When lyricist, screenwriter and Hindi dialogue writer, Mayur Puri was writing the now-famous “Ek Chutki Sindoor…” dialogue for Om Shanti Om in 2007, he didn’t know that the line would become an enduring reference for everything thats kitschy in Bollywood. Nearly a decade after Deepika Padukone dramatically announced ‘ek chutki sindoor ki keemat‘, while writing the Hindi dialogues for Captain America: Civil War, Puri was reminded of the punchline. Vision (played by Paul Bettany) is cooking dinner for Wanda (played Elizabeth Olsen) and he’s mumbling something along the lines of ‘a pinch of paprika’ to which Wanda responds in the Hindi dubbed version with “Ek chutki laal mirch ki keemat, tum kya jaano Vision Babu?” — recounts Mayur Puri clearly amused. “It was right there for the picking, people were rolling on the floor in theatres,” he adds.
Puri doesn’t usually get stuck on a certain lines. Like any competent dialogue writer will tell you, attempts to exactly reproduce the line from English to Hindi, is a grave mistake. By his own admission, Puri likes to look at the ‘totality of the situation, the pitch of the performance’ to determine his dialogue. And yet, doing the Hindi dubbed versions for Avengers can be significantly harder than one would imagine. “I remember this scene from Avengers: Infinity War, where Tony Stark is describing a Ben & Jerry’s flavour named after him. Now we don’t have an Indian equivalent for that. So it becomes difficult when we’re borrowing their pop culture references, and I have to find a suitable parallel to them.”
Things got even more complicated for him when the Avengers are discussing (read: bending) the conventional rules of time-travel in Hollywood movies by taking the case of the Back To The Future and other time-travel films in Hollywood. “There are hardly five Bollywood movies based on time-travel like Fun2shh, Love Story: 2050 and Baar Baar Dekho (to an extent). So I changed the line completely and made it around how you can’t be a Hindi film ka hero unless you’ve done a song on screen. Some ‘Marvel fans’ weren’t happy, but my point is if you can understand English then what are you doing in the Hindi-dubbed version?”
It might not be the most oft-repeated dialogue in Bollywood history, but Puri holds the distinction of writing one of the most cheeky jokes on Shah Rukh Khan and getting away with it. During Khan’s re-entry as Om Kapoor in the second half of Om Shanti Om, an on-looker comments – ‘real life mein kitna short hai na?’ (he’s so short in real life, no?). “Honestly, that’s the first thing that came into my mind. I’ve been such a huge fan, and he’s so larger-than-life on screen, that when you realise that he’s just another human being… it can be a little unsettling. I was shocked that he wasn’t tall. Shah Rukh Khan is too sporting. He always encourages me to make fun of him and his films,” Puri says. It’s fitting that the two are reuniting with Khan lending his voice to Mufasa, while son Aryan is the voice for Simba.
Mayur Puri stresses on the power of language, and it’s ability to familiarise/alienate a contingent of the audience. “Hollywood films are shot, written and made for a particular demographic. There’s a reason why a character speaks in a Texas/Milwaukee accent. How do we adapt that for the Hindi-speaking audience? So I change ‘I got these guns from Texas’ – where gun laws are lenient – to ‘yeh do khilone main Wasseypur se lekar aaya hoon‘”. He stresses upon giving Baloo a Punjabi accent, or making a character in Angry Birds speak with a strong Sindhi accent, considering how these movies are supposed to cater to a heterogeneous nation like ours.
Given how famous and iconic the songs from 1994’s The Lion King (by Elton John) were, made things only all the more complicated for Mayur Puri. “You have to keep in mind that if the song in English is ending with ‘aa’ even your lyrics have to do the same. Similarly if they’re ending with ‘ee’ then you have to pay heed to that” – Puri claims that this was his most taxing project, which took him nearly two months where he was working a ‘ridiculous’ number of hours every day.
Like Puri, there are other dialogue writers like Manoj Muntashir and Rajat Arora, who outsource their services to Hollywood studios. In spite of having worked on some of the biggest films off late, is there a film that he rues missing out to his contemporaries? “I think what Manoj did with Black Panther and what Rajat did with Captain Marvel was interesting. They were nice films but there was an opportunity to do more in the Hindi dialogues. But I’m happy that I worked on, what I consider, is the greatest Marvel film of all time – Thor: Ragnarok. So it’s all good” – he laughs.