A language always serves as a means of connection. Urdu as a “Hindustani” language connects people both inside and outside India.
This was the crux of an interview with Shatrughan Sinha, veteran Indian film actor and politician, of his association with Urdu language and its role in the Indian film industry.
Shatrughan along with Pahlaj Nihalani, ex-chairman of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) India and a film producer was recently in Qatar. They were invited to attend an Urdu poetic symposium organised by Bazm-e-Urdu Qatar (BUQ) in connection with its 60th anniversary. The literary group was founded in 1959.
Shatrughan, who is also the father of leading Bollywood actress Sonakshi Sinha, has a long association and exposure to Urdu. “I got first introduction with the language from my father. Though he got his university education from the US, he knew many languages. He had good command over Urdu as well. He also knew Persian. He however, had good association with Urdu. Further, I went to Film and Television Institute of India and then joined Bollywood. Urdu has a strong imprint on Bollywood. Though the film language is not completely Urdu, it has greatly been influenced by Urdu. If you put it right, the language of Bollywood is in real sense a Hindustani language [a fusion of both Hindi and Urdu]. May be there is not a single sentence in the film language that is devoid of Urdu words. Many actors like me learn how to speak and express themselves in Urdu but unfortunately, they cannot read and write the language. I salute the language that showed us the way and took us to our destination.”
The veteran actor appreciates the constant literary activities arranged by Urdu speaking expatriates from India and Pakistan. “Such activities need to be appreciated and encouraged. It is not only about Urdu. These activities create a kind of harmony in the community. They are getting people connected. A good language always connects people. It can be any language anywhere. I really appreciate the Government of Qatar for supporting and encouraging these literary activities.
“Your regional language is necessary for your upbringing. A national language is must for practical work. Foreign languages such as English or Spanish are necessary for learning and international trade. Each language has its importance. Nothing should be done at the cost of the other language. Urdu, like Sanskrit and Persian, is an old language. It has also made extensive contributions towards our upbringing and practical life.”
Shatrughan is all praise for Urdu couplets and poetry. “A couplet is like a necklace and has words as jewels in it. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, a good couplet explains a concept better than a submission in a thousand words. We as actors are very impressed by Urdu poetry. I came unprepared to the BUQ event, but I had to say some Urdu verses as I was greatly influenced by the atmosphere.”
The actor who gave many hit films to the industry views the present day films very positively. “We can see the current film industry from emotional, social, and developmental perspectives. The industry has developed so much. World class movies are being made. As far as viewership is concerned, the Hindi film industry tops the world. However, we still need to improve the quality of the films.
“People however criticise some films for being vulgar. Earlier, the films were not inclined towards vulgarity. Sometimes action tilts towards morbidity. Emotionally, the films often lack real stories. They miss the soul. In recent times, there have been hit films but these films are not immortal. If we speak about music, it has become loud (as opposed to being a) melody.”
The former union minister of India sees the film industry as an epitome of secularism. “For years, actors have had no religion. We should learn from the film industry. People say that success has no religion and no caste. In the film industry, your religion or caste does not matter and it is true even today. Secularism in the film industry is very much present today.”
Separately, Community spoke with Pahlaj Nihalani, a celebrated filmmaker, about the recent trends in the Indian industry.
Pahlaj, who was in Qatar for the first time, expressed his fascination with the development of the country. “I am thankful to BUQ for inviting me here. For the first time, I attended an Urdu poetry symposium. I received a warm welcome here. I am impressed by the modern architecture of Qatar. It is a new experience for me to be here and to learn about how film industry is growing here. I can see there is a lot of potential for further improving the film industry. I have also learnt about Doha Film Institute. Many Indian filmmakers will like to come and shoot in Doha.”
Pahlaj is upbeat about the technological advancements that Bollywood has made so far. “We have come a long way. Our film industry is offering its technical services to other industries, including Hollywood. The business is not costly in India. We have made a lot of progress in creating special effects for our movies.
“We are not behind anyone. Our industry is the largest in the world. We produce over 2,500 films in 84 languages every year. I feel we are far ahead of other countries. However, we still have to do much more. Music is the identity of the Indian film industry. The power of our music is gradually going down. This is definitely a worry. The competition has also increased manifold with the popularity of digital platforms.”
Speaking about the future of cinema in the digital era, the filmmaker remained optimistic. “Even today, cinema is taken as an outing. Cinema is a complete package for a middle class family; it provides them both outing and entertainment.
“New technologies have always thrown new challenges to the cinema. The young generation has got everything in their hands through smart phones. They have an open choice about what they want to watch. We in India need to uphold our social values through cinema. It will also help us maintain our identity.”
In response to a question about the role of the censor board in future, he said: “The concept of self-censorship is present everywhere in the world. Every society has cultural boundaries. In India, censorship is applied in cinema, TV and satellite, but it is not effective for Netflix. The censorship should be at uniform. Families [viewers] must have a say. They should have control over what they want to watch and what they don’t.”
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