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The Love For Urdu In Our Films: What Imtiaz Ali, Javed Akhtar & Others Had To Say

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By Kanika Katyal

“Woh kare baat toh har lafz se khushboo aaye,
Aisi boli wohi bole jise Urdu aaye.” 

With this famous quote by poet Ahmad Warsi, Faridoon Shahryar, acting as the moderator, begun the session, ‘Filmon Mein Urdu: Kal Aur Aaj‘ along with an audience cheering in response.

942860_1052859754736684_8868911215037312617_n (1)With luminaries like Imtiaz Ali, Javed Siddiqui, Javed Akhtar, and Tigmanshu Dhulia chairing the session on Sunday (14th February), the stage lawns at Jashn-e-Rekhta, was sure to be a packed house.

Jashn-e-Rekhta, prides itself on being a first of its kind Urdu festival held in India, that made its debut in 2015 and attracted over 15000 Urdu lovers from across India and the sub-continent. Over 60 poets, artists, novelists, litterateurs, journalists, lyricists from India and Pakistan participated in the festival. In its second edition this year, held from 12th to 14th February, the festival befittingly celebrated Urdu language in all its colours and richness. For those three days of splendour, the air around the Indira Gandhi Centre for Arts vibrant with Urdu admirers.

Language, in any region, is much more than semantics. It represents the beliefs, history, and the culture of their origin. We have a history of upholding pluralism, and the ‘Hindustani’ language testifies to that composite culture.
Cinema and society have always had close ties. Sometimes, cinema has acted as a mirror to society and sometimes it has tried to act as a catalyst for change. The session then discussed this kinship between Urdu as a language, as a signifier of culture and as a medium of speech in Bollywood.

When asked about the influence of Urdu language and writing on films, Javed Siddiqui, veteran Hindi and Urdu screenwriter, dialogue writer and playwright, remembered for ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’, ‘Umrao Jaan’, ‘Mammo’ and ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’, said, “Main nahin samajhta ki kisi film ki koi zubaan hoti hai. Zubaan toh kirdaaron ki hoti hai. Woh Hindi bolein toh Hindi, Urdu bolein toh Urdu. Writer ki usmein koi baat hi nahin hai. Zubaan toh gaanon mein dikhayi deti hai. ‘Wafa’, ‘sanam’ jaise lafzon ke bina aaj bhi gaane nahin likhe jaate. Urdu ka chalan, aaj bhi, tamaam propaganda ke bavjood, aawaam ki zubaan hai, aur picturein hum awaam ke liye banate hain. Aaj bhi Urdu apna paigham har jagah pohoncha deti hai, Kashmir se Kanyakumari tak (I don’t believe that films have a language, the characters have a language. If they speak Hindi, then it’s Hindi, or Urdu. The writer has nothing to do with it. Songs are where you can experience language, songs cannot be written without words like ‘wafa’ or ‘sanam’. Despite propaganda, Urdu is still the language of the masses, and we make films for the masses. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Urdu reaches out to everyone).”

Imtiaz Ali’s films have been known for their rendition of Sufism, be it the all-surpassing union of the souls in ‘Highway’ or the soul’s search for meaning in ‘Rockstar’. And who cannot note the inspiration that Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poetry had in his recent ‘Tamasha’, testifying to his love for Urdu. He got nostalgic talking about his relationship with the language.

“Meri khushkismati thi ki tab Urdu shayari ka riwaaz tha. Bachpan mein ghar mein Begum Akhtar sunte the, isliye aaj bhi wohi jhalakta hai. Main English Literature ka student hun, us zubaan mein bhi poetry padhi hai maine. Keats, Byron, bohot pasand hain mujhe. Par Urdu, mein jab main poetry suntan hun aisa lagta hai ki, Faiz mere bagal mein khada hai, aur mere liye bol raha hai. Aisa influence sirf apni zubaan ka hota hai (I have been lucky that the tradition of Urdu poetry has continued so far. We used to listen to Begum Akhtar as children, which reflects in our language today also. I am a student of English Literature, and have studied poetry and the works of Keats and Byron, which I enjoy. But when I listen to Urdu poetry, it feels like Faiz himself is standing next to me and reciting the poem. This kind of influence comes only from your own language).”

javed akhtarJaved Akhtar added, “Apni zubaan mein dal chawal ka sukoon hota hai. Aap chahe jitna bhi western music sunlein, par jab dholak bajegi toh lagega ki woh DNA mein hai, lagega ki ghar aa gaye (There is comfort in your own language. No matter how much western music you listen to, the dholak is in your DNA, it feels like home).”

These soulful conversations turned to more sombre thoughts when questions around the “outsider” status of the Urdu language in India were raised. Javed Akhtar completely repudiated the idea of language being a single religion’s dominion. In his usual profound and erudite manner he gave numerous examples from history to assert that the division of language, just like the partition of India and Pakistan was a result of the fanaticism of the right-wing Hindu and Muslim leaders; while, in fact, it was the property of neither, “aapne kaise maan lia ye aapki zubaan nahin hai?” he contended.

The session not only stirred our hearts with tender memories of the past, but also stimulated our minds with food for thought. It was the promise of commitment to the celebration of our rich and plural literary heritage that Rekhta lived up to.

But while all the artists and admirers were rejoicing in harmony, in the same event were students who were arrested by the police, on suspicion. One of them, a law student, who looked like “an anti-national from JNU”( except that he, in fact, wasn’t even a student of JNU), was taken into custody and interrogated for hours because he was found in possession of an SFI flag. His phone was taken away, and he was not allowed to contact anyone.

What does this teach us?

With forces of hatred seeking to divide us yet again today, it’s imperative that we not let our rich heterogeneous culture get divided with separate, marked territories. The Indian culture has always been a culture of assimilation, and keeping in mind the oppressive forces that seek to curb this heterogeneity, the existence of such spaces and even stronger voices is crucial today. Not just to serve spaces for preserving our most beautiful heritage, but also to function as creative spaces of resistance. Our strength lies in our solidarity, let’s not let them get to us.

Images posted by Rekhta on Facebook.

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