Chutnefying English: One film , many voices

By Savia Jane Pinto , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | January 12, 2009
Two women filmmakers shared their experiences with using English and the many Indian languages that have become part of the spoken language in our country


organised an international conference on the economics and cultural politics of Hinglish in India and its place among the hybrid languages of the world. The conference, which was called Chutnefying English, took place on January 10 and 11, 2009.

Sharing their thoughts on the intersection of Hindi and English were filmmakers Shuchi Kothari and Nandita Das, also an actor. Kothari and Das have made a film, Firaaq, which was screened at the Toronto Film Festival recently. The filmmakers didn't restrict themselves to the intrusion of Hindi in English, but included other Indian languages as well.

Firaaq deals with the aftermath of the Godhra attacks and is set in Gujarat. It tells the story of all that happened on that fateful day in the lives of various people from multilingual backgrounds. Therefore, the characters in the film speak the languages of the state - Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu and English.

"Since it's an ensemble film, in which there is no single protagonist, there wasn't just one voice to the film and it had to be authentic," said Kothari. Ironically, though the film is multilingual, it was conceptualised and written in English.

However, the film was in threat of being categorised as an English, Hindi, Gujarati or Urdu film. The debate centred on whether the authenticity of the characters should be compromised or audiences lost by slotting the movie under any one language.

Das emphasised, "Doing films isn't about the language that you speak in it, but about living in a different milieu." She said that language was reflective of the class, upbringing and background of a certain character or person.

Das shared that people often ask her which language she thinks in because she is multilingual herself. Her answer is that the language in her mind depends on the place that she is in at that moment. The dialogues in Firaaq, in the different languages with their intrinsic dialects, is what made the film real, she explains. This is something that she misses in Bollywood films.

The distributors resolved the language dilemma surrounding Firaaq by suggesting that the film be released in India with Gujarati subtitles. According to them, that is the only way the film will be perceived as a Hindi film.

© 2009 afaqs!