Beyond the debate over mere labels – is Kites a ‘Hindi’ film, a ‘crossover’ film or simply a bad mistake? – there’s a valuable lesson for Indian filmmakers: ignore your cultural roots and you’ll get canned
There was a time when Hindi filmmakers chose to dub the voices of actors speaking in English or foreign actors with voiceovers for even bits of English dialogue. The verdict is unequivocal: Hindi is the medium of Hindi cinema and it’s the language that the masses connect with. Tamper with that formula and it instantly distances the masses from a film and changes their perception of it.
This, in a nutshell, explains why audiences across the country have given the Hrithik Roshan-Barbara Mori starrer Kites a resounding thumbs-down.
Over the years, the language of Hindi cinema has indeed undergone a slight transformation. English became an integral part of our communication and the urban youth preferred conversing in ‘Hinglish’.
This is amply reflected in the ‘multiplex culture’ and many filmmakers began to take liberties with the language and introduce scenes where dialogues were spoken in English. It was a common conception that the multiplex audience could not comprehend dialogues in chaste Hindi or Urdu. Kites was made with this formula in mind. The film has English and Spanish dialogues with Hindi subtitles. (Though the Roshans claim it’s a 40:60 ratio of English-Spanish to Hindi, many feel it’s the other way around)
Right from the film’s title to the credits, everything is displayed in English. This is unique to the Hindi film industry, where films made in Hindi have their credits displayed in English and the entire business of cinema is carried out in English. So the English title and credits only enhanced the perception that Kites was not really a Hindi film.
Besides, the subtitles didn’t work because a major chunk of our population is still illiterate. Did they really think the masses are used to watching a film while simultaneously decoding subtitles to understand the dialogues?
So did Kites play the language card a little too much? Remember, the multiplex audience is minuscule compared to the Hindi-speaking masses that consume Hindi cinema. Yes, Kites has taught us a very important lesson: That for a film to make profits at the box office, filmmakers need to address them in Hindi.
If you take a look at films made for the urban, multiplex audience in the last decade, well, most of them have flopped only because they incorporated English dialogues. But the last decade has also witnessed a few successful films which keep the NRI population in mind. It is these small successes that have misled our current generation of directors.
Believe it or not, just like the Bengali, Tamil and Malayalam communities, there is also a strong Hindi-speaking community in the country! Filmmakers who do not respect this culture, history and its roots are destined to stumble. The Hindi film industry, which is witnessing a sheer bloodbath at the box office in recent times, needs to reconnect with our rich culture and language.
Take any business, for instance. A business prospers only if it addresses consumer tastes and preferences. Corporate houses that have ventured into film production have cleverly spun a web to lure the affluent, multiplex audience and have completely ignored the common viewer.
But it’s not just filmmakers; we are perhaps all guilty to some extent. Don’t actors and even trade analysts emphasise the box-office collections of a film rather than audience numbers? It seems the entire industry has been seduced by the ‘urban’ mindset. And Kites is the perfect example of taking this to an extreme. This film therefore can teach the industry a valuable lesson.
Finally, I don’t think the producers and director of Kites deliberately misled the audience about the language used in the film. The filmmakers were simply carried away by the current trend in the film industry. They thought the country was ready for an ‘English’ film. They were so wrong!
(Ajay Brahmatmaj is In-charge (films) for Dainik Jagran)