Are Bhojpuri films a boon or curse for the Bhojpuri identity?
There are many who think it is the Bhojpuri films that have kept the language alive. There is no such robust film industry, they say, to back any of the rest 50-odd regional languages in North India that Hindi calls its “dialects” — Magahi, Braj, Awadhi, Rajasthani, Angika, Khortha, Haryanvi, Bagheli, and others.
There is nothing like this even in Maithili that joined the languages in the Eight Schedule of the Constitution in 2003. It is something, they say, the champions of the other ‘dialects’ fighting for their recognition as languages should be envious of.
But the champions of the Bhojpuri language are agonised by it, instead of being amused.
Bhojpuri cinema’s vulgar image
Their writings and speeches express the pain they suffer as a samaj (language community) owing to the ‘dirty image’ of the Bhojpuri culture the Bhojpuri cinema peddles.
They exclude this cinema from the list of strong points when they plead their case before the Centre for the recognition of Bhojpuri as a separate language. “Including the odious Bhojpuri cinema will make a mockery of our claim of the Bhojpuri language and culture being glorious,” they say.
And they do have a point.
Look at some of the Bhojpuri film titles: Hamar lehenga ke andar Wi-Fi (I have Wi-Fi under my skirt), Miya anari ba, biwi khelari ba (A ninny husband and a randy wife), Laila maal ba, chhaila dhamaal ba (A hot girl and a tornado boy).
And hear some of the songs: Lagai dihi choliya ke hook, rajaji (O my prince, can you fasten the hook of my blouse?), Tanik jeans dhila kara (Unfasten your jeans a bit), Ghus gail, phas gail, adas gail (It’s in, it’s caught, it’s held).
Not long ago, Ishwar Kumar, a Bihari professional working in Bengaluru, started a petition at change.org, asking the Censor Board of Film Certification to make special rules to ban ‘vulgar’ Bhojpuri songs.
Two years ago, film actor Manoj Bajpayee, who is from the Bhojpuri region, sang a rap in the language, Bambai mein ka ba, a song on the horrendous plight of migrants during the Covid lockdown. The song was projected as a ‘small step towards the restoration of dignity’ to Bhojpuri music and film industry.
Bringing you a BHOJPURI RAP on the plight of the migrants!! Recited and sung a little bit by yours truly. Song by Sagar concept and video by our friend @anubhavsinhaTeaser है https://t.co/BJQOWPHewt @itsBhushanKumar @TSeries @BenarasM @AnuraagPsychaea @DrsagarJNU @BenarasB
— manoj bajpayee (@BajpayeeManoj) September 5, 2020
By the same author, also read: Magahi refuses to die despite Hindi dominance
Kabir and Bhikhari Thakur
One of the major aims of the Bhojpuri Study Centre at the Banaras Hindu University is to undo the ‘discredited cultural image of Bhojpuri’ created by ‘obscene and indecent songs’ by promoting the language of saint-poets such as Kabir and folk poets such as Bhikhari Thakur.
The champions of the language never tire of lamenting the fall of Bhojpuri poetry from the high altitude of Kabir to the deep abyss of the Bhojpuri cinema. To illustrate imagination and aesthetics in the language, they cite an example of Kabir’s mystic expression which is permeated with bhakti rasa:
Tor heera herael ba keechad mein,
Keu dhoondai poorab, keu pachhim,
Keu dhoondhe pani pathare mein.
Sur, nar, muni auru peer awliya,
Sab bhoolal bade nakhare mein.
Das Kabir eei heera ke parakhale,
Bandhi lihale jatan se anchare mein.
(Your diamond is lost in the mud. Some of you are looking east [the Hindus worshipping the sun]; some of you are looking west (the Muslims turning to the Kaaba to pray); some in water, some in stone (the superstitious). The preachers and followers of all faiths are fettered in rituals. Kabir the connoisseur has found the gem and wrapped it inside his cloth.)
The champions of the language also cite a song of Bhikhari Thakur, who is known as the Shakespeare of Bhojpuri:
Gawanva karai sayyan ghar baithavle se,
Apne lobhaile pardes re bidesiya;
Chadhali jawaniya bairan bhaili hamari se,
Ke mora harihein kales re bidesiya.
(O my beloved, you brought me to your home after marriage and went away to a faraway place for work. The devil called desire torments me no end. There is no one but you who can bring back happiness to me.)
Bhikhari Thakur’s song is soaked in the shringara rasa.
Sensuousness vs soft porn
There is plenty of folk poetry in the shringara rasa in Bhojpuri. Romance, desire, and sensuousness pervade folk poetry in the language, not soft porn as in the Bhojpuri cinema.
