Hindi is the common thread that connects, binds and gives a sense of belonging to storytellers who are using the different mediums to take the language to greater heights with their humble endeavours. Be it an award-winning French subtitler who is using his knowledge of Hindi and Urdu, and understanding of Indian culture to take Indian cinema to a larger market across the shores or a bilingual author turned filmmaker, who loves to transcreate stories in Hindi and English and simultaneously. A poet-journalist loves translating human emotions into verses and rues the neglect of the language over the years. A walking-talking library of Indian literature started a read-aloud storytelling project for the millennials who prefer to read with their ears while a young literature buff is busy building a feature on his platform that will pay readers to read because “reading makes a person”.
Verse is good
Journalist and poet Pratap Somvanshi made a failed literary debut when he was still in school. But the rejection letter laid the foundation of his career path and today he is the editorial head of a leading Hindi national paper and writes poetry. Commenting on the long-standing neglect of Hindi, he gives an overview of the publishing industry. According to him, today, it is like a business where the publishers look for saleability and numbers. It could also be a co-operative where the author pays to publish his book or is atmanirbhar venture where the author opts for a self-publishing option. “There were a some Hindi publishers till a few years ago and they too had their priorities. Books in Hindi were never published to sell copies but to be stocked in libraries. There are 150 crore Hindi speakers worldwide, of which 100 crore can read and write Hindi. But when it comes to Hindi, only 1000 copies are published, be it novel, poetry or short stories,” he laments.
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Somvanshi, whose couplet — Ram tumhare yug ka Ravan accha tha — is the most forwarded message on social media platforms on Dussehra, says social media has become a treasure trove for seekers of Hindi content. “Social media has made crowd sharing of emotions easy and it bodes well for Hindi writers. People are discovering literary gems on social media and then they go hunting for books by these poets — be it of Jaun Elia or Fahim Badayuni,” he states. A few poets find publishers on their merit — be it a known face or saleability — but a lot depends on the readers. “They create the market and not the other way around,” he says.
The vantage point is bilingualism
Filmmaker-author Pankaj Dubey has an uncanny knack for transcreation. With nine bestselling titles to his credit, five in English and the rest four transcreated in Hindi, almost simultaneously, Dubey is currently busy adapting his first novel, What a Loser (English) and Loser Kahin Ka (Hindi), for the big screen. What sets him apart from others of his ilk is the two-language deal for all his books from the publishing house, Penguin Random House. “I am bilingual, so I write all my stories together in Hindi and English. I never try to translate. Since my first book, I’ve been selling quite well, and that’s been my purpose because if I’m not interested in being a much-loved author, I would rather write diaries and not get them published,” he says.
Commenting on the challenges of contemporary Hindi writing, he says, “Most Hindi writers, if not all, are stuck to the language and vocabulary of the past, which makes it dull and uninteresting for the readers. The idea is to contemporise things and accepts the linguistic ingredients of the contemporary world and society. That helps a lot,” he adds.
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Love for literature
Ankur Mishra wears many hats. He is the founder of Kavishala and Foreantech and the author of seven books, but he is a literature buff at one heart. Mishra started a website called Kavishala for poets to have an online mehfil of sorts, where one can access the works of eminent littérateurs of yore. “We must make the younger generation aware of the treasure trove of Indian literature and languages,” says Mishra.
The art of audio and subtitles
French national and award-winning subtitler, François-Xavier Durandy, has been associated with many great films shown at major festivals in France. Durandy, who is a trained translator, speaks English, Hindi, German and Urdu, besides his mother tongue French. His most recent project was Girls Will be Girls, produced by Bollywood actors Richa Chadha and Ali Fazal’s banner Pushing Buttons Studios.
Having spent considerable time in India, he has picked up the nuances of the language and its cultural cues. Subtitling is a major enabler per se, as it allows a film to find its audience beyond its linguistic boundaries. “All the more so with indie cinema, which is more content-driven. When it comes to smaller films, shot on location and with lesser visual impact, quality subtitling becomes a must,” he says, while talking about how Indian regional cinema has been embraced by the rest of the country and world, thanks to subtitles. While subtitling is one of the ways to reach the viewers, using the power of audio is another way to reach a global audience. Considering the ongoing scenario in the Indian film industry where South Indian movies are creating a huge market in the Hindi belt, it is the Hindi audios and dubbing that is making nation-wide wave.
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Reading by the ears
It is commonplace for the millennials to be well-versed with Franz Kafka, Khalil Gibran, Haruki Murakami, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the likes. But seldom do they care to flip through the enormous body of work of littérateurs from the Indian subcontinent. Mumbai-based former adman, Urdu connoisseur and avid storyteller, Jameel Gulrays, started a read-aloud storytelling project called Katha Kathan in 2015 to help the millennials “read these literary gems through their ears.”
After wowing the audience through live sessions held in Mumbai and other cities during the pre-pandemic days, a successful run on his YouTube channel and podcasts on Soundcloud, Team Katha Kathan forayed into the voice-based social network app Clubhouse in 2021. The literary evening enlivens the statement made by Premchand in his memorable short story, Eidgaah, ‘Club ghar mein jadoo hota hai’ through weekly dramatised readings of classics.
Award-winning filmmaker and author Vinod Kapri, who had been actively engaged in COVID relief work in and around Delhi NCR during those days, was rattled at the misery unfolding before his eyes. One day, he knew that seven of them were planning to set off on bicycles to their hometowns, from Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh to Saharsa in Bihar.
"My seven heroes - Sandeep, Mukesh, Ritesh, Aashish, Rambabu, Sonu and Krishna - had no employment, no food, and no place to call home after the sudden lockdown. Their seven-day-long journey speaks of their indomitable spirit. They defied all imaginable odds to cycle for 1232 km," says Kapri, who accompanied them on this journey, shadowing them until they reached their hometown. The heartwrenching account of the construction labourers pedalling their way home was first released as a documentary early in 2021. It had two songs of despair - "Marenge To Wahin Jaakar" and "O Re Bidesiya" - penned by Gulzar and composed by Vishal Bharadwaj.
His debut book has been released in Hindi, English, and four other regional languages. The response to his documentary and books has been overwhelming. "It is a documentation of the plight of migrant workers. I want it to reach more and more people so that people know the nameless faces around us, who sweat it out day in and day out only to make our lives easier but bore the worst during the lockdown. The royalty of these books will go to these men because it is their book," he emphasises.
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