Seeking unity in diversity

In a country as diverse as ours, how do we prevent the ghettoisation of the regional film industries? Subtitles could be a start…

When an Elizabeth Taylor or a Paul Newman dies, all of America grieves. One reason, of course, is that these stars belonged to a time when we had to go to the movies, like devotees seeking a darshan. They could only be glimpsed on big screens in big theatres. Had these stars been today’s stars – when the movies have come to us, on our laptops and on tiny TV sets screwed to the back of airline seats – their mystery might have been eroded by the time they reached the end of their careers, and they may have been remembered merely as entertainers, not as screen gods and goddesses. But there’s another reason these stars were mourned by all of America – not just by the people in Kansas or Nevada or Florida – and that’s because they acted in films made in the language the whole country spoke and understood.

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We lost two stars from that larger-than-life era recently – Suchitra Sen and Akkineni Nageswara Rao – and the outpourings of grief have come mainly from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Only the people who spoke Bengali and Telugu (or those who follow these languages and watch films in these languages) really knew what these stars were all about. The rest of us experience a general sense of sadness, the kind that descends on us whenever an achiever passes away, but these feelings don’t become really personal. And how could they, given that we’ve seen a bare handful of their films? When asked to write obituaries, non-Bengalis keep referring to Sen’s popular Hindi films like Devdas and Aandhi and Mamta and Bambai Ka Baboo, while non-Telugus settle for discussing the small number of Tamil films that Nageswara Rao starred in, and as songs are recalled more easily than films, we end up lingering over Thunbam nergayil, the most famous of Nageswara Rao’s songs in Tamil (from the film Or Iravu), even if he was mostly just a spectator to the singing.

We could go online and order DVDs of the films made by these stars, but the prints are almost guaranteed to be grainy and patchy, and they won’t come with subtitles. About the former, nothing can be done. We don’t have the kind of film culture that actively preserves older films, and even the works of Satyajit Ray were restored only due to the championing of, among others, the Merchant-Ivory duo and Martin Scorsese. But that happened because Ray was an internationally renowned filmmaker. Who’s going to undertake similar efforts – expensive and time-consuming – to refurbish the films of stars largely known and loved only in specific states?

But bad prints we can still live with – if they came with subtitles. I have spoken about this many, many times, and that’s because it cannot be said enough: If we want to prevent the ghettoisation of our regional film industries, we must insist on subtitles. We don’t live in the Doordarshan era anymore, where on sleepy Sunday afternoons, we could still tune into an old Assamese or Marathi film, which we followed through the subtitles. (And many of those prints were terrible, but did we complain?) We don’t have a Chitramala anymore, where, at least for a half-hour every Monday, we’d be exposed to songs from long-ago films made in other Indian states and languages. We live in an age that celebrates only the new, and where the likes of Ilayaraja and RD Burman are consigned to the “classics” section on the FM channels. (I wonder how those RJs would label the music of a G Ramanathan or a Naushad. Palaeolithic?) How, then, can someone like me, from Chennai, hope to get at least a glimpse of what stars like Suchitra Sen or Akkineni Nageswara Rao were like in their prime – and in their best films, made in their own tongues?

But if subtitling older films is too much effort, if there are no funds, if there is no interest, then let’s look at subtitling the new ones – not just the “classy” movies, the ones that win National Awards, but also the commercial love stories and the masala movies, so that if a Gujarati speaker who’s just moved to Chennai wants to check out a Vijay movie or an Ajith movie (just to see what the fuss is about), then he needn’t be intimidated by the prospect of not understanding these films (even if you could make the argument that there’s not much in these films to understand, in the first place). Why is this important? Because regional films reflect regional sensibilities and by watching these films, we open ourselves to tiny transfusions of culture. We see not just what kind of stories our neighbours from other states like to watch but also what kind of lives they lead, what they do for work and play – and in a country as diverse as ours, the importance of this cannot be emphasised enough.

And there’s no major cost involved. The arty films are subtitled in any case, for screenings at film festivals and for National Award jury panels. As for the commercial films, the expense involved wouldn’t be a fraction of the heroine’s wardrobe. All films, in other words, must ideally be subtitled, so that anyone, anywhere can watch any movie. It’s a terrible situation when we can slip into one of the various International Film Festivals across the country and see and understand films from France and Korea and Romania, but the new and much-lauded Mohanlal movie Drishyam is being shown (in Chennai) without subtitles. I was told that all I needed “was a working knowledge of Malayalam,” but what if that’s not there? Besides, who wants to see films and get just a general idea about the goings on, without cottoning on to the specific undertones that define and describe every culture?

There’s still a problem. I’m only talking about English-language subtitles, so a large number of Indians who don’t read English (or who don’t read, period) aren’t going to benefit from subtitles unless the text is in a local language. (Maybe dubbing is an option, in this case. Hollywood films are routinely dubbed in European languages, and now even in Telugu and Tamil.) Nor does the addition of subtitles automatically broaden a film’s appeal to a large audience. Many viewers are happy seeing films in their language – the opening of a brand-new pizzeria isn’t a guarantee that patrons of the local Udupi restaurant are going to switch loyalties. But it’s worthwhile even if it’s only for a small set of people. It’s at least a start, a way to know what’s happening in cinema around India, cinema that is not from Bollywood. We keep reading about how great this film is from this country and that film is from that one, and how we don’t make anything like this in our own country. But maybe we are making good films. It’s just that the people who don’t speak the language don’t know anything about them.

An edited version of this piece can be found here.

