Ratna Pathak Shah feels the comedy and humor in Indian pop culture today are totally off-track. The actor was speaking at Jashn-e-Rekhta 2022, with husband Naseeruddin Shah as one of the speakers. The couple discussed Urdu language and how it has changed in the context of cinema.
The moderator, author and literature critic Saif Mahmood mentioned how humor has changed with time and now it’s more about vulgarity, sexism and misogyny. As he asked Ratna Pathak Shah how comedy should be, she laughed to share, “There is no prescription to literary work. But it definitely shouldn’t be like it is today.”
The Kapoor and Sons actor went on to share that humor in theatre, films, TV and even stand-up shows puts the least amount of hard work and effort. She added that it is the toughest genre to crack and requires proper training, good writing, and an open atmosphere, where one has the liberty to speak their thoughts.
“We had it earlier. The folk theater in every corner of India had the local humor element where jibes were taken at powerful people. And they would not only hear it, accept it but also understand it. That was such an important element of society. Today, people get offended so easily, and over wrong things. They don’t get offended by bad jokes, and that’s what troubles me. I think even in Hindi films, leaving aside a few, there is a very low-level kind of humour. It’s without talent and any wit. You can do it even while keeping it real as even in Mumbaiya language, one can be genuinely funny,” she said in Urdu.
Ratna Pathak Shah was in no mood to spare mediocrity as she also discussed how the younger generation of actors lack fluency in languages. She said that while growing up she realized language and pronunciation were an important part of an actor’s life, they can distort their dialect as needed for a role. However, when one already has a distorted ‘zubaan’, one will find it hard to correct it on demand.
“When I work with younger actors now, especially in films, in order to keep it real, they have a very different pattern. It’s clear and on one tone. They eat their words, do not complete it. I get so hurt seeing that. And when you ask them to be clear, they will speak taking breaks. They cannot do it smoothly,” she shared.
Naseeruddin Shah to pitched into the conversation and said that everything in films has changed, and for the worse. When asked how the syntax of language, especially Urdu, has changed in cinema, he replied, “Satyanash hogaya hai. But Hindi film mein kuch bhi kahan behtar huyi hai (nothing has changed for good in Hindi films).” As the crowd applauded his comments, he went on to say, “Today, we do not hear Urdu in our films. Earlier, when the censor board certificate would come, it had Urdu mentioned as the language. It was because the lyrics and shayaris were in that language, and even the writers came from Farsi (Persian) theatre. That change can be seen today, there is no usage of Urdu words. Ab to behuda alfaaz hote hai (everything is frivolous today). No one even cares about the title of the film, as most of them are taken from old songs.” He also said that Hindi cinema has stereotyped almost all communities. “They have made fun of Sikhs, Christians, Parsis… Muslim man was always hero’s best friend who died while saving him in the end. But he died nonetheless,” he said while talking about stereotyping in Hindi cinema.
He went on to add, “We can’t laugh at ourselves, but we don’t mind laughing at other’s troubles. Our films have deliberately and consistently encouraged this. We have been making films for 100 years, we celebrate and talk about this, but we don’t talk about how we are making the same film for 100 years. And it is a 100-year-old tradition.”
When asked whether the belief that India makes the best films, Naseeruddin cited the example of Korean and Thai films. “The bubble of Hindi films is about to burst because they lack substance. We keep on claiming that our films are being watched across the world, just like Indian food is being eaten globally. Indian food is being eaten because it has dum, it has substance. There is only one reason why these films are made, and everyone knows what that is.”