Bollywood English

Culture, Language

When I first met Suketu Mehta he was deep in conversation with someone who was grilling him about his experiences writing the Bollywood action flick, Mission Kashmir,” which he had written the screenplay for. He was embarrassed about how cartoonishly evil all the Afghan characters were (his wife is an activist on behalf of Afghan women). But I only got a small bit of the conversation, and never got to hear more about his experiences in Bollywood. Fortunately, Suketu has now written a lengthy article in the NY Times about Bollywood and his experiences there. I found this bit particularly interesting, for its discussion of the language in which Bollywood movies are written.

But for the most part, as I met the movie people firsthand, they seemed smaller than life. They did their accounts, walked their children to school and worried about their digestion. They worked too hard when away on location to have the multiple affairs that movie magazines like Stardust” reported in every issue. They spoke English well and Hindi badly. (The great secret of Hindi films is that most of the scripts are written in English; an Urdu dialogue writer usually has to be found to translate the dialogue and give it punch. As the writer Ashis Nandy points out, English has been around in India for 200 years; Hindi for 100 years.) I saw them in their homes, I saw them on the sets. I didn’t like the sets. Most of the time, on a movie set, people wait. For a writer, it’s like watching grass grow. Shahrukh Khan plays video games in his trailer; the others talk endlessly on their cellphones.

Nandy’s claim that English has been around in India for 200 years; Hindi for 100″ has some truth to it, as I wrote about earlier.