Anuja Iyer



Like ah, No like ah?


I know more people in my neighborhood in the last five years of being in Chennai than all my growing up years put together until I left for Delhi to pursue higher education. Thanks to my newfound love for animals after my pet lab ‘Noodle’ was brought home, I identify each house by the names of the pets than the owners as the house of Simba or Cadbury or Rocky. Noodle loves his early morning walks when it is relatively quiet, less crowded and less polluted and I make it a point to walk him as my way of bonding with him for the day.

During one such walks today, we stopped by to play with a recent arrival at the end of my street, a 45-day-old absolutely fluffy and baby-like smelling off-white colored female Labrador. It is a commercial space with lots of second hand cars parked inside for resale and is maintained by the watchman and other workers there with the owner residing elsewhere. So the watchman had asked me to suggest a nice name for their pet few days back and I’d given him my list from which he had picked ‘Nila’ as in, the moon in Tamizh. This morning, when I asked him if he has decided the name, he said one another lady down the road has suggested ‘Sinipee’ as an alternate. I furrowed my eyebrows and asked for the name again and he said the same name ‘Sinipee’. He then brought a book that had both my list and this rather eccentric name written on it by the lady who suggested it. And her suggestion actually was ‘Sniffy’.

I chuckled at his interpretation of spelling the name and asked him to stick to something that is simple and easy to pronounce for the workers there who can call the pet unanimously in one particular way. I found it so endearing when he mispronounced an English name in the most peculiar way and how in most situations we end up enjoying the other person’s ignorance about speaking a language that we think we are decent at. Neither can one say that knowing English makes you more knowledgeable than the one who doesn’t nor should someone being unfamiliar with a foreign language be made a laughing stock of others but when we do come across such situations where we mean well for the other person, it does bring a smile on our faces.

It is for this reason that we’ve enjoyed many characters in movies that attempt to speak English in a way that makes us laugh with them. As an interview candidate for a hotel job, where Superstar convinces his to-be-boss by talking, walking and laughing English in a phunny non-stop rendering of dialogues in the movie ‘Velaikkaaran’, our claps reach out to that character that attempts humor than the more stylish boss who speaks flawless English. ‘Guru Sishyan’ would never have been a laugh riot but for the inadvertent mistakes that Superstar makes in saying ‘ABC’ Officers for CBI Officers in their mock raid or understanding Gauthami’s ‘Excuse me’ as ‘Yes Kiss me’. The same Superstar who plays a mechanic in the movie ‘Mannan’ with no apparent trace of knowing English, gets left behind by his image conscious wife, as played by Vijayshanthi. In his sudden entry into the party at an opportune moment to save his wife from being embarrassed, he delivers an impeccable speech in English taking the audience and his on-screen wife by surprise. I still remember my eardrum being deafened by the sheer whistles in the theatre for that impressive speech.

Take most comedians in our films and they’ve all managed to create a few laughs with their imperfect English. Be it Vadivelu humming his popular ‘I am sing in the rain’ followed by his imaginary call to his brother Mark in Dubai or his antics in ‘Singaravelan’ as a cool rock band drummer evoking laughter with his not-so-cool English usage in his dialogues, it’s a ride of uncontrollable hilarity. Who would’ve imagined that a leave letter recital in English could actually fool a naïve cop who stops you for a driving license until Vivek showed us in ‘Parthiban Kanavu’. And the innovative phrases of ‘Coupling’ and ‘Spooning’ games that Senthil creates in the film ‘Gentleman’ warrants a separate felicitation by itself.

While on one hand in real life, we are reminded of the importance to be conversant in English like the way Pakistani teenage activist Malala stunned the world with her incisive speech at UN General Assembly recently, we on the other hand certainly don’t mind loosening up at cinema halls with amusing half-baked and hardly perfect English dialogues when the intent is just humor and comedy. That much of creative license should be there as long as it doesn’t degrade the language per se but only makes others laugh because of feigning ignorance of its usage and makes a great platform to instill humor in the scenes. In fact, it certainly is an art to speak imperfectly, something I realized in my attempt to sign off in Rajini Sir’s Guru Sishyan style and Kamal Sir’s Pammal Sammandam style where I am ‘mooding’ the writing now and ‘temporavarily’ Yes kissing myself until I reach you all next. Like ah, no like ah?

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