(This artcile appeared in The Pioneer, sunday edition,2.2.2014.) Udti hoon aake banke vimaan/ Ready rakhna love ka samaan/ Milke rahoongi/ Chahe Baa le le jaan,” says the feisty and defiant Leela to her lover Ram in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. “Jitni tu garam hai/ Utna tera bistar naram hai,” says the amorous lover, Ram. Ram-Leela went on to hit the box office collections of Rs 100 crore, signifying the audience’s acceptance of these lusty, crudely poetic lovers.
Contrast this with the timeless classic, Mughal-e- Azam in 1960: “Kaneez to kab ki mar chooki/ Ab janaaze ko rukhsat ki ijaazat dijiye.” A memorable, rebellious exchange between Anarkali and the lover’s father, Akbar, who allows Anarkali to spend one last night with Salim on the understanding that she will be led to her death at sunrise. Mughal-e-Azam went on to stay the highest grossing film for 15 years. The film’s screenplay by
K Asif and Aman (Zeenat Aman’s father) was further dramatised by a team of brilliant writers: Wajahat Mirza, Kamaal Amrohi and Ehsaan Rizvi. The writers’ mastery over Urdu’s poetic expression is present in every line.
Today, leave alone historic lore or poetic Urdu, romance and love are expressed over cheesy smses, as evident in Ram-Leela, and love borders on lust. The debut writer duo, Garima-Siddharth, attribute this kind of language to the small town setting of Gujarat and the kind of characters the film has. “The sms poetry sounds the way it does because Ram is Romeo, a poet at heart but he is also a tapori who runs a video parlour; from him you don’t expect great poetry. Dialogue comes from the set-up and the character, and these two lives in a rustic gun market place in Gujarat in the sms era.”
However, opinion on this kind of writing is divided among both older and contemporary writers. Javed Siddiqui, a renowned writer of over 90 films ranging from Satyajit Ray’s classic Shatranj Ke Khiladi to commercial hits like Baazigar and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge, has his own reservations. So does Juhi Chaturvedi, the award-winning writer of Vicky Donor. Commenting on Ram-Leela’s lines like “Angoor hai green, kele ka rang peela hai, keh do saari duniya se, Ram ki Leela hai”, she says, “I think this is lame writing. It evokes short-term reactions and quick bursts of laughter in two hours, but will it be remembered in the next five years? A director who has maturity will never go in for such short-term gratification.”
Siddiqui elaborates, “It reflects the director’s sensibilities. Any sensitive writer and director should know that romance is a sensitive genre and their work is changing the sanctity of love. We should keep in mind what today’s generation is learning from such cinema. In what we called classical romance, the focus was on respecting feelings. Today, a news report says that a girl rejected her boyfriend and so he raped her as well as got his friends to gang-rape her. Can that sort of scenario be justified as love? We have to be responsible about what we are leaving behind for the youngsters.”
Niranjan Iyengar, who has a more diverse style of writing as seen in films like Wake Up Sid, Kal Ho Na Ho, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, D-Day and Fashion, believes that the success of Ram-Leela lies in its dialogues which worked with the young. He says, “It does connect with the audience. The idea of language has changed with the advent of cell phones, Internet and the multicultural pot that is India. Just like in music, earlier Dhrupad was considered the purest form, then Khayal became pure and today Thumri is considered semi-classical. Likewise language keeps evolving differently. Today, Hinglish is the accepted dialect. It may be blasphemy to you and me but it exists. To survive, one has to adapt. Technicians have to evolve or they fall by the wayside.”
It has become a matter of debate whether the audience dictates the language of cinema or vice versa. Garima-Siddharth strongly defend Ram-Leela’s treatment. “Today young lovers want to be with each other, and then take it forward. Like Bhansali once mentioned, young lovers today don’t look at the moon and the stars, they are randy people. And since we were adapting Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the text itself is full of double meanings. It is as lusty and vulgar as it can get and that’s what is beautiful about it. The film’s success proves its acceptance from audiences,” they say.
