Urdu, a cultured language

Prem Chopra, along with writer Javed Siddiqui and actor Sharmila Tagore, will talk about the evolution of the Urdu language in Hindi cinema at ‘Jashn-E-Rekhta’ festival


Rekhta founder Sanjiv Saraf.
Rekhta founder Sanjiv Saraf.

Even when you fight with someone in Urdu, it seems like you are complimenting them.” For veteran actor Prem Chopra, there’s no language sweeter than Urdu. “The Urdu zubaan has played an integral part in Hindi cinema. It is the backbone of films and lyrics and instantly lends richness to a simple dialogue or a song,” says Chopra, whose Urdu couplets are famous within the film industry, so much so that his colleague Dharmendra christened them “Prem Awargi”.

Chopra, along with writer Javed Siddiqui and actor Sharmila Tagore, will talk about the evolution of the Urdu language in Hindi cinema at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in Delhi on Saturday. The discussion, called “Jab Filmein Urdu Bolti Theen”, is part of the three-day Jashn-E-Rekhta festival, which will open on the evening of 17 February with a performance by sarod players and brothers Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash.

Now in its third edition, the festival celebrates the composite culture of Urdu with dastangoi (a form of storytelling), plays, musical renditions (ghazals), mushairas (poetic symposiums) and panel discussions. 

Like last year, this edition too will feature a ‘dastangoi’ performance.
Like last year, this edition too will feature a ‘dastangoi’ performance.

When Sanjiv Saraf, founder of the Rekhta Foundation that is devoted to the promotion and preservation of Urdu, started the festival in 2015, he wasn’t sure whether people would even turn up. “Honestly, we were expecting about 200 people or so. But, amazingly, we saw a footfall of 18,000 people, which increased to 85,000 in the second edition. The biggest compliment for us is that a large section of our audience has been in the 18-25 age group,” says the 58-year-old, who credits “awareness, accessibility and social media” for the growth. 

Many people assume that Urdu is slowly dying, which is absolutely wrong, says Rana Safvi, author, blogger and historian. In fact, interest in the language is growing with every passing day, she insists. “It’s a cultured language which is very emotive. Most people who can understand Hindustani can understand Urdu because it has borrowed verbs from Sanskrit and Prakrit and has a heavy influence of the Arabic and Persian literary and cultural traditions. That’s why Urdu’s early name was Rekhta (scattered, mixed),” says Safvi, who will be in conversation with historian Irfan Habib for the session, “Dilli Jo Ek Shahr Tha”, on Day 2 of the festival. 

Among the other highlights of Day 2 are “Naghma-e-Naukhez”, a Sufi performance by 11-year-old singer Khanak Joshi; “Mazahiya Mushaira”, a presentation of humorous Urdu poetry; and the screening of Mandi, a 1983 film based on an Urdu short story by Pakistani writer Ghulam Abbas. 

On Day 3, watch out for popular singer Amrish Mishra’s ghazal performance and a dastangoi show by Darain Shahidi and Poonam Girdhani, who will narrate the story of the ruler Vikramaditya, based on a folk tale by A. K. Ramanujan. 

Jashn-E-Rekhta brings together many facets of Urdu, reminding people of their roots, says Chopra. “There is a sher for each and every emotion we feel. How beautiful that is.” 

Jashn-E-Rekhta will be held from 17-19 February at the IGNCA, Delhi. Timings vary. Seating on first-come, first-served basis. For the detailed schedule and other details, visit www.jashnerekhta.org 

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