Every time the issue of Hindi imposition crops up, the iconic scene from K Bhagyaraj's 1981 film Indru Poi Naalai Vaa surfaces on social media. The line 'Ek gaon mein ek kisan raghu thatha' has become legendary, and is used to reject the imposition of Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states, especially Tamil Nadu. After Home Minister Amit Shah touched a raw nerve with his 'one nation one language' speech on the occasion of Hindi Diwas recently, the clip from the film has gone viral once again.
Speaking to TNM, Bhagyaraj, who wrote, directed and acted in the film, says, "When I wrote that character (of a Hindi teacher struggling to teach a Tamil student), I thought it would be a comedy that would strike a chord with the people. Because even when I was studying, there were all these protests against Hindi imposition. So, Hindi as a language is always looked at from a different perspective."
Indru Poi Naalai Vaa is about three young men trying to impress a pretty neighbour (Raadika). Her father is a Hindi teacher and one of the men, Rajendran (G Ramli), comes up with the idea of going to her house in the guise of taking Hindi tuitions from him. However, the teacher (John Amirtharaj) decides to take the classes in Rajendran's house, thereby foiling his plan. The line that the teacher wants his reluctant student to repeat is 'Ek gaon mein ek kisan rehta tha', meaning "There was a farmer who lived in a village." But however much he tries, Rajendran can only say, "Ek gaon mein ek kisan raghu thatha." "Thatha" in Tamil means "grandfather", so the line while making no sense, sounds hilarious anyway.
"In school, when you say Hindi class itself, the kids would start laughing. It was looked at as something not needed that was being forced upon people. Politicians (in Tamil Nadu) were also of the same view," says Bhagyaraj, recalling why he included such a scene in the film.
"There's nothing wrong in learning another language. When you learn English, you're able to travel to different countries. When you travel in India, Hindi is the language which is spoken by the majority of the people, so it would be useful. But this is the case with anyone who doesn't know the language of the place they're visiting. If you are a Tamilian and go to Andhra, you won't know the language and vice versa. This is common. When they forcibly try and teach you a language, it becomes problematic. If they'd just said learn it if you want to since it will be of use, people would have accepted it. But they said we HAVE TO learn it and kept pushing, it became a battle to save our own language. If they'd not forced it upon us, people would have learnt it just like they learnt English," says Bhagyaraj.
This is a line of reasoning that several from non-Hindi speaking states have echoed repeatedly. The concern that Hindi will be imposed on everyone at the cost of their mother tongue is a fear that people still have, points out Bhagyaraj.
"Each language has its own rich tradition. When I wrote that scene at that time, I thought it would be funny to have a Hindi pundit teaching those boys. That line is very simple – just like how you begin a story with, “There was once a king in a kingdom”, I started this with “Ek gaon mein ek kisan…” The humour comes from the guy's inability to say 'reha' and the pundit's attempt to correct him. That 'raghu thatha' is repeated several times to make it funny. It became such a hit that if you just say Hindi, this line comes to people's mind," he says.
So, does Bhagyaraj, who has directed a few Hindi films, including one with Amitabh Bachchan in the lead role, know Hindi?
"No," he says, laughing. "I have directed Hindi films but other than being able to follow it somewhat when someone speaks, I don't know the language. While directing a Hindi film, I should have been able to learn it but we managed through English. See, anywhere you go, if you have a survival problem, you'll learn the skill. If I had no choice, I would have learnt Hindi then. But there was English and so I didn't have a survival problem. Otherwise, I would have learnt Hindi by trial and error. And perhaps they too would have learnt Tamil from me. Amitabh Bachchan knows English, so I just explained everything to him in that language. Besides, the dialogues in the film were my own which were being translated, so I could manage," he says.
Till date, the reaction of Tamil people when they hear Hindi is a subject of comedy in Tamil cinema. Here are a few examples:
In Samsaram Adhu Minsaram (1986), actor Khaja Sharif played a teenager who tries to impress a Hindi-speaking girl and her family with his Hindi. When the girl asks him, "Tum kya padthey ho?" (What do you study?), he says, "Naan veetladhaan paduthukuven" (I sleep at home only).
Watch from 16.52:
In the 2003 film Arasu, Vadivelu played a temple priest who has a hilarious conversation with a Hindi-speaking family, misinterpreting every line they say.
Vadivelu paired up with Prabhu in the 2006 film Kusthi, where they both acted as Punjabis in a comic sequence.
In the 2015 film Naanum Rowdy Dhaan, Vijay Sethupathi attempts to speak to Nayanthara. When she doesn't respond, he asks her if she's 'Hindi' and then says, "Hum aapke hai kaun".
The neighbouring state of Kerala, while not being as resistant to Hindi as Tamil Nadu, has also expressed the Hindi imposition predicament in cinema.
Who can forget the 'Nariyal ka pani' comedy from Sandesham? When a Hindi speaking politician (Innocent) arrives, the people are driven into a flutter, trying to understand what he's saying.
In the film Gajakesariyogam, Innocent wants to learn Hindi to communicate with his elephant. When he tries to boast about his new language skills, he's put in place by Mammukoya who speaks to him in other south Indian languages and English.