An example from folk poetry cited by Bhojpuri writer Umesh Chaturvedi also illustrates the difference:
Jalwa mein chamke ujari machharia,
Ran mein chamke talwar;
Sabhwa mein chamke mora sayyan ke pagaria,
Sejiya par bindiya hamaar.
(Just as the white fish shines in water, the sword in the battlefield and the turban of my husband at a gathering, so does my beauty in bed.)
Where is Bhojpuri spoken?
But if you ask Bhojpuri filmmakers, script writers, lyricists and singers, they put the blame for the vulgarity upon the upper and middle classes of the Bhojpur region who have moved to cities, abandoned the language, and adopted Hindi and watch Hindi movies.
It is the lower classes, they say, that have held onto the language and go to watch movies in it. And these sections love explicit sensuality and expletives.
A report quoted Ranjan Sinha, a PR professional who promotes Bhojpuri films and singers, saying: “Our audience are rickshawallahs and migrant labourers who used to be a part of the audience for B-grade Hindi films. The issue is that our own people (the educated classes) do not love their mother tongue.”
According to him, Bhojpuri cinema’s audience is over 26 crores who live mainly in the eastern districts of Uttar Pradesh (Varanasi, Chandauli, Gorakhpur, Azamgarh, Mirzapur, Basti, Mau, Ghazipur, Jaunpur, Deoria, Kushinagar, Ballia, Sonbhadra, Sant Kabir Nagar, Siddharth Nagar, Sant Ravidas Nagar, and Maharajganj), the western districts of Bihar (Bhojpur, Buxar, Kaimur, Rohtas, Saran, Siwan, Gopalganj, East Champaran, and West Champaran), and two districts of Jharkhand (Ranchi and Palamau).
It produces 300 to 400 films a year with a turnover of ₹2,000 crore. Besides, music videos in the language generate over ₹500 crore annually.
Owing to sheer commercial logic, the vulgar films and songs are thus going to remain a big internal challenge to the Bhojpuri identity.
Bhojpuri and Hindi imperialism
It was not like that in the beginning. Cinema in the language started with films like Ganga maiya tohe piyari chadhaibo that were watched by whole families in the theatre without embarrassment.
Dinesh Yadav Nirahua, the BJP MP from Azamgarh who has been a part of the ‘vulgar’ Bhojpuri film industry as a famous singer-actor, says the growing popularity of the OTT platform might force producers to make films in the language that could be watched by families.
The champions of the language would wish it would happen as soon as possible.
They would want the ‘elite’ from the Bhojpuri region to return to their mother tongue.
The elite not only watches Hindi movies, but also talk to each other in Hindi and read books in it. Hindi, in their eyes, is the language of cosmopolitans and Bhojpuri that of yokels. The latter’s champions want to kill and bury that perception.
If they can contain the internal challenge, they would be able to deal effectively with the external challenge that comes from Hindi imperialism.
The language’s champions say they have nothing against Hindi. They have no objection to it being the link language. However, they do at the same time want it to be recognised as a separate language and not a mere dialect of Hindi.
The Hindi imperialists have opposed Bhojpuri’s recognition on the ground that it is not a bhasha (language) but a boli (speech), and that it has no literature or grammar.
The claim of the Hindi imperialists is untrue. Bhojpuri is a finely developed language with a rich vocabulary and grammar. It has written literature starting from Kabir down to a long line of saint-poets Kamaldas, Dharamdas, Bulakidas, Dharnidas, Paltudas and others to folk poets Ghagh, Bhaddari, Tofarai, Qaid, Bhagelu, Ajmallah, Bhikhari Thakur, and others.
Although Tulsidas wrote Ramcharitmanas in Awadhi, he used Bhojpuri words in it in several places.
Even the Siddha saints of the Vajrayana school of Buddhism used words in the language to express their thoughts. That showed Bhojpuri had an expressive capability comparable to other languages that grew like it from the womb of Magadhi Prakrit between the eighth and the eleventh centuries.
Much of the literature in the language, both in prose and poetry, remains oral. There is a vast ocean of veer gathayen (ballads), lok gathayen (folk stories), lok geet (folk songs), parv geet (festival songs), paheliyan (riddles), and muhavare (proverbs) in Bhojpuri yet to be churned out.
It is for getting state assistance for churning the ocean and putting all the Bhojpuri oral treasures into written form that the language champions have been asking for its inclusion in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
With that, they hope the people with Bhojpuri ancestry will realise the beauty, power, and strength of the language and return to it. That will trigger demand for books, journals, and studies in the language.
Also read: Language protests in Karnataka then and now
(This is the third article in a series on the serious challenges Hindi faces from the languages it calls its dialects)
(Arun Sinha is an independent journalist and the author of ‘The Battle for Bihar’. These are the personal views of the author)