Author Tanuj Solanki on why Punjabi has become passé and UP's Khadi boli is the ‘in’ thing’ in Bollywood
Khadi boli, lingua franca of western Uttar Pradesh, has been mainstreamed by Bollywood.
Khadi boli, lingua franca of western Uttar Pradesh, has been mainstreamed by Bollywood. Hits such as Dangal, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Badhaai Ho have given the region’s so-called ‘Jat’ language a twist of trendiness. Talking to Firstpost, Tanuj Solanki, a fiction writer who grew up in Muzaffarnagar, explains how Bollywood and the Jatland are influencing each other and the current generation from the region.
Q. Have you been hearing more of Khadi boli on television and radio of late?
I do notice songs being played on the radio in Khadi boli and Haryanvi. My ear often tells me that ‘my kind of music’ is playing. Some songs remind me of the ragini folk performances that my grandfather would hear on the radio. Oye Lucky Lucky Oye was actually one of the earliest films to use a ragini. In diction and sensibility, Bollywood’s Hindi-heartland increasingly represents the Meerut-Muzaffarnagar-Haryana belt. Those sounds are clearly the ‘in’ thing. Sometimes, the accents and words from the region are even inserted forcibly into films. I don’t know how long this will last — it may be a purely commercially-driven trend.
Q. Why do you think the Meerut-Muzaffarnagar-Haryana idiom is popular in Bollywood?
Punjabi artists such as Badshah merged the region’s language with the macho perceptions about it. That’s how the music became popular. Films had a different trajectory. In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, which is a story of two girls in Haridwar, they use the western Uttar Pradesh accent. Now, as a matter of fact, there is no Haryanvi or Khadi boli in Haridwar. The same idiom is used, very ably, in Badhaai Ho. That film’s Punjabi characters are made to speak ‘like Jats’. This was not so in the past. Vishal Bhardwaj used the region’s sensibility in Omkara too. He drew from its vocabulary to highlight, chiefly, the macho-ness of his characters.
Q. Why did this change come about?
I have no doubt that someone like say, Vishal Bhardwaj, who is from Bijnor, purposefully introduces the western Uttar Pradesh-Haryanvi flavour in Bollywood. Many people from western Uttar Pradesh are scriptwriters in Mumbai today. They have command over these dialects. No doubt, they are influencing the tone and tenor of films and television, at least indirectly.
Q. There’s another aspect to representing machismo in a film: the use of ‘Jat’ language, Jat characters and idioms to represent ‘north India’ as a whole.
What you describe is actually Delhi’s influence on cinema. Delhi is a melting pot where Hindi, Khadi boli and Punjabi fuse. Consider the word ‘swag’ — swagger — which means being cool and hip. The ‘Punjabification’ and ‘Jat-ification’ of Hindi, a very Delhi trend, has made this word mainstream. For filmmakers with a story set in north India, the challenge is to sound authentic. The ‘Jat’ tone solves that problem for now. Also, Punjabi has become passé. Filmmakers do have Bhojpuri sounds at their disposal but this, perhaps, introduces other ideas in terms of class into films. The Haryanvi-western Uttar Pradesh language has a flair that’s now associated with being well dressed and well groomed — after all, there are all kinds of Jats. Their sounds can easily be produced by a wealthy person, is the perception.
Q. As a native-born writing in English, how schooled are you in your native language and how skilful do you find Bollywood’s adaptation of the sounds from it?
Growing up in Muzaffarnagar, I heard the language a lot, obviously. I also recall always being able to switch between understanding Khadi and Hindi/English. But, I never spoke in Khadi. School actively discouraged it. Although I can’t remember my parents ever saying that I should not speak it, but in a very palpable sense it was instilled in me that I should not. The sense I got was that Khadi doesn’t sit well with the so-and-so school that I might be attending, even if it is in Muzaffarnagar. My parents didn’t converse in Khadi by default either, except with each other — never with me. So, growing up I heard Khadi a lot but always had a sense that there are two ways of speaking. The other way was Hindi, which I used.
Q. So you never spoke in your own language?
It’s funny, but when I moved out of Muzaffarnagar and went to Jaipur, Ahmedabad and finally Mumbai, then I found that people love it when I speak in Khadi. They, I think, like the fact that I am connected with the place, Muzaffarnagar. Even to me, it conveys my sense of belonging to the place. There is another, very important aspect to this. Now, for the first time, my mother speaks to me in Khadi, which she would not do earlier. I think this is because now I have extricated myself from Muzaffarnagar and so I can be reintegrated with my past. This is important, for many other young people from western Uttar Pradesh belt would relate to this. It also relates to what I said earlier; that there is a critical mass of people from Haryana-western Uttar Pradesh now working in other parts of the country, creating content in their native language. In a sense, it is ‘permitted’ for them to return to their language after they have established themselves elsewhere. This is what has happened to me, and many of my generation.
Q. Why do people who don’t belong to these regions try to use the Khadi tones and affectations? I mean, not the film stars playing roles set in north India, but others.
It sounds a little ridiculous, honestly, when they do that. For non-native speakers, Khadi merges with their general conception of the language of ‘UP-Bihar’. They don’t realise that there’s no ‘UP-Bihar’ language. They end up using, say, a Bhojpuri word in the middle of their sentences. I suppose they try out this accent based on how they hear it in the movies. They are mimicking it. I think it’s their way to have fun. I even meet people who belong to this region who have lost touch with its language, trying to speak in it and sounding rather odd when they do so.
Q. So school and family pushed you and your peers into the waiting arms of English although Khadi resonated on the streets and in the local media. Is Bollywood helping resolve this confusion by representing the language through its characters?
If the issues, adversities and other aspects of the lives of people from these regions are picked up too, that would be real storytelling. More people will have to come and create content and tell stories of these places in their language. Until then, we’ll have to do with the Nawazuddin Siddiquis from the region. I can’t say if he is a role model or not — but he has done alright for himself.
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