Guest blogger Irna Qureshi writes about growing up in 1980s Bradford against a backdrop of classic Indian films at

Bradford recently won the status of UNESCO City of Film, in part because of its history of screening Indian movies since the 1950s. But Indian films are not just popular in Bradford; Bollywood is now a global phenomenon appreciated by the South Asian diaspora as far afield as America, Canada, the Middle East and indeed Britain.

The universal language of Bollywood

Part of Bollywood’s appeal is down to its use of a universal language which crosses boundaries and makes the films accessible to the widest possible audience.  This also explains the popularity of Bollywood among British Asian audiences; whether they’re Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi, and regardless of mother tongue, the language of Bollywood brings them together in the cinemas.

Some of the most common languages spoken among the South Asian communities of Bradford include Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. Also popular among British Pakistanis are Mirpuri and Potwari, which are spoken dialects.  Despite their literary traditions though, these dialects are not really used in formal contexts.

Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi are unique languages, each strongly associated with a specific faith and community.  But despite their differences, the languages also share many similarities.

Urdu and Hindi in Britain

Urdu is strongly linked to the Muslim community from Pakistan; the language is written in the Perso-Arabic script meaning those literate in Urdu can also easily read the Quran. Even though most British born Pakistanis tend to have a dialect (Potwari or Mirpuri) as their mother tongue, it is Urdu which is the national language of Pakistan.

Urdu is commonly used in formal contexts such as newspapers, education, and is the preferred language of the majority of Pakistani drama serials. With a little exposure though, most Potwari or Mirpuri speakers can understand colloquial Urdu on TV, even though they may not be able to hold a conversation in the language.

Hindi is written in the Devanagari script and is the language of Hindus. Meanwhile, Punjabi is written in the Gurumukhi script and is the language of the Sikh community. Because Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi have their own unique writing systems, someone only literate in Urdu would not be able to read Hindi or Punjabi and vice versa.

Nevertheless, Urdu and Hindi are regarded as sister languages, and they share a large common vocabulary particularly when they’re spoken colloquially.

Love conquers language barriers!

It is this relationship between some of the key languages of India and Pakistan which makes Bollywood films intelligible to speakers of several languages and dialects. But since the vocabulary of love, emotion and spirituality is unique to each language, it does mean that certain words may not be understandable.

Nevertheless, from paying close attention to the song lyrics – depending on their Persian or Sanskrit influence – viewers can tell whether the words were penned by a Muslim or a Hindu lyricist.


A recent trend in Indian film dialogues and songs is the use of Hinglish, which is a mix of Hindi and English where languages are switched mid sentence. This trend of course stands to increase the accessibility of Bollywood films far beyond the Asian community in cities like Bradford.