Love per Square Foot (Anand Tiwari, 2018), “Bollywood’s debut on Netflix”1 , is a romantic film with Mumbai as love object2. The opening credits are a montage of the major landmarks of the city with its famous commuter trains. Sanjay Chaturvedi (Vicky Kaushal) and Karina D’Souza (Angira Dhar) are both employees at a large bank, in the IT and home loan departments respectively. After two chance meetings (dancing at the wedding of colleagues, Sanjay’s application for an employee home loan which Karina has to refuse), they team up and pretend to be married in order to apply for a new Mumbai housing scheme. Predictably, despite their diverse backgrounds – Sanjay is from a Brahmin Hindu household and Karina from a Catholic Christian household – they fall in love. 

Critics found the film, released in time for Valentine’s Day, “youthful, urbane and lovable”3. The real appeal of the film, however, lies in the highly detailed and authentic rendition of the two communities4. Sanjay’s family hails from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, and his father (Raghubir Yadav) is a singer turned railway announcer. Sanjay, his parents, and the occasional relative live in a cramped railways apartment. Karina is the daughter of single mother, Blossom (Ratna Pathak Shah), and the two of them live in the house of Karina’s Uncle Willy in Bandra. Bandra, now very trendy and expensive, was originally a fishing village settled by Portuguese in the 17th century, and later by Catholics from Goa in the 19th century, via British ships. These “East Indians” developed an identity distinct from Goans5.

Tiwari explains that he “wanted to tell the story of today’s India, 60 percent of which is the youth”6. In addition to tackling the challenges of housing, the young protagonists reconcile traditional and modern values in a typical Bollywood fashion. Karina is engaged to Samuel from her own community, and he expects on marriage that she will stop working and live in his family home. She would prefer to share a new apartment, as well as domestic work, “50-50”. Sanjay is having an affair with Rashi (Alankrita Sahai), his manipulative boss, who is in no way interested in sharing an apartment with him. 

Although not his original plan, Tiwari decided to make a comedy, and a commercial film: “I wanted to reach the maximum number of people and I approached the story like a Bollywood masala film — there are songs and dances and whatnot”7. The choice of a “Bollywood masala film” committed him to a Hindi language film, a noteworthy decision given that Tiwari’s acting background includes his role as Father Francis in the rare Bollywood English language film Finding Fanny (Homi Adjania, 2014) set in Goa8.  

Love Per Square Foot is thus a Hindi language film, in which the female protagonist is not from a Hindi speaking community. Because the portrayal of Karina’s family is just as important as the portrayal of her character, there are a number of English-only scenes. My interest here is in the kind of English used to represent the residents of Bandra. To this end I will analyse a scene between Karina and Blossom. I will make some remarks about (i) English in Bollywood masala movies (ii) descriptions of Indian English outside of films and (iii) the representation of Christians in Bollywood masala films. 

Love Per Square Foot

English in “Bollywood Masala” Films

There has been a gradual increase in the amount of English used in Bollywood Masala films since the ‘70s9, but even today, it consists of English words inserted into Hindi sentences; and formulaic phrases in English which are relatively easy to understand. This is the case even when the protagonists are elite urban Indians whose real-life counterparts would use English a large proportion of the time. A good example10 is Jab We Met (Imtiaz Ali, 2007) where the heroine Geet (a young Punjabi woman from an English “convent” school in Mumbai) says to Aditya (heir to a Mumbai-based business empire) on their unplanned road trip: 

Tumne pehle kabhi aise lake mein jump kiya hai?

‘Have you ever jumped into a lake like this?’

The inserted English words are in italics. Aditya responds with a couple of recognisable formulaic English phrases: 

Arey Geet relax, arey listen to me

‘Hey Geet, relax, hey listen to me’

This pattern can be found even in Bollywood movies known for breaking the masala mode such as Dil Chahta Hai (Farhan Akhtar, 2001). The intense code-switching on a Hindi base (often referred to as “Hinglish”) is symbolic of modern urban English-medium educated elites, who are very seldom shown speaking English in isolation (possibly some business settings) or Hindi in isolation (possibly to older relatives). It is relatively easy to follow for Hindi-dominant audiences with low English proficiency. This is of course the opposite of the English sentences with Hindi inserted words used in diaspora films11 such as Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair, 2001) and Bride and Prejudice (Gurinder Chadha, 2004)12. In reality, urban Indian English medium educated elites have been shown to have Hindi loss13 and in some families with high mobility and parents from different language backgrounds, English monolingualism is becoming more common14

Descriptions of (L2) “Indian English” Outside of Films

The scholarship of Indian English, driven by figures such as Braj Kachru in the 1980s15 and 1990s16, was motivated by resistance to an imposed British English standard in Indian education. Kachru and his followers (mostly outside of India) wanted to show that “educated” speakers of English as an additional language had produced a variety of English with stabilised indigenous features which could act as a local standard. These features may have their origins in language transfer but should not be considered learner errors. This national variety, “Indian English”, was a challenge to support empirically, given the extreme variation it implies in proficiency, language background and urbanisation. 

