Is language a barrier for southern heroines’ Bollywood entry? Rubbish! 

Sothern actresses from Vyjayanthi, Padmini, Hema, Rekha, Sridevi, to today’s superstar Deepika Padukone, they’ve all done brilliantly, gracing the screen, winnings fans across decades

Is language a barrier for southern heroines’ Bollywood entry? Rubbish! 

Monojit Lahiri

As a film critic writing on and about films – Bollywood included – for over three and a half decades, I was both bewildered and perplexed by the utterances of three gorgeous beauties from the South, [Sharmilea Mandre, Shubhra Aiyappa and Nidhi Subbaiah] sometime back, stating the critical importance of getting their Hindi diction – pronunciation and enunciation – right if they wanted to make it big in India’s tinsel-ville, Bollywood. While I completely understand their sentiment and where this belief is coming from, let me remind this terrific trio that the history of Bollywood is choc-a-bloc with heroines - of the non-Hindi kind – who have rocked it long and hard, despite their limitation of speaking in accents not exactly along the lines of Munshi Premchand / Pandit Mukhram Sharma/Gulzar / Kaifi Azmi … or worse, the once terrifying archetype – 80’s DD Newsreaders!

Flashback time. Ask your parents about the time Bengal’s Queen of Hearts, Suchitra Sen debuted in Bollywood with Devdas and later followed it up with Bambai Ka Babu, Sarhad and Musafir. She returned, many years later, to zonk them with Mamta and blew ‘em away with Aandhi! Did anyone hear a chooo about her heavily Bengali-accented Hindi? I can’t help recalling my old and cherished friend Gulzar’s comment about Ms. Sen wanting to learn Hindi during the making of the film. Smiling fondly, he recalled “Madam Sen kitna Hindi seekhi pata nahin, lekin pura unit to Bangla seekh gaya, pucca!” Even the Bong heroine brigade that followed, Sharmila, Rakhee and Moushumi [Jaya was not a Kolkata Bengali, residing in Bhopal] were not exactly celebrated for their shudh accents, but boy, did they dazzle popular imagination? Fact is, it has to do with beauty, glamour and screen presence but more importantly, convincingly portraying the role assigned to you … not the correct accent!

Closer home, take the Southern belles. From Vyjanti, Padmini, Hema, Rekha, Sridevi, Jaya Prada, Meenakshi Sheshadri, Divya Bharati to today’s superstar Deepika Padukone, they’ve all done brilliantly, gracing the screen with their individual charisma, sensuousness, beauty, sex appeal & undeniable talent, winnings fans and influencing popular opinion across decades.

One small word of advice to all Bollywood heroine aspirants : Please don’t get overtly pressurised by this shudh diction hogwash. From Suchi-baby to Dips, none have wowed the industry bigwigs or the howling mobs with their right accents, but for their skills as consummate performers. While no one is insisting that you push the corny, clichéd aiyayoo/yanna rascal accent-button, don’t agonise over this aspect. Treat it as yet another professional necessity that needs to be addressed seriously in the journey to excellence. It may be comforting to hear what the brilliant and grounded new anti-hero, Nawazuddin Siddiqui has to say. “Theatre is about words, pitching, voice-throw, diction. Cinema is mostly about expression.”

So, while not totally dismissing the importance of accent, diction, etc., focus on emoting. Besides, on a serious note, when did newcomers hailing from non-Hindi belts [read Katrina, Nargis, Jacqueline] ever get really challenging lengthy roles that demanded hi-voltage histrionics? Bollywood history (mostly) indicates a clear slot allotted to them: glam, gorgeous eye-candy or the hero’s love-interest with a sexy item number thrown in, maybe? Does that require weeks of mind-numbing diction-practise from the revered Gurus of language? Bullcrap! Chill gals … here’s to wishing all these gals god speed.

Go – Go – Go!!

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