While it is too early to decide if Ram-Leela stands the test of time, the biggest blockbuster on romance since the 1990s remains Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. Chopra went on to win a Filmfare award for Best Dialogue, along with Javed Siddiqui, amongst numerous other awards. DDLJ was also the longest running film in Indian cinema after Sholay. The film’s success was attributed to its central theme of the purity of a woman being reflective of Indian values. In a scene when Simran (Kajol) wakes up in Raj’s (Shah Rukh Khan) bed and is concerned if anything happened between them the night before, he says: “Main ek Hindustani hoon, aur main jaanta hoon ki ek Hindustani ladki ki izzat kya hoti hai.”
Siddiqui, who wrote the dialogues for DDLJ along with Aditya Chopra, is one of the few writers from an Urdu literature background. As he himself says, “There are only three such writers in the industry today — Javed Akhtar, Gulzar and me. None of us is writing much nowadays. Once Gulzar told me that he doesn’t write anymore because today’s cinema does not interest him.”
Now that writers like Rahi Masoom Raza (Mahabharat), Rajinder Singh Bedi (Madhumati, Abhimaan), Abrar Alvi (Pyaasa, Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam, Kaagaz ke Phool), Wajahat Mirza (Mughal-e-Azam) are no more, gone are the days of the ’60s when every line was poetry. Or the ’70s and ’80s when films were full of dramatic exchanges, thanks to the celebrated writer duo, Salim-Javed. Sample the legendary Gabbar Singh’s lines in Sholay — “Kitne aadmi the” — or even a heated exchange between brothers that culminated in the famous “Mere paas maa hai” line in Deewar. These are deeply etched in the Indian cinegoer’s mind even today. Seeing the popularity of Sholay’s dialogues, for the first time in the history of cinema, a separate record album with dialogues was released.
However over the years, after Salim-Javed’s last film together, Mr India, the era of dramatic dialogues suddenly came to a standstill. With Ram Gopal Varma’s underworld-based films like Satya and Company, writers like Anurag Kashyap and Jaideep Sahni came to the forefront. However, Kamlesh Pandey, who has written numerous hits including Laawaris, Dil, Tezaab, Khalnayak, Rang De Basanti, feels that Anurag’s work has been disappointing post-Satya. He is hopeful of Jaideep Sahni and Rajat Arora’s work.
Salman Khan’s Wanted and his popular line in it, “Ek baar maine commitment kar di...” brought back memories of a Mithun-starrer film. His “itne ched karenge...” in Dabangg was voted the best line by viewers in 2011. Pandey comes down heavily on films like Dabangg and remakes of the ’80s’ cinema and calls their one-liners “do kaudi ki line”. He says, “If people continue to work for money and fame, we will be subjected to the same story like Dabangg or Rowdy Rathore or the film like Dhoom. The day films stop being a dhanda, that day we will see better films. Today’s films use do kaudi ki line like ‘thappar se dar nahin lagta sahib’ or ‘entertainment, entertainment, entertainment’.”
Rajat Arora, who is known to have brought back the trend of “dialogue-baazi” with his work in Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (OUATIM) and The Dirty Picture, believes that such lines are deliberately used to cater to the public as every action flick is the same and it is punch lines like these which set them apart. Talking about OUATIM, he says, “We wanted to make sure that the film is reflective of the 1970s and every line has a punch in it. In The Dirty Picture, we tried to be naughty, not vulgar.” It was probably the first time a female character was seen as well as accepted saying lines like “Mujhe jo chahiye, uska mazaa sirf raat ko aata hai”.
Siddiqui believes that films like Dabangg are a passing phase. “At one time Kader Khan would write double-meaning dialogues which were a huge success initially but got rejected later.” Talking about contemporary writing, he says: “I can only hope that the new writers will apply what renowned writer Waris Alvi once said, ‘Dus kilo padhiye aur dus gram likhiye’ (read 10 kilos and write 10 grams).”
