[UPDATE: If you are interested in exoticized lettering, please see the new Geek of Type and Lettering category I have created for collecting samples I have found since this post was mentioned on Language Log.]
Not that long ago I wrote about the preservation of typeface features across different scripts. Here's an observation of a different cross-script typeface phenomenon. You are undoubtedly familiar with typefaces that provide Roman characters in a style that is evocative of other, non-Roman scripts. For example, on a Chinese food container, you might see a typeface like this one:
There are typefaces that evoke Hebrew characters, like this one from the cover of an album of Klezmer music:
Other typefaces are designed to resemble Arabic script, and even Devanagari, the script in which Hindi is written.
I actually hate these faux exotic typefaces. They strike me as too cutesy, an ersatz fetishization that bastardizes the true beauty and diversity of the world's writing systems.
But I noticed a very interesting use of these faux exotic typefaces on the posters for the recent Hindi film Umrao Jaan. The film takes place amidst the Muslim elite of mid-19th century Lucknow, a golden age of Urdu culture and literature. Urdu is written in an adapted version of the Persian script, which is itself an adaptation of the Arabic script. So it is no surprise that on posters that display the film's name in Roman script, an Arabic-styled Roman typeface is used:
Indeed, during the film's title sequence (and on its official website), these words are animated to appear letter-by-letter on the screen from right to left, as if they are being written by an Urdu scribe.
What is particularly cool, though, is that posters that display the film's name in Devanagari also use an Arabic-styled typeface, this time an Arabic-styled Devanagari typeface!
Compare this to the film's name written in plain, unstylized Devanagari: उमराव जान. In the poster's Urdu-ized version, the upper line that joins the letters (called the "rekha," line) has been removed. That line is a very strong distinguishing feature of Devanagari (and its siblings) - indeed, the rekha is what gives the "namaskar" sample above its distinctly Indic feel. Yet in the poster, it has been removed, and the immediate effect is Devanagari that looks a lot less like Devanagari. The addition of the curving extensions of the lower strokes on some of the letterforms, as well as the meaningless dots beneath some of the letters, completes the Urdu-ization of the typeface.
(Fans of Hindi films should feel free to insert at this point their own jokes about Umrao Jaan without its Rekha.)
(Although Devanagari has a rekha-less sister script, Gujarati, given the centrality of Urdu to the setting of Umrao Jaan, it is clear that the intent of the poster is clearly Urdu-ization rather than Gujju-ization. Just for fun, though, here's "Umrao Jaan" in Gujarati: ઉમરાવ જાન)
Even though I dislike these pseudo-exotic typefaces, it is fascinating to see the exoticization process play out between two scripts, neither of which is Roman.