Like any paisa-vasool Bhojpuri blockbuster, the session ‘Cinema Bhojpuri’ was a hit. The audience in the tent didn’t throw coins or take their shirts off, but the moderator did utter ‘bhenchod’ — that cussword that makes so many dearies swoon in anguish — for effect.
According to the 2001 census, 3.2 crore people speak Bhojpuri in India. A much smaller gathering was there to listen to author of Cinema Bhojpuri Avijit Ghosh and writer Sharmila Kantha — the Bhojpuri lines ‘Hey Bhagwan, betiyan ke biyah khatir ka-ka karey ke padey-la!’ (What all one has to do to marry off one's daughter!) lying at the core of her novel A Break in the Circle.
Ghosh, a self-described “Bengali by biological accident” — “I’m otherwise a complete Bihari” — thanked Bollywood’s ‘change of aesthetics’ for the entertainment of hardworking migrants. Moving from perfect English to flawless Bhojpuri, Ghosh and Kantha made a few wisecracks about ‘metropolitan writers’ like Vikram Seth and Kiran Desai. “When you come across references of Patna in the works of Vikram Seth or Salman Rushdie, you fail to find recognition of real places,” said writer Amitava Kumar who was moderating the session.
And no, there aren’t any ‘art films’ in Bhojpuri. “Forget [Bengali director] Rituparno Ghosh,” said Avijit. “Most Bengali films are worse than Bhojpuri films.”
Thanks to migrants, Bhojpuri films now run regularly in Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi and Mumbai. The fact that theatres screening them are occasionally attacked in Punjab and Mumbai was seen as evidence, according to Ghosh, that “Bhojpuri has become big”.
When a member from the audience from eastern UP complained about Bhojpuri being linked to Bihar alone, Kumar soothed him by saying, “If Bhojpur becomes a state, Benares, not Patna, will be its capital.”