If you’re whooshing around Mumbai, looking at cinema hoardings , you’ll notice that the ones for Billu Barber now look like this:

Photograph by Reuben NV (nicked from Rediff.com)

Photograph by Reuben NV (nicked from Rediff.com)

Till a few days ago, the hoarding said “Billu Barber” (like the website address continues to) but now you will notice the word “barber” has a white strip pasted on it. Some of you may think this is vandalism but I’d like to remind you climbing up a hoarding is no joke (we’re Indians; we don’t do pranks that require exertion). That white strip is the spot where Samson and Delilah meet David and Goliath. Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan being Samson-Goliath and Uday Takke being Delilah-David. Who is Mr. Takke? Read on.

The Salon and Beauty Parlors’ Association in Maharashtra have decided to launch a protest against the title of Shah Rukh Khan’s forthcoming film Billu Barber. The film is slated to be released on February 13th. According to Uday Takke, the president of the association, ‘barber’ is a derogatory term and therefore the title should be changed to Billu Hairdresser. He added that there are several women hairdressers across the country and should Billu Barber turn out to be a big hit then they might also be addressed as barbers in future.

…the association discussed the issue with Shah Rukh Khan and it was decided to remove the term from the hoardings and posters. SRK had promised Uday Takke that he would send teams of people to paste a white paper over the name Barber, as it was difficult to reprint them considering the costs involved. The King Khan said that though he feels that the term is not derogatory, he did not want to offend anybody.

Perhaps it’s the fallout of being an oral culture but we take words seriously in India. We don’t necessarily care what the words mean but how they sound is critical. So when someone wants to say sorry in a sophisticated manner, they “apologise for the botheration”. Because “botheration” sounds more polite than “bother”, just as “hairdresser” is more respectable than “barber”. It’s cultural phonetics.

Recently Amir Parsa of the MoMA held a set of lectures about art in Mumbai. He was described as “an education resource”, which sounds more like Bicentennial Man’s Craig’slist handle than a description of a guy who is involved with art education programmes. Then again, maybe “an education resource” is something the MoMA dumped on him because Parsa in his lectures was much more lucid than the title he lugs around. At the end of his talk, there was a question and answer session, which, like all Q&As in Mumbai, was priceless. One little thing stood up and prefaced her question with, “I’m a student of philosophy and don’t know much about art.” Well then, sit back down. But no, Little Miss Philosophy had to launch into an exposition on “the Medusa effect” of the avant-garde and commodification, how it apparently reverses, reduces (what?) and does other things that only trapeze artists in Cirque du Soleil have been known to do. While I’m not sure what these words mean when strung together, at least when submitted individually, Dictionary.com offers pointers to their meanings. Fortunately however, one need not depend on the internet when there is fate. An example of “the Medusa effect” was presented on a platter within minutes when one gent raised his hand and asked how the avant-garde aesthetic reacted to “remodernism, defachetism and psychogeotropic happenings”.

Amir Parsa’s jaw dropped as though he was a Hanna Barbera cartoon and there was silence all around.

No one there knew what “remodernism” might be or whether “defachetism” is related to “defetishism” (used with sonorous regularity in the Journal of Material Culture) but would someone please figure out what the hell a “psychogeotropic happening” is because when I want to grow up, I want to be one.

7 thoughts on “Word power

  1. Jasmine, “delighticious” should so be a word. Along with “horribibble” (compound of horrible and terrible). 😀

    Mackie, that’s just strange about the picture… hm.

  2. Actually, it’s “Defastenism”- the gent misspoke. (But that ties in with your earlier point- so there ya go).

    And most people interested in art have a pretty clear idea of what Remodernism is.

  3. Jesse, I’m largely illiterate about art history so I had no idea. I imagine Mr. Parsa was a little taken aback because it seems sort of irrelevant to ask how remodernism reacts to the avant-garde given remodernism is the reaction. Or at least seems to be. Thanks for figuring out what defachetism may be.

  4. That’s true- it seems to be kind of an irrelevant comment. 🙂

    This was an interesting and enjoyable blog about word contexts.

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