From English In Songs To English In Dialogues:
The use of English in Hindi dialogues started from a few words here and there. Remember Amitabh Bachchan’s memorable dialogue, “I can walk English, talk English…” in Namak Halaal (1982)? Bollywood has indeed come a long way from that and now the industry produces complete films in English. But they are a rarity, a tiny percentage of the total number of films produced in a year. 2006 and 2007 saw the release of 6 Indian English films each, whereas only one such film was released in 2008. Years 2009 and 2010 again saw 6 Indian English film releasing at the theatres. Given the fact that almost all of the these films failed to make a mark at the box-office, one would arrive at the conclusion that Bollywood filmmakers would think twice before using English in their films.

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Surprisingly, it is not so. Oblivious to the needs of 50-60 percent of the Hindi film audience – that does not understand and appreciate the liberal use of English in films – filmmakers have been serving the global lingua franca to the Hindi film audience in generous doses. Last year (2010) saw many such releases – where films that were shot primarily in English, were presented to the audience as Hindi films, the most notable amongst them being the Hrithik Roshan starrer, Kites. Needless to say, the film received a lukewarm response at the box-office from a majority of the audience when word spread that the film was majorly shot in English and Spanish, with only a sprinkling of Hindi. Hrithik’s second release last year, Guzaarish, also had many English dialogues, as did the first major release of 2011, No One Killed Jessica.

Some filmmakers cite creative expression or the need to be true to their subject as the reasons for making their characters speak English. Unfortunately, very few have really succeeded in breaking the barrier to box-office success.

Kites Poster, Turning 30 Poster

The Balancing Act:
There are a few, however, who have managed to strike a balance. Prakash Jha Productions’ Turning 30!!!, releasing this Friday (January 14, 2010), will be presented in two versions: one English-Hindi (with 60 percent English dialogues) and a dubbed Hindi version. The English-Hindi version shall cater to the city audiences and the Hindi one to the interiors. In the light of a majority of films with English dialogues flopping at the box-office, such a strategy might definitely be the way to go.

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