The Indian English accent is considered to have some general non-regional features such as a single vowels or monophthongs in in words like know, and a sound more like a ‘v’ in words beginning with /w/. As far as grammar is concerned, even highly proficient speakers demonstrate features like the deletion of definite and indefinite articles17, over-generalisation of the progressive form of the verb18, lack of subject-verb inversion in questions19, changing there is at the beginning of a sentence to is there at the end of a sentence20. Less grammatical and more conversational features such as only with an emphatic meaning21, tag questions at the end of sentences such as is it, isn’t it, no/na22, have also been shown to be characteristic of Indian English. Much of this research draws on a database of Indian English speech collected in the 1990s as part of the International Corpus of English project23.

Representations of Christians in Bollywood Movies

In a large-scale study, Ryan D’Souza found that the depiction of Christians in Bollywood films was rare, and that on the whole they appeared only as incidental characters or supporting characters24. Christian characters are always shown as Catholic with western names, even though in reality they may speak an Indian regional language and have a name associated with that language. If they are from Goa, they have Portuguese surnames25.  Christians are often conflated with Anglo-Indians (a non-regional, typically Christian ethnic minority based on British ancestry26). A common stereotype of Christians according to D’Souza is that they are predominantly English speaking. While it may be true that the Konkani of Goan Christians is in decline27, Konkani is entirely absent in these representations. 

Finding Fanny is exceptional in that all the main characters are Goan Christians28. In the same way, a Christian main character in Love Per Square Foot is also a departure29. Nevertheless, Tiwari’s passion for a realistic portrayal of Mumbai means that the visual representation of Christians in the film is very singular – they do not deviate from their westernised dress, and their places are laden with crucifixes and other Catholic iconography. Karina is a rounded character and does not resemble familiar hypersexualised stereotypes of Christian women30. Her fiancé Sam on the other hand is emasculated in the way that Christian men in Bollywood films often are31. Blossom is represented without family as is often the case for Christian women, in comparison with extended Hindu families32. Pathak Shah was praised for the depth and complexity she brought to the role, “but her eccentric, broken-Hindi-speaking Catholic mom role represents Hindi cinema’s lack of comfort and stereotypes in representing non-Hindu characters”33. Indeed, Blossom’s difficulties speaking Hindi are in evidence when she meets Sanjay’s parents. In contrast, Karina’s modernity and secular outlook mean that she does speak Hindi fluently and is shown doing so, at the office and in her conversations with Sanjay. 

Finding Fanny

D’Souza notes that Angie in Finding Fanny shares the same “Catholic accent” as Christians in Bollywood films, which is the speech of “Konkani-speaking Roman Catholics from Goa and Mangaluru”34. According to Tiwari35, actors playing the Christian characters in Love Per Square Foot received extensive coaching on the “Bandra-Goan” accent and immersed themselves in historical research on the East Indian community of Bandra. Unfortunately, D’Souza doesn’t describe Angie’s accent in Finding Fanny, but he does go on to talk about her “unique syntax”, examples of which include the use of or what at the end of a sentence:

“you’ve gone mad or what Savio”

and the particle no at the end of a sentence: 

“that seems to have always been the problem no with you”
The following scene from Love Per Square Foot takes place before the opening credits. In the cramped apartment of Sanjay’s family, Sanjay’s father hits a button on his organ and this jumps to a Hallelujah chorus with Blossom fitting Karina’s white wedding dress. The ceiling of their crumbling building is literally falling down on Karina and Blossom. Indian English grammatical features are underlined. 

K: Ow! Mommy!

Now you have to do all this
I’m getting late for work na

B: How many times I’ll keep altering this gown?

Every time you try it, it’s loose.

K: What’s the hurry?
There’s still time no

B: Still time! Still time! Look after the dress, girl.
And that BMC keeps sending eviction notice.
Yesterday also they sent one, you know. 

