Muscling through Metamorphosis: Deepesh Salgia, Director, Shapoorji Pallonji Real Estate

During the last seventy years, the young language-Hindi has seen a metamorphosis of a scale that probably no language in the world has seen writes Deepesh Salgia.


Most languages would take pride in being the most ancient language. For Hindi, however, the pride remains in being the youngest language among the top five spoken languages in the world. The Devnagari scripted Khadi boli which is largely known as Hindi is as young as 200 years. And if one consider only the presence in mass media communication as a barometer, it is only around independence movement that Hindi gained its prominence.

During the last seventy years, this young language has seen a metamorphosis of a scale that probably no language in the world has seen. Interestingly, those who have not personally witnessed this metamorphosis, can experience it through the eyes of Hindi cinema.

The Hindi films of 40s and 50s had a clear bent either towards purified Hindi, or towards purified Urdu and yet some had the flavour of Hindustani (a commonly understood mix of Hindi and Urdu). Various literary authors then were attracted towards this new art form that was gaining popularity and therefore the language used in cinema then had high literary value. Independent of the bent ( Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani), audiences enjoyed all Hindi films. So, whether it was Devdas (1955) in purified Hindi or Chaudahavin ka Chand (1960) in purified Urdu, both were loved by audiences.

During 60s, Hindi saw its first metamorphosis with increasing migration towards cities for jobs. So, the Hindi cinema audience that was largely rural in 1950s had become urbanized rural in 60s and 70s. So reflecting this trend, while one saw emergence of cusp films ( Rampur ka Laxman, Don) wherein the plot remained urban but certain characters would remain rural in costumes and in language, however, the language of cinema that was largely pure in 50s, had now shifted towards the Hindustani as this mixed for connected more with the urbanized rural India. The commercials of cinema business had started impacting the language of the masses.

Another epoch making but rather disturbing trend in 70s was the rising entertainment taxes. This not only reduced the frequency of family crowd to cinemahalls and but also meant poor reporting of collections from MP/UP/Bihar/Rajasthan ( the core Hindi belt), as distributors and cinema owners there wanted to pay lower taxes. This meant that the share of cinema business from the tax-transparent Mumbai was now on the rise. With makers seeing more money coming from Mumbai, the language and setting of the film accordingly took a turn. 70s saw the rising dominance of bambaiya Hindi in Hindi films (Anthony Gonsalves of Amar Akbar Anthony )

The negative impacts of high taxes on cinema business were further accentuated with the advent of colour TV and VCR in 80s. The family crowd found television serials like Hum Log and Ados Pados to be more palatable both in language and in content. Overseas business which was booming in 70s too crashed as NRIs preferred watching films on VCR. With family crowd drifting away from cinemahalls and with increasing dominance of black money (due to high taxes), good makers and writers found cinema a difficult workplace. As good writers started moving out, the language in films saw a new low.

In 90s, the liberalization and globalization brought two big boons for cinema commercials – the arrival of multiplex in 90s and the rejuvenated overseas market. The dominating audience was now no more rural urbanized, it was now the fully urbanized Indian. Accordingly, Hindi language in cinema took further turn… slowly started morphing into Hinglish. The purified Hindi, purified Urdu and Hindustani were completely cornered. So much so that if a film di not have at least one song with English phrases, the film ran the risk of being looked upon as a purani film.

While the dominance of Hinglish is increasing the connect among Indians, in the long-term health of Hindi, its native words too need to become popular. And yet again it is the commerce of the cinema business that has come to the rescue.

Last decade has seen a significantly growing audiences in the core Hindi belt. Powered by this trend makers have started making content with more purified Hindi content with a select few English phrases and this kind of Hindi has resonated very well with audiences. So now one can hear long forgotten sweet and pure Hindi phrases that were not heard for years on OTT platforms (Panchayat, Tales of Rabindranath et al). Sub-titling has ensured that purity of language does not remain a barrier in business.

The OTT market for Indian content is huge and if makers can this combination with sub-titles to make high quality content, we are probably not far when this young language of this young and energetic nation wins over the world displacing Mandarin. May be time to show the world, winning is not just about capturing territories, what matters more is who wins the hearts.

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