Wednesday, August 18, 2010


It is often said – and I have had quite a few experiences myself – that a good writer does not always make a good speaker, though there are a hazaar exceptions. This was at the back of my mind as I walked in to the third lecture of the Madras Musings Lecture Series. This was a talk on Tanglish in Tamil Movies by the noted film critic and that wonderful writer, Baradwaj Rangan.

I have known Baradwaj just a bit from my freelancing days when Samanth used to write for Brahmma Features; we would have said a fleeting ‘Hi’ just that once or twice. But I have always loved his columns and reviews – that was one reason I did not want the theory of good writers to be proved.
Baradwaj, it is surprising, as I heard out Sriram introduce him, has done quite a bit that I had not suspected. An engineering degree, a Masters in the US, an advertising career, IT career, and finally into journalism.

It all, however, began on the wrong foot – the audio refused to make a noise about thirty seconds into the presentation. It took a rather long ten minutes and a possible ingenious solution to get the audio fixed. It was really no looking back from there.

Baradwaj, like most speakers – more like most gifted writers – had his presentation segmented very properly. He played a few clips, talked a bit, then played a few clips, talked a bit – the talking was about the reason why Tanglish was there in the dialogue or the song that was played. He started off about his conversation with Thamarai, that lyricist who refuses, and rightly so, to use non-Tamil words in her film songs. Apparently, Thamarai, just before hanging up on the phone, asked Baradwaj “Idhu than ungal enna?” That set the perfect tone of what justification existed for use of non-Tamil words in films.

He had the reasons well researched; the clips to go with these were masterfully selected. As was his manner of presentation. One reason for Tanglish, he said, was youth. Youth tend to go hip-hop with their lingo too, interspersing the local language with the foreign one, in this case interspersing Tamil with English. Sometimes, youth also meant club dances, where Tamil was a strict no-no in films; sometimes it was considered anti-Tamil kalaacharam to talk in Tamil if you were an educated young thing.

The next reason was the roles played – roles of the educated and highly successful professional. Rarely do we see such a character speak in chaste Tamil throughout the movie – there are at least as many English words intertwined as there are scenes, if not more! The lack of knowledge would make these characters the target of ridicule. Also, it was a good theme to present one of the hero/heroine as a well-educated English-speaking person and the other as a country bumpkin!
Another reason Baradwaj spelt out was the upper-class background, education, and lots of money at the disposal making the character compulsive English speakers. These characters read magazines like Readers’ Digest, SPAN (sigh!), etc. And directors of these films always credited themselves with their qualifications in the titles!

Generation gap was as good a reason as any to have the younger generation speak English dialogues and the older generation mouth them in Tamil. This also gave rise to several hilarious situations that were the result of Tanglish!

Use of English was also used to depict a bit of negativity, according to Baradwaj. The women were generally shown as shrews and the men as arrogant snobs. He showcased the prime example of M R Radha in Ratha-k-kaneer taking to English when he had a good life, and switching to Tamil when he actually needed help and sympathy.

Finally, Baradwaj made the moot point – English was used to bridge the gap and communicate better on screen. Some directors made a character translate the English into Tamil to another character on screen, thus ensuring the audience understood a piece of dialogue delivered in an alien tongue. And, even more hilariously, some directors had English governors and the like mouthing chaste Tamil – all for better communication with the viewer.

It was truly a memorable evening, the initial faux pas with the audio notwithstanding. Though the nervousness showed, particularly after the audio tangle, enhanced by the electrifying presence of a phalanx of film personalities led by the one and only K Balachander, Baradwaj did not let it dominate. And, it turned out exactly as I have speculated in the first paragraph about good writers making good speakers. Yes, Baradwaj joins the hazaar or so good, very good writers making good speakers. Or should we say in Tanglish “Nee oru nalla writer-nnu than nenaichen, I am surprised, nee oru romba nalla speaker kooda!”

A partial list of movies from which clippings were screened:
Punnagai Mannan
Baama Vijayam
Then Nilavu
Padiththal Mattum Podhuma
Pattikaada Pattanama
Anbe Vaa
Vettaiyadu Vilayadu


Blogger rajaram said...

thank god...

my first worry was if it got uploaded correctly.

now, you better change yur pw,otherwise,i am afraid i am not only going to put the other foot in the door, but the whole body...
BTW, hope baddy refered to Major Sundararajan in his lecture. I guess, 'Major' played a major role in Taminglish, isn't he?


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