K: Ya ya

B: There’s chalk all over the house.

All because of that bloody Mario.

Full day jumping, pumping,

with his wife on the bed.

Oh Mario!

Give that to me.

K: Mario! Even God rested for one day, you idiot!


B: One day they ‘ll come crashing down in the middle of it only

K: Then why you don’t leave? 

Go to Canada. Live with Uncle Willy na

So many times he’s asked you to come.

I’ll find a place on rent.

I can afford one now.

The wedding will happen when it has to happen.

B: Ya, but when?

This building will become my grave. 

Then only you’ll say I do?

K: I don’t.

B: Jesus!

K: Mario! It’s 8 o’clock in the morning man
You got no other work or what?

The features used by Angie are here in Karina’s speech: sentence final no/na (Live with Uncle Willy na), and or what at the end of a sentence (you got no other work or what). But there are other features here too which are on the list of the features associated more generally with Indian English: 

  • the lack of subject-verb inversion in questions (why you don’t leave)
  • the use of only for emphasis rather than exclusion (crashing down in the middle of it only)
  • article deletion (_ BMC keeps sending _eviction notice)

If Tiwari, with his research, voice coaching and realism, is faithfully representing the speech of Bandra in scenes like this, it raises a number of interesting issues for scholars of Indian English to consider. Below I set out a few scenarios (a-d) which could explain why such a wide range of features is on display in the speech of English dominant Christians from Bandra: 

  1. The syntactic features attested for Indian English, in addition to or what and no, are in fact exclusively features of English dominant/English only Christians, and do not occur in the speech of speakers of English as a second/additional language.
  2. Second/additional language speakers of English have developed grammatical features in parallel WITH Christians (and Anglo Indians)36 who shifted to English more than a century ago, because ultimately all features are due to transfer from the underlying languages.
  3. Christians, like Anglo-Indians, have had to “Indianize” over time37, and so in addition to the original features of their English they have acquired some of the more stable Indian English features.
  4. All the features, those noted for second/additional language speakers and those noted for English-dominant Christians, are Mumbai (or even just urban) features. The use of men/man at the end of sentences (it’s 8 o clock in the morning man) is associated with Mumbai specifically38. Karina’s language as a “thoroughbred Bandra girl” was described by one reviewer as “urban Indian English sprinkled with a Marathi/Portuguese tinge”39.

I don’t offer these scenarios because we should choose one that is correct. They all have some element of truth to them, and they all offer clues to the puzzle. Scenario (d) is compelling because there is so much anecdotal reporting of emphatic only as urban Indian English40. Urban Indian English is not often on display in Bollywood masala movies. Partly this is because the movies are in Hindi, but it is also because the protagonists are often so elite that their status would be lowered by some use of these features (their intense Hindi-based code-switching is not low status). Certain features such as the lack of subject-verb inversion in questions have been associated with the lower middle class41.

Love Per Square Foot

Scenario (a) is unlikely because there is probably enough evidence to show that at least some features such as article deletion occur in most speakers of Indian English. But it does draw attention to the fact that some of our databases for studying Indian English do not reliably distinguish between English dominant (maybe Christian) speakers and Hindi/regional language dominant speakers; nor do they provide good information about urban identity. It’s possible that some features thought common to all speakers of English in India in fact occur only in certain cities, or occur only in historically English-dominant populations. 

Bollywood masala films have incentives to stereotype Christians, and to stereotype their English, as a distinctive dialect. However, the features they use to do this can be found in other varieties of Indian English. On the other hand, scholars of “Indian English” have incentives to reify a national standardised second language variety common to all speakers of English in India42. Kachru did not consider the speech of Anglo-Indians and Christians as relevant to the study of Indian English43, but the representation of Christian speech in films such as Love Per Square Foot suggests otherwise.


