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June 16th, 2005

language, hindi cinema, television, et al

(Porous borders)



I am now on the other side of the border, in Bangladesh , thirty minutes ahead of time. Yet, the differences are not that great. The landscape is similar to that of Bengal . And the culture is essentially Bengali, not Islamic. Bengali language rules here. You either speak the language or no other option. During my first visit, I had learnt that the first revolt which the Bangladeshis had launched against the tyranny of West Pakistan was that of language. The Bangladeshis refused to submit to the authority of Urdu. They blackened all Urdu signs and hoardings, the walls of cities on which Urdu was written. Bangladeshis are proud of their language. From my second visit onwards, I was beginning to perceive that English and Hindi were slowly creeping into the everyday lives of the people there. I started spotting advertising hoardings in English and came to know of the popularity of Hindi television serials and movies. The famous song “ Kaanta Laga ” had been translated in Bengali. Each day as I would walk the markets of Khulna , I would hear more of Hindi music. One day, the Daily Star, a popular English daily published from Dhaka , carried an article where the author complained of the prevalence of Hindi film music and the decline of Bengali music and poetry.


During each of my visit, my various hosts would ask me to speak Hindi, “the way it is spoken in television serials”, they would insist each time. I have always been dumbstruck on this request. I hardly watch the television serials. So I don’t know what kind of Hindi is spoken. Moreover, Hindi is not a homogenous language. It has its dialects, accents and it is spoken differently in different places and regions in India .


Hindi TV serials of STAR PLUS, SONY and ZEE are heavily popular among the womenfolk and children. “From Monday to Thursday, 1 PM to 5 PM , it is like a film show for them – all the TV serials they watch,” tells me my host’s brother-in-law in Chittagong . One evening, there was no electricity. In the heat, amidst fanning ourselves, the elder daughter-in-law of the house asked the children to sing and dance to Hindi film songs. Mithila, the little girl, began to sing, as if reciting poetry, ‘if you want to be my lober, lober (lover, lover), if you want to be my lober, lober … saaniya dil mein aana re, aa ke phir na jana re … ” I was trying to understand whether Mithila understood what she was singing. It strikes that may be she is constantly exposed to the song and has picked it up subconsciously. I think this is an interesting feature of cities – we are constantly amidst sounds and noises. Often, we subconsciously pick up information and often, we don’t filter everything – it’s just about the noise!


Hindi films are popular in Bangladesh . But the youngsters tell me that while earlier films were remembered for popular dialogues, today’s films are based on star power. Amitabh Bachan is heavily popular in Bangladesh . Each day when I would pass by the Moila Putta Street in Khulna , I would notice the huge Pepsi hoarding with Amitabh Bachan smiling out of it. The hoarding promised, “Drink Pepsi. Get lucky, meet Amitabh in Kolkatta!” As Amitabh smiled out of this hoarding, I began to realize that Amitabh is not just an icon; he is representative of a nation. He symbolizes the nation itself. He is the nation – he is one face of India to the Bangladeshi people.


Pirated VCDs of Hindi films reach Bangladesh before they are released in India . The route is apparently Pakistan where the films are pirated. I remember Aymen Khan, the taxi driver in Amsterdam telling me of his visit to Dubai . “I had been to one of your underworld don’s younger brother’s house. There were suitcases, black ones, piled with film reels. That is how they make their money. Films are released in Dubai by these people.” The experience in Bangladesh and Aymen’s story make me feel that films and Bollywood are an important aspect of the political economy of South Asia . Films, TV, cinema, these in a way contribute to the porosity of borders that exist within South Asia . In 1999, during my visit to Korea , a Pakistani colleague had said to me, “ZEE TV, it is the unifier between India and Pakistan . Else, there was always a distance!” I don’t know in what ways films and television contribute towards the understanding of other. I don’t know how television and cinema reduce distance (or whether they do at all?)? I wonder whether cinema and television assist in making ‘the other’ appear more comprehensible? What????


While I can understand Bangla and if I speak, I wouldn’t be doing a bad job, I feel conscious when I speak the language. Ladies of the houses I would visit would tell me, “Speak Hindi, no problem. We can understand. We watch the television serials.”


This time around, a new cellular phone service was being launched in Bangladesh . It is called DJuice and is a service of the popular Grameen Phone service. DJuice advertises in Hindi. Bengali on its advertising pamphlets is written in English. For instance, ‘ Khoroch Koto (what are the expenses?)’ is written in English instead of Bengali. One of the boys in the University said to me, “I refuse to patronize DJuice. They are spoiling our language by writing Bengali in English. What impact will it have on the coming generations? Already I see the decline in our language. Given the TV serials and films, I am convinced that the next three or four generations will be Hindi speakers.”


I wonder whether borders are porous … Are cultural borders in South Asia porous?


  1. June 21st, 2005 at 02:14 | #1

    be happy that you have Bollywood! Otherwise everybody would watch the US soaps. I’ve often wondered if they transmit general ‘codes of conduct’. Especially those for teens treat stereotypical problems and give standard solutions- do they replace education and mingle cultures?

  2. June 21st, 2005 at 02:14 | #2

    comments not working?