India does not have only one national language, whatever Ajay Devgn thinks

Imposing hindi.
Imposing hindi.
Image: Reuters/Kamal Kishore
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While praising the movie KGF Chapter 2, which earned more than 900 crore rupees ($118 million) at the box office within 12 days of release, Kannada superstar Kiccha Sudeep said, “Hindi is no more a national language…Today we are making films that are going everywhere.”

Although Kiccha was talking specifically about the business of films, Bollywood actor Ajay Devgn decided to get involved, unprompted. “My brother, if according to you Hindi is not our national language then why do you release your movies in your mother tongue by dubbing them in Hindi? Hindi was, is, and always will be our mother tongue and national language. Jan Gan Man,” he tweeted, in the Devnagri script.

In a tongue-in-cheek response, Sudeep said he still understood Devgn’s comment “because we all have respected, loved and learnt Hindi. No offense sir, but was wondering what’d the situation be if my response was typed in Kannada!! Don’t we too belong to India, sir.”

But there has been a chorus of criticism against Devgn. Former Karnataka chief ministers Siddaramaiah and HD Kumaraswamy both tweeted that Hindi is not India’s national language—Devgn has re-ignited an old debate in a country that contains dozens of languages and countless dialects.

Ajay Devgn is wrong about Hindi being India’s national language

Besides his obvious condescension, Devgn is factually incorrect. Despite its being widely spoken, Hindi is not the national language. Several states—17 of 28 states, in fact—do not list Hindi as their official language.

Often, middle-class migrants to northern India want to learn the “standard” language to be considered literate and to communicate. That inevitably means Hindi. But of course, there are many linguistic and cultural identities. Even as the country becomes more politically polarized, these identities remain strong.

Regardless, much of Devgn’s career is built on the back of support from the south. “Devgn shouldn’t forget that his first movie Phool aur Kaante ran for a year in Bengaluru” when it released three decades ago, Kumaraswamy pointed out. He’s starred in several south Indian remakes that have become career-defining—adaptations of Malyalam movie Singham to Tamil film Drishyam, to name just two. Earlier this year, he featured in SS Rajamouli’s epic period action drama RRR.

South Indian movies like Pushpa: The Rise, RRR, and KGF Chapter 2 have come back with a bang after the pandemic, while the Hindi-language Bollywood industry has only seen a spate of flops. A little gratitude never goes amiss.