Is the soul of popular cinema, Hindi? Or are films from the South beginning finally to get the national recognition they deserve…
By Rodrigues C
India is in the midst of one of the hottest summers ever, with the mercury rising to as much as 49 degrees. Temperatures in aamchi (our) Mumbai are soaring; the same goes for Bollywood. Just that for the latter it’s a heat wave of a different kind.. the aptly called Hindi-South debate.
The last few months have seen a sea change in the fortunes of Bollywood. South Indian films such as ‘Pushpa: The Rise’, ‘RRR’ and ‘KGF: Chapter 2’ have created a furore at the national level surpassing the box office collections of Bollywood films in their traditional territories of north India and in Mumbai. Bollywood films such as ‘Jersey’ and ‘Bachchan Pandey’, which were expected to rake in big money were debacles. This newfound dominance has given ammunition to south Indian films as well as actors associated with the movie industry.
It all started when Kannada actor Kichcha Sudeep, whose upcoming film ‘Vikrant Rona’ will be presented by Salman Khan in Hindi, said at an event that ‘Hindi is no more a national language’ while praising ‘KGF: Chapter 2’; he added that inspite of dubbing films in Telugu and Tamil Bollywood is struggling to find success. The statement caught the attention of Ajay Devgn, whose ‘Runway 34’ bombed at the box office recently; he tweeted his reply, asking Sudeep why he releases his ‘mother tongue movies in Hindi’, if Hindi is not India’s national language. Devgn added that “Hindi is and always will be our (India) national language”. Devgn’s tweet didn’t go down well with many, due to the fact that Hindi isn’t India’s national language. India doesn’t have a national language according to its constitution.
The war of words snowballed into a major controversy and took a political turn with the chief minister of Karnataka Basavaraj Bommai and his former counterparts Siddaramaiah and HD Kumaraswamy retorting strongly to Devgn’s comments.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah said that India is too diverse a country to have one national language and everybody must get their space. Actor-politician Ramya slammed Ajay Devgn, calling his ignorance “baffling” and asking him to stop his “Hindi imposition”.
Bollywood film-maker Ram Gopal Verma said that ‘north stars are insecure and jealous of the south stars’ because ‘KGF: Chapter 2’ had a £5 million opening. Sonu Nigam corrected Devgn; he said that Hindi may be the most spoken language in India but wasn’t a national language. There were street protests in Karnataka, television channels debated the issue for days. Many actors took a moderate approach. Akshay Kumar said that he doesn’t believe in the north-south divide and reminded people how Britain ruled India through division.
Filmmakers Karan Johar and Anees Bazmee, actors Abhay Deol, Ayushmann Khurrana, Ranveer Singh, Jaaved Jaafri, Aditi Rao Hydari, Suniel Shetty, Gulshan Devaiah, Sonu Sood, Raveena Tandon, Ameesha Patel, Pooja Hegde, Amit Sadh, Kangana Ranaut, Yami Gautam, Arjun Rampal and Kamal Haasan, and lyricist Puneet Sharma also commented on the issue.
The debate reached such epic proportions that none other than the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi commented on it as well. He said: “Giving priority to local languages in the National Education Policy manifests our commitment to all regional languages. The BJP considers Indian languages the soul of Bharatiyata and the link to a better future for the country.” Welcoming Modi’s comments Sudeep said that his comments “respected everybody’s mother tongue”.
Just days after Sudeep’s comments sparked a national Hindi-south films controversy veteran Telugu actor Chiranjeevi attended an event to promote his film ‘Acharya’, where he recounted his 1988 trip to Delhi to receive a national award for his film ‘Rudraveena’. Chiranjeevi recalled visiting a hall full of posters “showcasing the grandeur’ of Indian cinema”. There were pictures of Prithiviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra with descriptions “praising various directors and heroines”. But there was only one still image of MGR and Jayalalithaa, and no names or pictures of south Indian “demigods such as Dr Rajkumar, Vishnuvardhan, NT Rama Rao, A Nageswara Rao and Sivaji Ganesan”. Chiranjeevi added that he felt “humiliated and sad that they projected only Hindi cinema as Indian cinema and dismissed other industries as regional language cinema’ without ‘acknowledging their contribution”.
The divide between Bollywood and south Indian cinema is age old and deep rooted. What Chiranjeevi narrated was one of the many such instances when the South Indian cinema wasn’t given its due credit. But recent box office successes at the box office show that the tide may be turning for south cinema in India. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.