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Mind your language: Why some dialects are hard to follow

How much is too much when it comes to incorporating local lingo in a film? Why was Kahaani’s Bangla easy to follow? Why did Omkara and Ishqiya fail?

bollywood Updated: May 08, 2012 01:51 IST
Roshmila Bhattacharya
Roshmila Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
kahaani,Gangs of Wasseypur,Ishaqzaade

The sleeper superhit of the year, Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani, revolves around a pregnant woman’s search for her missing husband in the City of Joy. The idea of setting the film in Kolkata apparently came from Bengal’s matinee idol Prosenjit Chatterjee who pointed out that the city was familiar to Sujoy and it would be cheaper to shoot there.

Urged on by love and logistics, Sujoy not only based his celluloid Kahaani in Kolkata and gave the city an Usha Uthup-rendered anthem, ‘Ami shooti bolchi, Kolkata you sexy…’, but also sprinkled his dialogue sheet with a generous smattering of Bangla words that turned his heroine from Vidya to Bidda. It was a gamble that could have alienated the national audience, but Sujoy was able to ensure that his story did not get lost in translation.

"I was clear that I was making a Hindi movie. There’s no way to determine how much Bengali to use without it becoming a Bangla movie, I just took an educated guess," says a relieved Sujoy.

That’s a problem Vishal Bharadwaj faced with Omkara (2006) shot over four months in Lonavala, Lucknow, Allahabad, Satara, Mumbai, Mahabaleshwar and Wai. All the lines were delivered in a strong Khariboli dialect and strewn with ‘gaalis’ (abuses) that along with the ‘A’ certificate kept family audiences away from the ‘desi’ adaptation of Othello.

But that didn’t stop Vishal from making an Ishqiya (2010), that was set in Gorakhpur, UP, and used the local dialect uncompromisingly. In many theatres outside the region, patrons left halfway through the film because they could not grasp what was being said. "We adapted the local lingo and the accent to make the setting more authentic and the plot more credible. But if people didn’t understand what was happening, then I guess we went wrong somewhere," says Naseerudin Shah who played Khalujan Iftikar in Abhishek Chaubey’s directorial debut and returns in the sequel, Dhai Ishqiya.

Vishal is currently filming Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Man Dola, a rustic rom-com of a man’s determination to re-unite his wife with her parents. And before the film went on the floors on February 14, actor Imran Khan was hooked to his iPod, listening to the dialogue spoken in a strong Haryanvi accent by a local, to get the diction right.

ShanghaiAbhay Deol has been through similar prep, learning the Tamil alphabet for Shanghai in which he plays a Tam-Bram. "I worked with a diction coach for 10 days before the film went on the floors. He also accompanied me on the sets and I would sit with him and go over my lines before each shot," says Abhay, who plays an IAS officer posted in Maharashtra in the political thriller. "It’s largely clean Hindi with a lot more Marathi words than Tamil but the language is subtle South Indian."

Prateik plays a rough-and-rugged Romeo from Varanasi in Issaq too. "There was a good amount of prep required for the character, including extensive language and voice workshops. Besides observing the way people speak there, speech lessons with an experienced dialogue coach were a must. It’s not a different language, but the accent is more sing song," says the actor, quick to add that the film will not have in-your-face local lingo, only an accent that will be easily to comprehend.

There’s a way of getting it right, according to John Abraham who in Shootout At Wadala will be speaking colloquial Hindi with a lot of Marathi thrown in because his character has grown up in Mumbai’s slums. "You make sure that the local words are interwoven into the Hindi dialogue in such a way that even non-Maharashtrians will understand what ‘ayee’ (mother) means," reasons John.

Speak Easy
Some upcoming Hindi films that could use the local dialect generously
1. SOS: Son Of Sardar: Ajay Devgn’s home production revolves around a Punjabi family living in a haveli in the middle of a sarson ka khet in Patiala.

2. Shanghai: Abhay Deol plays a Tamil IAS officer based in Maharashtra, and Emraan Hashmi’s Jogi is originally from Jaipur.

3. Ishaqzaade: The fiery love story is set in Uttar Pradesh.

4. Gangs of Wasseypur: The film is about the coal mafia in Jharkand and given that the two-part film is produced by Anurag Kashyap, it should have a lot of local flavour.

First Published: May 06, 2012 14:23 IST