Poetic license

What’s nearly as good as reading an Urdu poem? Hearing a recital by Fawad Khan

The right kind of actor can create a new audience for poetry.

Actors lip-syncing the words of lyricists is one thing and the poetry of non-film poets turning up as songs in films is something else. Poetry is difficult to put to tune because modern poets do not always follow the traditional form of rhyme and meter in their verse. A lyric thrives on euphony.

As for the reading of non-film poetry, it is mostly a matter of personal interest. Actors with a passion for poetry give viewers an insight into their intellect but the question remains: is every actor suited to the task?

In the nazm “Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat”, written by Pakistan’s foremost poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, actor Zohra Sehgal not only articulates Faiz’s romantic notions about love but also his progressive ideas about valour and compassion for humanity. She reaches a dramatic arc towards the end of her reading when she voices the lamentable irony of having to forgo the love for one for the embrace of many. The rendition is extraordinary.

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‘Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat’.

Faiz wrote the poem after a period of incarceration for his communist views. Singer Noor Jehan sang the poem time and again. There is even a version in Faiz’s own voice.

Faiz is a favourite of many artists. In the song “Raat Yoon Dil Mein Teri” (Janwar, 1965), playback singers Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhosle recite his quatrain in a breathless a cappella style for music composers Shankar-Jaikishan. The poem included seems out of context in the movie, but lends itself beautifully to the romantic situation in which it has been filmed on actors Shammi Kapoor and Rajshree.

In a video tribute to Faiz, actors Dilip Kumar and Shabana Azmi beautifully recite his poems.

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Dilip Kumar and Shabana Azmi reciting Faiz.

Music composers have found ways to tune Faiz’s verse into melody. Arijit Singh and Rekha Bhardwaj sing “Gulon Mein Rang Bhare” and “Aaj Ke Naam” respectively for the move Haider (2014), directed and composed by Vishal Bhardwaj. In Buddha In A Traffic Jam (2016), actor Pallavi Joshi recites “Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan”.

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Pallavi Joshi reciting ‘Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan’.

Faiz’s celebrity status nearly dwarfs the recitation of other modern poets. Madhushala, by renowned writer and poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan, consisted of quatrains written in the style of Rubaii (Persian verse) and inspired by Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat. Manna Dey sang these poems in an album with the same title in 1973. The poet’s son, Amitabh Bachchan, has often sung his father’s poems on stage. In this video, the Bachchan family (including Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) gather to recite Madhushala, but why do they sound like they are in a hurry?

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‘Madhushala’.

Other poets also find their due on the YouTube channel Hindi Kavita, on which several actors, including Swara Bhaskar, Manav Kaul, Zeeshan Ayub and Manoj Bajpayee, read out the poems of such luminaries as Jaishankar Prasad, Ram Dhari Singh Dinkar, Nirala, Maithalisharan Gupt, Dushyant Kumar, Nida Fazli, and others.

In this video, Bhaskar recites the poetry of Paash, the Punjabi left-wing poet who was killed by Khalistani extremists in 1988. Bhaskar lists “Main Ab Vidha Leta Hoon” as one of her favourites.

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‘Main Ab Vidha Leta Hoon’.

Fawad Khan reads the poem “Suna Hai Log Usse” by Pakistani poet Ahmed Faraz in this video clip from his television show Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam (2015). It is likely that few will be paying attention to the verse, distracted as they are by Khan’s good looks.

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'Suna hai log usse'
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.