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What is 'Hinglish' cinema?

The Lunchbox Source: Youtube

In the 1990s, Indian cinema audience began to develop a taste for a mix of Indian and Western traditions.

The global character of an Indian city is often emphasised through 'chutnified' English as reflected in everyday use and Bollywood.

It was in the 1990s that the Indian audiences for the first time confronted an evolution of the English portrayed in cinema from 'Bazaar-English,' 'Butler-English,' 'Baboo-English,' 'diasporic-English,' and 'near-native English' to 'Hinglish.'

In 1994, English, August – a film by Dev Benegal – marked the beginning of a new kind of cinema in India.


English, August was the first Indian film that was distributed by a well-known Hollywood studio.

This type of film is today known as Hinglish cinema.

University of Queensland based PhD research scholar Prateek Prateek says that because of this one film "the character of Bollywood underwent a change with a deluge of movies following it."

Films such as Bomgay (1996), Bombay Boys (1998), and Split Wide Open (1999) soon followed.

WATCH VIDEO: Bombay Boys trailer

Prateek says that "the portmanteau name ‘Hinglish’ was not just a blend of English and Hindi, or a medley of two languages or a mixture of two lifestyles, but the emergence of Hinglish cinema gave a chance to the filmmakers to debate and discuss topics and issues that always remained off limit on the silver screen."

WATCH VIDEO: Upamanyu Chatterjee and Rahul Bose at Q&A organised at Times Lit Fest

For his film, Dev Benegal adapted Upamanyu Chatterjee’s famous Indian English novel – English, August: An Indian Story (1988).

"His adaptation seems to have bridged the gap between what used to be designated as the ‘mainstream’ and the ‘art’ sections of Indian cinema," says Prateek.

To some extrent, Hinglish cinema also provided an outlet for Indian directors seeking to challenge the establishment of Hindi as the national language.

Prateek observes that "Hindi nationalism dazzled the nation until the 1990s when Dev Benegal defied Hindi nationalism by adapting an Indian English novel."

What differentiates the filmmakers of Hinglish cinema from the commercial Bollywood ones is their realism, use of satire, existentialist themes, common man type characters, and imaginative use of modest resources.

“Hinglish filmmakers were inspired by the social and political reality around them," says Prateek. "This engagement with the reality of life always steeped them into existentialist themes especially the existentialist angst of the protagonists.

"So, their use of pidgin English also represents the fragmentation of human psyche like that of the languages.”

The new channels of distribution are providing these filmmakers a chance to exhibit their work to  a global audience.

A good example is The Lunchbox (2013) which is also currently streaming at SBS On Demand:

The Lunchbox: Trailer
The Lunchbox: Trailer

Prateek notes that “In The Lunchbox, bilingualism [exists in the form of] male protagonist (English speaker) and female protagonist (Hindi speaker)."

"This gives us a code to switch between the two languages in a metropolitan cityscape," explains Prateek. 

Overall, a good look at the films of Hinglish cinema up until now points towards the fact that the use of English in Hinglish cinema does not allow one Indian culture or language dominate over the other, as previously occurred with the Hindi-language-based Bollywood market. 

Prateek agrees with this fact and suggests that "The use of Hinglish in Indian cinema or the new 'global Bollywood' can still infuse it with a kind of longevity, and it ensures that one’s language does not become quickly antiquated and fossilized."

Listen to Prateek's full interview (in Hindi) with SBS Hindi in the audio player above. 

Stream The Lunchbox now at SBS On Demand and below:


Related from SBS Movies:

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