had a character who hailed from a particular region, we'd add a few phrases peculiar to that dialect," says Kumar, who'd often advise newcomers to hire a Hindi or Urdu tutor. "Our job is to ensure that when the audience views the final result, they don't end up laughing at the actor or director."

Iyengar says he has worked with scripts in the Roman alphabet since 2000. Jaffry remembers it was while writing for Gurinder Chadha's London produced by Sunny Deol in 1998, that he used the Roman alphabet for the first time. "Later, when I was writing Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya, I was told the heroine, Katrina Kaif, didn't know a word of Hindi. That was a bit of a shock, but I hired a tutor and in a month she was able to deliver her Hindi dialogues. That was impressive."

With the arrival of actors of Indian descent who may have been raised in foreign countries, or those of mixed parentage like Nargis Fakhri, an American model born to a Pakistani father and Czech mother, who makes her debut in the Ranbir Kapoor-starrer Rockstar, dialogue too has evolved from being structured and formal to casual and everyday-sounding.

Veteran director Sanjay Leela Bhansali who has worked with a string of newcomers including Sonam Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor welcomes the shifting dynamics.

"Whether you write using the Roman alphabet or Devanagari, the language doesn't change. It's still Hindi. It's the ease to read that matters. Nowadays, dialogues are spoken casually. You don't believe the lines have been written.. they feel impromptu. Actors have been able to go beyond the written page and make their lines sound real -- and that is the biggest change in dialogue writing for Hindi cinema," he says.

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