Et tu Bachchan saab? Then fall, Tagore

The Kolkata Metro authorities are up in arms against the Kahaani film-makers for showing the Calcutta Metro as a place where people can be pushed on to the tracks – which they can be, by the way. But the murderous depiction of the Cal metro in Kahaani will pale in comparison to the slow murder which has been committed on one of Bengal’s most well-known songs in Kahaani.

In the last few months, the Kahaani film-makers have pulled out all the stops to promote their film, from Vidya Balan parading across cities and in various modes of public transport, strapped with a faux pregnancy belly pretending to look for her missing husband. Then the trailer of the film was released, which couldn’t have not caught your attention. With its colourful and quick frames of Victoria Memorial, black and yellow ambassador taxis, the Howrah bridge, Durga idols being painted and a pregnant harassed looking Vidya Balan thrown in for good measure, the trailer definitely would have caught your eye. So you wouldn’t be blamed like me for thinking that the producers and director, Sujoy Ghosh, were taking every pain to ensure that they didn’t hit one wrong note during the promotions.

The fascination for Calcutta and Bengali characters is not new to Hindi cinema. It’s been done to death and usually terribly, from Jackie Shroff who keeps saying “borndhu” in Devdas to Rani Mukherji in Ta Ra Pum Pum who sings a song starting with, “Oh shona, o shona” just in case you missed that she was a Bengali, to Vidya Balan being possessed by a Bengali ghost called Manjula in the Jaipur-based Bhool Bhulaiya. And in case audiences missed that it’s a Bengali character, they are usually made to say one gratuitous Bengali word over and over again – and without fail. Usually the actor’s Bengali diction would give our domestic flight stewardesses, struggling to say as simple a word as ‘Kolkata’, close competition for buggering the language. Mani Ratnam is one of the few directors who cast an entire film, Yuva, in Bengal but didn’t make any of his characters say one word in Bengali. So I took great solace in the fact that for once all the Bengali characters in Kahaani are played by actors from Bengal. At least when they speak in Bengali it wouldn’t sound like Barbara Mori trying to speak Hindi. But little did I know what was waiting in store for us a couple of days before the film released.

For the past few months we’ve been hearing - a little worryingly - that Amitabh Bacchan had been brought on board to sing Rabindranath Tagore’s Ekla Chalo Re for the film. Now I’m not one of those who feels that no one should tamper with the master’s songs, but because Hindi cinema while repeatedly showing an affinity for Bengali characters and Calcutta, has also shown an equal propensity for buggering up Bengali pronunciations I was a little afraid of what we’d be subjected to. I did have faith that Amitabh Bachchan might at least be the exception to the rule and practice his Bengali diction at home with wifey. But one must not expect such basic levels of preparedness.

 Et tu Bachchan saab? Then fall, Tagore

Poster of the film, Kahaani.

And oops, sure enough, they did it again. In a show of consistency, yet another Hindi film has totally molested the very song they’re trying to use to bolster the message of their film. A little background on the song: it was written as a patriotic song which loosely put, exhorts the listener to continue on their journey even if they have to do so alone without support from others. Quite apt for the film, as Vidya Balan is searching all alone for her husband in Calcutta. And hell, if the song could inspire Gandhi, why shouldn’t it inspire Vidya?

The problem is not just with Bachchan’s pronunciation of the words – which is reminiscent of Kumar Sanu singing ‘Why did you break my heart? Why did we fall in love? Why did you go avay, avay, avay, avay?” in Akele Hum Akele Tum (the remake of Kramer vs Kramer) which crucified not just the Wham song but also the novel it was borrowed from. If you haven’t heard it, you can here. From the second chorus of Bachchan’s rendition, you can’t even make out what Bachchan is singing because the words are so garbled, unless you already know the song and then you can piece it together.

What’s worse is that the editors have decided to help the non-Bongophile along by providing subtitles for the song. So while the sentence, “Jodi tor daak shune keu na asashey tobe ekla chalo re” means “If no one responds to your call, then go your own way alone”, the editors in their wisdom have translated it as, “You must walk alone. If no one is willing to stand by you. Walk alone…” I do appreciate the fact that ellipses in film subtitles now have three dots and not an indiscriminate number of dots as earlier, but really, couldn’t the editors have at least got the right translation for the song.

And it’s not that tough to get correct. To make life easy for future Hindi film-makers and producers, Rabi Thakur had even translated the lyrics into English himself. It’s not that difficult just as Bachchan’s pronunciation could have simply been corrected by the missus or even by Sujoy Ghosh himself or any of the Bengali actors in the cast.

Why is Bachchan singing the song in the first place, is a question for another day – he doesn’t play a role in the film as far as I know, and the film industry has no shortage of Bengali singers – but whatever helps sell a film. So the deed is done. The song is buggered. And Rabi Thakur is turning in his grave.

Maybe this is payback for Bengali director par excellence, Rituparno Ghosh casting many a Bollywood actor as key Bengali characters in his films – from Kirron Kher in Bariwali to the Bachchan bahu in Raincoat and Chokher Bali - and refusing to allow them to dub their own voices and instead getting their voices dubbed by Bengali artists.

All we can hope for is that now that Shah Rukh Khan is brand ambassador of Bengal, he should also ask Bollywood producers to stop butchering the Bengali language. Just do a little homework people. It’s not a difficult language. Really.

Even Akon sang "Tu meri chammak challo. Teri picture ka main hero”, better than this. Practise does make perfect and you do expect more from Amitabh Bachchan who can never be faulted for his Hindi diction.

But hey, maybe I’m splitting hairs. If Boney M’s Rasputin can be used and abused in Agent Vinod, why should Ekla Chalo Re not face the same fate?

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Updated Date: Mar 08, 2012 13:06:27 IST


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