Gulzar speaks

‘Hindi films saved Urdu’

Print edition : October 18, 2013

Lyricist Gulzar. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

The lyricist Javed Akhtar with Gulzar. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

100 years of Indian Cinema

OUR films have kept Urdu alive. Take any dialogue from Hindi films. More than 80 per cent of them are in Urdu. New words have been incorporated into the language. Its tallafuz [diction] has declined drastically, though. Today, the way some people speak Urdu the meaning of the words changes. For instance, some people who cannot pronounce the word “khh” will tell you, “Walid sahib dawa khane gaye hain” (Father has gone to have medicine), whereas they actually mean, “Walid sahib dawakhhane gaye hain” (Father has gone to the clinic).

Any language undergoes change over a period of time. It has to be dynamic to survive. Not just Urdu in our film industry or out of it, but even Hindi and Punjabi in the subcontinent have undergone change since 1947. Punjabi here uses Gurmukhi script; it is not the case in Pakistan. Partition led to a loss for Urdu. It underwent a change in character on both sides. Pakistan adopted it as the state language though it was not the language spoken there. In Pakistan, words of Pashto, Sindhi and Punjabi were added to the Urdu vocabulary. For instance, if you speak to a Pakistani he will not say, “aaiye”. He will say, “aayein”. He will not say, “khaiyye”. He will say, “khayein”.

In India, Urdu assimilated more words of Hindi and the Awadhi dialect. For instance, a word like “bhai” [brother]. It hails from the Poorvi Awadhi dialect. But again, change in the contours of the language is a constant phenomenon. A language has to change all the time, otherwise it gets stagnant, gradually fades away and is ultimately regarded as a classical language, one that is revered but not spoken. Just as in the case of Sanskrit.

Urdu avoided such a fate because it adopted new words. It changed from the time of Mir to Ghalib. It became less affected by the Awadhi dialect, became more Persianised during Ghalib’s time. In Hindi cinema, from the days of Persianised Urdu of the 1940s and 1950s to the more common Hindustani words in the 1970s and later, Urdu underwent a transformation. Today, Urdu is heard, not seen. Dekhai zaroor deni chahiye (It should definitely be seen).

We need to take care of our nukhta (dot). There are 60 nukhte and apostephe. You teach them in school, everything will fall into place. You can learn how to pronounce “khh” and “ain” in your childhood, not as an adult. Then it becomes too difficult. Lipi par dhyan dijiye. That is the reason most of the singers of the bygone era, be it Rafi or Kishore Kumar or Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhosle got the nuances just right.

The contemporary singers have never read the language in school. It is not even their fault. Many of the past poets too are not available in Persianised Urdu but in Devanagari.

Today’s Hindi film-makers know little Urdu. They make Hindi films but they have been to public schools and most of them come from urban India. They do not know much Hindi, and they know no Urdu. They usually speak in English, write in English. So naturally, Urdu has declined in cinema, yet because of an exchange of words between our languages, films have kept it alive.

Personally speaking, I make sure that any word I have written for a song is pronounced just the right way. I attend the recordings of all my songs. All the music directors I work with respect the language and invite me to attend the recordings. Be it Vishal Bhardwaj or A.R. Rahman or Shankar Mahadevan, they adjust their recording date to suit my availability. The result is there to be seen in the songs when they finally come out. Yes, Hindi films songs and our films have saved Urdu.

As told to Ziya Us Salam