Ravaan South African Connection

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian. I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears. I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

Language is a means of communication, but somewhere along the line, in our self-importance and misplaced patriotism, it becomes a pair of scissors that cuts people apart, resulting in death in some cases. People are killed because their language sets them apart from the majority.

Therefore, it is comforting when human beings ignore the artificial barrier and use language as a bridge to promote understanding. Mani Ratnam’s film Ravaan is a case in point. You cannot imagine my joy when I heard my language in the song Beera.

It has a line ‘makube njalo’ which means ‘let it be’ in many South African languages such as isiXhosa, isiNdebele and isiZulu. These words also appear in the country’s national anthem, which basically asks God to bless South Africa, then it says ‘let it be till the end of time.’

What I know for sure is that Mani Ratnam and other Indian filmmakers and distributors are aware that South Africa is a voracious consumer of their cinema. What I don’t know is if he speaks isiXhosa or isiZulu, but I was mighty glad to see myself in the film. There is no other way of putting it. I was not on the screen, but languages spoken in my country were in the music, so for all practical purposes, I am in Ravaan.

I’m a big fan of languages that is why Indian cinema has made me an unofficial Hindi student. I surprised the shopkeeper where I buy my movies the other day. “Kya wa?” He smiled and replied, “Kuch ne.” I asked him what’s happening or what’s wrong and he said nothing. I don’t think it is written like this because I’m writing it in my own language isiZulu.

Although language divides us, there is a convergence somewhere, something I sometimes find in Hindi movies. There is a scene in Natwarlal, where Rekha’s character goes to Amitabh Bachchan’s character and offers him muthi, herbs. We also call herbs umuthi in Zulu. There are many languages that call ‘father’ baba, and isiZulu is one of them.

Hindi also has a Sesotho connection. I always smile when somebody is looking for his wife or son in a Hindi film and says “Nandini kai?” You see, in Sesotho, one of the major languages in southern Africa, when you are looking for Nandini you say, “O kae Nandini?” In Raavan, Dev the police chief played by Vikram says “Beera kai?” when he is looking for the outlaw Beera played by Abhishek Bachchan.

I wonder what Nandini, the girl’s name means in Hindi because in Zulu, ‘mnandi’ means something nice, delicious, tasty. Nandi, the girl’s name comes from that. The family gave the daughter that name because something wonderful happened in their lives or it is a wish that something does.

If class, wealth or skin colour divides us, I hope languages will be a glue of some sort, and bring us together.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.


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