Welcome to Bollywood

Paula: What role does Hindi film music play in the culture?

Patrick: The role is huge. Like I said, you'll see the faces everywhere, and you can't go into a bazaar without hearing the songs (sometimes everyone is playing the same song, sometimes everyone will be playing a different song!) Shah Rukh Khan, one of the current "leading men" of Hindi cinema, is probably better known than US President Bill Clinton or Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee.

Most of the films are pretty light--romances and comedies. There have, however, been popular films made about political topics. There's "Border" which is about the '73 India-Pakistan war, "Dil Se" (means "From the Heart") which is about unrest in Eastern India and "Maachis" ("Matches") which is about the Sikh separatist movement.

Paula: How can the music be useful for someone learning Hindi/Urdu?

Patrick: The language of Hindi songs, is, for the most part, the spoken language. You won't find a lot of the heavy Sanskrit influences that characterize some Indian literature or the Persian and Arabic expressions used in a lot of Urdu. I should say, though, that the poetic aspects of Urdu play a big role in Hindi songs -- a lot the words, I'll just give you one: "ishq", which means love, is a very typically Urdu word!

Now about learning--most of the songs are love songs, so you can almost guess what they're saying! There's a lot of repetition, so if you don't get it the first time, you'll get another chance!

One of the biggest Hindi films ever was Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (means Something's Happening or maybe Something's going on) with Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. One of the songs in this film has these two lines: "yah larka hai diwana" and "yah larki hai diwani"; the first means "this boy is crazy" and the second, almost predictably means "this girl is crazy". Now the Hindi is a little ungrammatical, it should be "yah larka diwana hai" and "yah larki diwani hai" but that's poetic license for you, and, in this case, the "wrong" word order is just like English!

Now, let me say a few words about the dialog. There's something called "Hinglish" which is a mixture of Hindi and English. Hinglish is very typical of how younger people speak, and just a little bit of "Englishness" can help you figure out the dialog. Even before Hinglish, the use of English words and expressions has always been typical of conversational Hindi, and, once again, that's something that can help a language learner.

Contrast this with something like the Ramayan -- it is a wonderful production of the great Hindu epic, but there's no Hinglish or English in it, and the dialog is very fancy with a lot of Sanskrit. And, if you don't know the story, it can be a little hard to follow, even with subtitles! The typical Hindi film (most are romances or comedies) are a lot easier to follow.

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