The suspense is over. Quantico hit our television screens last week, and we now know that the series revolves around Priyanka Chopra, or her character, Alex Parrish. The reviews are mixed but so are her vowels. Most critics have found it difficult to swallow her accent which comes across as Bollywood-on-the-Bronx. In fairness, the actress has been flying in and out of America thanks to her international singing career and now Quantico, so her vocal chords have been in a bit of a twist, which explains her mangling of the English language. She’s also simultaneously shooting for a movie where she plays a Maratha queen, so the slip of the tongue, so to speak, is understandable. Priyanka is aware that her accent is a topic of conversation. She once remarked on Karan Johar’s show that she got her accent from the same place Saif Ali Khan did. But the man from Pataudi was schooled in England and his accent occasionally slips into that of a rich toff, much like his late lamented dad who had the excuse of being Oxford-returned.
India speaks in 122 different languages. That does not include our call centre employees, who have created an entirely new lingua Americana that tends to shift between a tortured American twang and a chutneyfied cockney one. The difference is they remain anonymous, hidden behind fake names like John or Pete or Sandra, while Bollywoodians are always yakking into mikes or on talk shows, promos and interviews. The queen of accented Bollywoodians has to be Kangana Ranaut. Her accent is like one of those fusion dishes they serve up in posh restaurants these days, a bit of Indian, some Continental and a sprinkling of something else, quite indeterminate. Then there’s Katrina Kaif. There have been more column inches devoted to her accent and the way she rolls her Hindi vowels than on her film roles. Katrina was British-born so she’s had to struggle to hone her accent, a struggle that is ongoing. There’s also the ubiquitous Alia Bhatt. This young woman is shooting for a Bollywood adaptation of Two States, which may explain why her accent tends to fall between two schools, like she’s trying to speak and chew at the same time.
No linguistic journey would be complete without tripping over Mallika Sherawat and Aishwarya Rai. The former claims global fame, which is as much of a stretch as her fake Yankee accent. She once appeared mysteriously in Cannes and actually said ‘innerview’ on live TV while being interviewed. Cannes regular Ash, having appeared in movies like Pink Panther and on the Oprah Winfrey show, speaks like she imagines a global celebrity should speak, sort of like Dame Judi Dench playing the Queen of the Nile. In fact, phoren-returned is a surefire recipe for a clash of civilisations and no one displays that better than Madhuri Dixit. After her stint in Denver, she returned to Bollywood with an accent that nobody could quite get a grip on. Imagine a former Bollywood queen having to learn Hindi. Something didn’t sound right.
And then there are the men, starting with Salman Khan. His accent seems to depend on his mood, which makes it difficult to tell whether it’s from Brooklyn or Borivili. His untraceable accent is in keeping with the line someone wrote about him: with his bulging biceps and tremendous triceps he was unparalleled on the parallel bars. His closest competitor in the linguistic league is Anil Kapoor, also like Aishwarya Rai, having acted in international productions like Slumdog Millionaire and the TV serial 24. Earlier, the old college joke was that anyone who went to the airport to receive a friend or relative would return with a foreign accent. Now, it seems that anyone who acts in an international film returns with similar affectations. It’s like trying to picture Peter Sellers imitating Peter Sellers playing an Indian.
Why should Bollywood have all the fun? Cricketers play a lot abroad and so the foreign accent gets packed into the kit bag along with the bails and balls. The master of the reverse swing accent has to be Shoaib Akhtar. The speedster is heard quite often on Indian sports channels speaking in his Irish accent even though he only once flew over Ireland. He did play club cricket in Sydney, although why that should result in an Irish accent remains a mystery. Equally intriguing is the fact that most Indian cricketers tend to acquire an accent almost as if they have to prove they have played international cricket. Picture Rohit Sharma trying to imitate Shane Warne. The man of the mismatch, however, has to be Kumar Sangakkara. The Sri Lankan legend has an accent that is a cross between all the countries he’s played against: South African, Australian, West Indian, English et al. His teammates made fun of his accent, trying to figure out why he got heavily accented so fast. Simbly, as they say down south.