Charudutt Acharya, who has written the dialogues of Dum Maro Dum, Taxi Nau Do Gyarah, Bluffmaster and debuts as a director this year with his film, Sonali Cable, says: “Many young writers and directors are folks whose primary lingo of speech and thought is English. Several dialogues have become clichéd, those thoughts have become clichéd too. So it’s considered almost comic to use them. Call it the metrosexual lingo or the urban Indian lingo.” Garima-Siddharth believe that one doesn’t have to have a great literary Hindi or Urdu background to write as the writing depends on the character and his world. “Even Gulzar has written lyrics like Bidi jalaile because it connects with the audience,” they say.
Delhi Belly, the adult comedy in 2011 brought in a hardcore usage of four letter words with its unapologetic style of humour and a smattering of English. “Shake that biscuit, baby, shake it for me” was the mildest line used. The infamous “Bhaag DK Bose” song, along with Akshat Verma’s writing, gave rise to a trend with more films aping the same. Comedies in the same genre came and went without too much success.
Movies which represented the rustic hinterland, like Ishqiya and Gangs of Wasseypur (GOW), Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster, brought in both shock value and realism.
“Us harami ko mitana hai hamein, goli nahin marenge, keh ke lenge uski” — this and far stronger use of expletives fetched GOW a Filmfare award for the best dialogues.
Jaideep Sahni, acclaimed writer of Chak De India, welcomes this change. “Some stories and environments may have characters who have a rough language, and spraying their dialogue with fake moral perfume may completely destroy both the character and the story. On the other hand, there will always be a few people who will interpret this as an opportunity to use abusive language as an attraction in their film. These are two completely different things, and it will be wrong to sacrifice the authencity of the first for the nuisance value of the second.”
However, Pandey disapproves and says that he has stopped watching films for this very reason. “If I have to hear gaalis, why should I not go to the streets instead? Why watch a film for that? Today a film’s achievement is that it has abusive language, not just in dialogues but also in lyrics,” says Pandey. Siddiqui cautions, “Films using abusive language are okay if the story is about a rowdy character but we must remember that a five-year-old child is watching.”
Arora has a practical approach. He thinks that such language may not draw more audiences and it is important that everyone should watch the film. “A certain kind of language may provide some shock value initially but after a point, what?” he asks.
What makes a dialogue memorable and why don’t we have that any more? “If a dialogue survives the test of time and not only applies to characters but also to larger universal truths, it is a great dialogue. Like Gulzar’s ‘zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahin’,” says Iyengar.
The legacy of films like Mughal-e-Azam, Mother India, Anand, Aandhi, Guide, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Sholay, Deewar, etc, has left behind a huge vacuum for memorable lines or scenes. Can that ever be filled again? Arora laughs, “No one can be Salim-Javed. Don’t compare us mortals with the gods of writing.”
While Garima-Siddharth believe Ram-Leela may have brought back the good old times of powerful dialogues, Sahni looks at it in a balanced, hopeful manner. He says, “Only when there is a place for storytellers of all kinds, of different tastes and sensibilities in our industry and our audiences’ hearts, we will be the growing and vibrant film culture we deserve to be. This will reflect in a diversity of dialogue styles also — from loud to subtle.”
But Pandey is cynical. “Every year we make at least 800 films, so we have made roughly 8,000 films in the last 10 years. I asked the students at a FICCI masterclass to name one film they remember. None had an answer. Despite doing business worth crores, our films have actually become poor. They make big businesses because they release in 4,000 screens and tickets are priced at Rs 300. Jeete hue ghode se kaun behas kare? This is the biggest slap to our audience and film writers,” says he.
So what’s the future of dialogues? Is the immortality of the line over? Pandey isn’t all hopeful. “When I saw Dil Chahta Hai, I thought here was a new voice, ek naya sikka in Farhan (Akhtar). But after Don, I am still waiting to know what happened to that voice. The older lot like Gulzar, Kundan Shah, Salim-Javed should start writing again and show us what a good script is.”
The writer tries to make peace with her own filmmaking nightmares, of being an actor, scriptwriter and assisting film icons by moonlighting as a film journalist.