Hindi film protagonist has come a long way from the days when dacoits talked like literature students and heroes quoted from epics. Today the language is colourful but is the expression going down the drain?
Call it the statement of new-age cinema, liberal policy of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), Hollywood influence or social acceptance of cuss words in everyday life, in the last few years in the name of realism, we are getting to hear a wide array of colourful expletives on screen. The beep is passé and ‘saala’ has become silly as writers are lacing dialogues with expletives. “Bandit Queen” is a distant memory. The latest trend started with “Omkara”, blossomed with “Ishqiya”, acquired a funny urban tone in “Delhi Belly” and recently turned crude and organic with “Jannat 2” and “Gangs of Wasseypur” respectively. These are benchmarks which were or are being discussed from street corners to television studios or got a favourable response at the box office. In between came a number of clones, some of which were muted by CBFC while others slipped through the net claiming parity.
The argument, as put forward by Anurag Kashyap, director of “Gangs of Wasseypur”, is, “I come from a place where cuss words are part of everyday language and my characters are people who don’t have a rich vocabulary. We are not using profanities for effect.” He is the same director whose earlier film “Paanch” was stalled by CBFC for unexplained violence. It included verbal violence.
Anjum Rajabali, writer of films like “Aparahan”, “Raajneeti” and “Aarakshan” and a member of CBFC says CBFC is evolving and is a product of society. “Cinema is a developing discourse and the bandwidth of the sensibilities of people is increasing. Once in a while, there comes a film like ‘Bandit Queen’ which goes into unexplored territory and makes you revisit your parameters. I may not use expletives but if somebody wants to portray the criminal badlands of Bihar in a gritty fashion, he has every right to use swear words provided he is using them in the right context and nuances with an A certificate.”
Once a dreaded letter for filmmakers, today, many want to be part of the A league. And for few the idea is not to titillate but to explore the dark shades. “Hindi cinema is getting segmented. It is no longer about universal appeal and happy endings. If you want to reach out to everybody, you have to make compromises. My own father could not identify with ‘Dev.D’ but it worked for many, especially women,” says Anurag. “If you see ‘Ishaqzaade’, it nowhere looks and talks like the Yash Raj films we grew up watching. We should welcome people who are coming out,” he adds.
Avijit Ghosh, author of “Cinema Bhojpuri”, doesn’t find his confidence misplaced. “He has delivered an uncompromising film…a regional film in Hindi with world class production values set in a landscape which has not been captured before. However, he has this tendency to go a little overboard with profanities and in ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, there are at least two occasions where he has got carried away,” says Ghosh referring to the scene where Sardar Khan talks of dividing the time between his two wives.
Amidst this hoopla of breaking the shackles, came “Paan Singh Tomar”. The story of an athlete-turned-dacoit set in the ravines of Bundelkhand had every possibility of using the choicest of abuses but director Tigmanshu Dhulia and writer Sanjay Chouhan refrained from using them. Still the film worked and nobody doubted its authenticity. “The film had a strong Bundeli flavour and one should remember that it was a period film as Paan Singh was encountered in 1981.”
Chouhan says he is not against the use of cuss words but only as a last resort. “For a long time our films have been showcasing an India that doesn’t exist around us. Even the rape scenes were presented by showing a moving fan or a flowing rivulet till ‘Bandit Queen’ captured the inhuman nature of it. The dialogue-baazi that marked our cinema has subsided. When films like “Gunga Jumna” were written, the writers used to come from refined environs of literature, who didn’t want to dilute the tehzeeb beyond a point. And the social mores were different like you could not smoke in front of your father.” However, Chouhan adds, “Realism doesn’t mean you fill the dialogues with profanities. Also, you need to understand the region you are talking about. While in Punjab females figure in abuses, in Bihar and certain parts of Madhya Pradesh using a similar expression could lead to bloodshed,” explains Chouhan, who hails from Bhopal. He portrayed this detailing in profanities in “Paan Singh Tomar”. Similarly, Pavan Malhotra once won laurels for an authentic portrayal of a gangster in Saeed Mirza’s “Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro” without resorting to profanities. “But I used cuss words when I played Tiger Menon in ‘Black Friday’,” counters Pavan.” “The point is, there could be five different ways to play a character and all of them could work provided the intentions are right,” he adds
Does it affect the business? Distributor Sanjay Mehta, who has distributed “Bandit Queen”, “Omkara” and “Ishqiya” in the North, says it depends on the film and the reputation of the filmmakers. “It does alienate family audience but if you make the audience aware what to expect, people pair up differently. ‘Jannat 2’ didn’t work because audience didn’t anticipate such blatant use of abuses in an Emraan Hashmi film. They didn’t expect from ‘Omkara’ either but Vishal Bhardwaj played smart by giving all the cuss words to one character Langda Tyagi. He kept Ajay Devgn and Kareena Kapoor’s image clean. Also, you have to be a Shekhar Kapur to get such films passed by CBFC.”
If you take the argument to society, the opinion is divided. While bank employee Musharraf Rehman, who hails from Ranchi, found the usage of abuses in “Gangs of Wasseypur” authentic and entertaining, RJ Santosh Rao failed to engage with the film. When the RJs of some private FM channels seem to be in a competition to force out abuses from their listeners, Rao is an exception. He uses his show on FM Rainbow to construct an opinion against the use of expletives in films. “I understand we get to hear filthy language around us but there should be an artistic way to communicate with the audience. I find, like their characters, such directors are also frustrated. A certificate is a kind of carrot to attract young crowd towards something that is forbidden. When the film’s poster says ‘keh ke loonga’, it leaves little to imagination.”
But what to do when a director imagines characters which have only shades of black. Or as Rajabali admits, there is still a lot of grey area to be filled.
Acceptance or tolerance?
Sociologist Imtiaz Ahmed links the trend with the erosion of values exemplified by the fact that even women are using such words in daily life. He doesn’t see it as social acceptance of profane but says the society is being numbed to tolerate it. “In the past the use of cuss words was contextually determined and the character which used cuss words was shown in bad light or it represented the breakdown of communication, where the character would take a pause before uttering a bad word. Today, it has become cool talk. Cinema is not just entertainment. If it takes from society, it also shapes social behaviour. As an instrument of social change, it should reflect what is correct and what’s incorrect.”