  1. Sankhayan Ghosh, “It’s Bollywood’s Debut On Netflix: Anand Tiwari, Director Of Love Per Square Foot“  Film Companion (11 February 2018).
  2. Swetha Ramakrishnan, “Love Per Square Foot Review: This Netflix Film Feels Like a Breezy Bombay Version of YRF’s Band Baaja Baaraat, “ Firstpost (15 February 2018).
  3. Rohit Vats, “Love Per Square Foot Movie Review: This Valentine’s Special is Youthful, Urbane and Lovable“, Hindustan Times (15 February 2018).
  4. Rahul Desai, “Love Per Square Foot Movie Review: A Contrived Plot Brings Together Artificial Protagonists“, Film Companion (14 February 2018).
  5. Dustin Silgardo, “Whose Bandra is it?”, Mint (9 May 2015).
  6. Ghosh, “It’s Bollywood’s Debut on Netflix”.
  7. Ghosh, “It’s Bollywood’s Debut on Netflix”.
  8. Ryan A. D’Souza, “Representations of Indian Christians in Bollywood Movies”, PhD Dissertation (University of South Florida, 2019).
  9. Aung Si, “A Diachronic Investigation of Hindi–English Code-Switching, Using Bollywood Film Scripts”, International Journal of Bilingualism, Volume 15 Issue 4 (2011), pp. 388-407.
  10. Pingali Sailaja, “Hinglish: Code-Switching in Indian English”, ELT Journal Volume 65 Issue 4 (2011), pp. 473-480.
  11. Rajinder Dudrah, Bollywood Travels: Culture, Diaspora and Border Crossings in Popular Hindi Cinema (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012).
  12. Si, “A Diachronic Investigation of Hindi–English Code-Switching”.
  13. Vineeta Chand, “Elite Positionings towards Hindi: Language Policies, Political Stances and Language Competence in India 1”, Journal of Sociolinguistics, Volume 15 Issue 1 (2011), pp. 6-35.
  14. Sajith Pai, “Say Hello to India’s Newest and Fastest-Growing Caste”, Medium (24 January 2018).
  15. Braj B. Kachru, The Alchemy of English: The Spread, Functions, and Models of Non-Native Englishes (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1986).
  16. B.B. Kachru, ed., The Other Tongue: English Across Cultures (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1992).
  17. Devyani Sharma, “Dialect Stabilization and Speaker Awareness in Non‐Native Varieties of English”, Journal of Sociolinguistics, Volume 9 Issue 2 (2005), pp. 194–224.
  18. Devyani Sharma, “Typological Diversity in New Englishes”, English World-Wide, Volume 30 Issue 2 (2009), pp. 170-195.
  19. Gail M. Coelho, “Anglo-Indian English: A Nativized Variety of Indian English”, Language in Society, Volume 26 Issue 4 (1997), pp. 561-589.
  20. Claudia Lange, The Syntax of Spoken Indian English (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing, 2012).
  21. Claudia Lange, “Focus Marking in Indian English”, English World-Wide, Volume 28 Issue 1 (2007), pp. 89-118.
  22. Lange, The Syntax of Spoken Indian English.
  23. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/english-usage/projects/ice.htm
  24. D’Souza, “Representations of Indian Christians in Bollywood Movies”.
  25. D’Souza, “Representations of Indian Christians in Bollywood Movies”, p. 23.
  26. Coelho, “Anglo-Indian English”.
  27. Coelho, “Anglo-Indian English”, p 562.
  28. D’Souza, “Representations of Indian Christians in Bollywood Movies”.
  29. Ghosh, “It’s Bollywood’s Debut on Netflix”.
  30. D’Souza, “Representations of Indian Christians in Bollywood Movies”, p. 68.
  31. D’Souza, “Representations of Indian Christians in Bollywood Movies”, p. 23.
  32. D’Souza, “Representations of Indian Christians in Bollywood Movies”, p. 61.
  33. Tina Lapsia, “‘Love Per Square Foot’ is a Fresh Look at Mumbai Millennials, But Fails to Pack a Punch,” browngirl (28 Feburary 2018).
  34. D’Souza, “Representations of Indian Christians in Bollywood Movies”, pp. 4-5.
  35. Ghosh, “It’s Bollywood’s Debut on Netflix”.
  36. Coelho, “Anglo-Indian English”.
  37. Coelho, “Anglo-Indian English”, p. 566.
  38. Ramakrishnan, “Love Per Square Foot Review”.
  39. Ramakrishnan, “Love Per Square Foot Review”.
  40. Jil Wheeler, “It’s Like This, Only”, The Morning News (28 May 2009).
  41. Coelho, “Anglo-Indian English”.
  42. Alastair Pennycook, “Global Englishes, Rip Slyme, and Performativity”, Journal of Sociolinguistics, Volume 7 Issue 4, pp. 513-533.
  43. Coelho, “Anglo-Indian English”.

About The Author

Claire Cowie is a sociolinguist at the University of Edinburgh, with a special interest in the effects of contact between English and other languages in India. She also works on ideologies of English in postcolonial settings. In her teaching she draws extensively on Bollywood, Nollywood, and cinema from South-east Asia.

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