Naseeruddin Shah says Hindi film bubble is about to burst: ‘They lack substance, they’re made for one reason’

Ratna Pathak Shah thinks that comedy and humor in Indian pop culture today is totally off track. The actor was speaking at Jashn-e-Rekhta 2022, with his husband Naseeruddin Shah as one of the speakers. The couple discussed the Urdu language and its evolution in the context of cinema.

Host, author and literary critic Saif Mahmood mentioned how humor has changed over time and now it’s more about vulgarity, sexism and misogyny. As he asked Ratna Pathak Shah how comedy should be, she said with a laugh: “There is no prescription for literary work. But it certainly shouldn’t be like it is today.

The Kapoor and Sons actor has gone on to share that humor in theatre, film, TV and even stand-up shows that take the least amount of work and effort. She added that it is the hardest genre to break into and requires proper training, good writing and an open atmosphere, where one has the freedom to express one’s thoughts.

“We had it earlier. The folk theater in all corners of India had the element of local humor where taunts were taken against powerful people. And not only would they hear it, accept it, but also understand it. He was such an important part of society. Today people get offended so easily and for bad things. They don’t take offense at bad jokes, and that’s what troubles me. I think even in Hindi movies, apart from a few, there is very low level humor. It is without talent and without spirit. You can do it even keeping it real because even in Mumbaiya language one can be really funny,” she said in Urdu.

Ratna Pathak Shah was in no mood to spare mediocrity as she also talked about how the younger generation of actors lack language skills. She said that as she grew up she realized that language and pronunciation is an important part of an actor’s life, they can twist their dialect as needed for a role. However, when one already has a distorted ‘zubaan’, it will be difficult to correct it on demand.

“When I work with younger actors now, especially in movies, in order to stay realistic, they have a very different scheme. It’s not clear and one tone. They eat their words, don’t complement it. It hurts so much seeing this. And when you ask them to be clear, they’ll speak in pauses. They can’t do it smoothly,” she explained.

Naseeruddin Shah to jump into the conversation and say that everything about movies has changed, and for the worse. When asked how the syntax of the language, especially Urdu, has changed in cinema, he replied, “Satyanash hogaya hai. But hindi movie mein kuch bhi kahan behtar huyi hai (nothing has changed for good in hindi movies). As the crowd applauded his comments, he went on to say, “Today we don’t hear Urdu in our films. Previously, when the censorship board certificate came, Urdu was mentioned as the language. It was because the lyrics and shayaris were in that language, and even the writers came from Farsi (Persian) theater. This change can be seen today, there is no use of words in Urdu. Ab to behuda alfaaz hote hai (everything is frivolous today). Nobody even cares about the title of the movie, because most of them are taken from old songs. He also said that Hindi cinema has stereotyped almost every community. “They made fun of Sikhs, Christians, Parsis… The Muslim man was always the best friend of the hero who died saving him at the end. But he is still dead,” he said speaking of stereotypes in Hindi cinema.

He added, “We can’t laugh at ourselves, but we don’t mind laughing at other people’s problems. Our films have deliberately and consistently encouraged this. We’ve been making movies for 100 years, we celebrate that and talk about it, but we don’t talk about how we’ve been making the same movie for 100 years. And it’s a 100-year-old tradition.

When asked if 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 continue to claim that our films are watched around the world, just as Indian food is eaten around the world. Indian food is eaten because it has dum, it has substance. There’s only one reason these movies are made, and everyone knows what it is.

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