I had begun to recount five of my favourite dialogues from Hindustani films, but in the first post, could only furnish one of them, as explaining its context took quite a lot of word-crunching. And of course, the winding introductions you must have now come to expect….. And the habit of repeating every sentence in English with its translation in Urdu. Well I must tell you that this habit owes its genesis to this particular film, Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977) – Satyajit Ray’s sole Hindi film.
Right from the first time I saw it till the last sometime recently, I was much impressed with the scene, appearing somewhere not far into the film, where Weston (Tom Alter) , a British officer at the Residency in Lucknow, accompanies the new Resident, General James Outram (Richard Attenborough), to a meeting with the Queen Mother (played by Veena, if I remember correctly) and serves as a translator between the two, effortlessly translating from English into ornate and polished Urdu, apt for addressing royalty, and from the formal Urdu to the plain but diplomatic English, favoured by his rather matter-of-fact boss. The skill impressed me, and after so many years of practice and study, I think I can approach Weston‘s standard. Though its not related to the topic, I think one example should be given.
Outram (to the Queen Mother): Such a course will be extremely unwise
Weston (translating): Resident sahab keh rahe hai ke aisa karna danishmandi nahi hogi
Now, the second memorable dialogue from this film. As I said in the first post, the film follows two rather foppish noblemen, dandies to be exact – Mirza Sajjad Ali (Sanjeev Kumar) and Mir Roshan Ali (Saeed Jaffrey), as they spend their times playing chess to the utter neglect of their wives, any worthwhile occupation or the power politics going on…. which would see one of the last viable free Indian states annexed by the British, before the uprising coming soon put a halt to such ventures. However, it is not my intention to stray into history save for just a brief overview necessary for understanding the context of the dialogues.
This overview is also necessary since the film not only deals with the foibles of our fops but there is a parallel narrative in which the happenings at the royal court, the British Residency and so on figure, and the power politics weaves in seamlessly to give a multi-layered account.
It is one of these scenes from the parallel narrative from which I draw my second favourite dialogue. Since unlike the last which was a solitary sentence, I have rendered the sentence in question in bold. Like my first example, it is also what the French call a bon mot , or what we would term a witty saying or comment in English. Both but display that wordplay, that wit, that spark of humour that was axiomatic of the traditional Lakhnavi speech but is now sadly disappearing…. If you don’t believe me, read Maulana Abdul Halim Sharar’s Lakhnau: Hindustan mein Mashriqi Tamaddun ka Aakhri Namoona or Guzashta-e-Lakhnau, as it is more popularly known (or in English, Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture, published by Oxford University Press-India). But let me not digress…..
What happens is that Ali Naqi Khan Madar-ud-Daula (Victor Bannerjee), the Prime Minister to Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (Amjad Khan in one of his best roles… the way he gets into the tragic character of the deposed ruler is exemplary) is summoned to the Residency, where General Outram (Richard Attenborough), the new Resident, brusquely informs him that the East India Company has decided to annex Awadh and asks him to get the Nawab to abdicate.
A shocked wazir remonstrates and cites all the benefits provided by the dynasty to the British but to no avail…. Saddened and overcome with emotion, he goes back to the palace to break the news to the Nawab but sees the ruler engaged in one of his favourite dances.
Like the obedient courtier he is, he silently waits and is soon lost in his thoughts and soon begins weeping. In this state, he doesn’t notice that the performance finishes, the performers are dismissed and he and the Nawab are the only ones left in the magnificent and expansive hall. The wazir keeps on crying, even when the Nawab comes to him and keeps a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “Kya hua, Madar-ud-Daula? (What happened, Madar-ud-Daula?),” he asks.
The answer is a fresh burst of tears. The Nawab tries again: “Kya hua, Madar-ud-Daula? Resident sahab ne kya kaha? Koi ghazal suna di kya? (What happened, Madar-ud-Daula? What did the Resident sahab say? Did he perchance recite a ghazal to you?)“
To be continued….