Copyright ©2014 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

55 thoughts on “Seeking unity in diversity

  1. Have been throwing this around with like-minded online friends who all like watching different kinds of cinema. And it is very frustrating to my North Indian friends who would like to watch south Indian films and cannot get their hands on a sub-titled copy.

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  2. Hi BR

    I cannot agree more. I love to watch movies in regional languages. But it is an uphill task to get movies with subtitles.

    I think nowadays in Mumbai at least, the regional movies are shown with English subtitles. I recently watched a Bengali movie in PVR and it did have subs. I have heard Tamil movies showing here also show with subs.

    Even if we keep aside the benefits of getting to know other parts of India, the movies made in non-Hindi languages have such a different style of telling stories and a freshness (to a newbie like me) – the pleasure of watching in itself justifies the hassles. In my opinion the Bengali movie industry nowadays produces many really good movies and it hurts me that I can’t easily recommend those to my friends.

    In fact it is not only the regional movies, I believe the English movies should also have compulsory subtitles. it will help many to enjoy much more when one can’t cope with accents and nuances of dialogues. Though the English movie channels do a good job here.

    Anyway the PVR scene (specially their PVR Director’s Rare) seems like a good start in this direction. Of course it is not enough, but it is a start and I have hopes that more people will join in.

    Iniya

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  3. Hear, Hear! I have felt very strongly about this for a long time now. It is really sad, as you mention, that some of us know more about movies in 10 different languages than any indian language other than Hindi and, maybe, Tamil. I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to see a movie and have had to give up simply because a) it is so much harder to track down their DVDs here in the US, unlike most hindi movies, and b) even when you are lucky enough to find one, it is almost always without subtitles.

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  4. Totally agree with you. Today’s audiences are more than willing to explore films in other languages (let alone Indian ones). It is high time that they introduce subtitling in theaters for movies with universal appeal. I hear so many of my non-Malayali friends wanting to catch the much acclaimed Mohanlal-Meena starrer “Drishyam” on celluloid. But alas ….. ! Maybe our producers should take a cue from the makers of “Dedh Ishqiya” for better prospects in territories outside their home turf.

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  5. Baddy, I agree in general with what you say. But this ghettoisation, as you term it, extends beyond just sub-titles. The title for this article is a clue. These efforts of dubbing and sub-titling are much needed, no question. It is a popular lament of folks who rave about regional cinema not getting its due. The reason is, as you point out, there is no effort to spread it beyond the regional confines. Again America is a little different since again, as you say, films are made in a common language. My main point about regional cinema and why it is difficult to transcend the regional barrier is because they are steeped in the milieu. The very diversity among states is what prevents it, in many a case, from achieving national popularity. In fact, my pet theory is that it’s our country that ought to have be called the United States of India, given all that diversity (Well, are we united is another question altogether!! :-)). For example an Aadukalam might find it really difficult to traverse north despite sub-titles. Malayalam films, especially some of the 80s ones, are another example where even if the subjects are seemingly common, the films are really deep in local culture and the films don’t try too hard to educate a viewer on that with the assumption that the person is coming in with a certain baseline. The higher levels of literacy in Kerala at that time possibly played a part in that approach. Until Mani consciously started making a certain type of pan-Indian cinema, his films were rooted in, urban though decidedly southern culture. I know we constantly ask you if you’ve seen a particular regional language film and your replies have consistently pointed out the need for sub-titles. But my suspicion is even if there are sub-titles, a person who doesn’t know the language or is not familiar with the milieu, will they really get the film?

    BTW, have you seen Mumbai Police? :-)

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  6. @Brangan

    Timely piece . Especially when 2 doyens of regional cinema passed . Also your point about Drishyam is spot on. But even with subtitles, i dont think you can get all the colloquial beauty of regional films, Yeah much better than seeing them without subtitles.So did you watch the film?

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  7. Hindi channels in their prime slots do air southern movies dubbed in Hindi. Not sure how it is received by the Hindi speaking audience. I get to laugh out loud at the likes of ‘Vishal Ki Qurbani’, ‘The Fighter Mard No.1’…

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  8. BTW, who subtitles a movie? I mean is it the job of a screenwriter or some other persons are hired for it? Are there any specific rules defined for subtitling because sometimes we see very good subtitles which add depth to the story in context to the region and sometimes they.re very bad, taking the originality away?

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  9. As a gujarati who likes to watch tamil films, I totally agree with your call for subtitling, especially the new films.

    Mayakkam Enna, Aaranya Kaandam and Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum are films which I would love to watch, but can’t because I cannot find a copy with english subtitles.

    What is also surprising is that large production houses don’t offer multi-audio track let alone multi-subtitles on their dvd’s.

    I remember when I got the Swades dvd, which I knew had been released in Tamil as well, only had the hindi dialogue track as an audio option. It was surprising because adding the tamil track shouldn’t be too difficult, i have countless dvd’s with multi-language audio tracks. Also it wasn’t as if it was any extra cost to do the dubbing, because the dubbing had already been done as part of the cinematic release.

    anyways, rant over

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  10. Totally totally agree. I watched drishyam last week with my husband. I have a working knowledge of malayalam and he has none. Both of us enjoyed the movie a lot. But with decent subtitles our enjoyment would have been awesome. And I would have been able to take my kids, mother who all enjoy good movies.

    Those days of watching national movies atleast gave us a glimpse into what the rest of india lives like – I still remember elippathayam, many of Satyajit ray’s movies, some assamese movies being watched by the entire family.

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  11. Really love the idea. I am from Andhra and grieved when ANR passed away. And yes, there are a lot of movies of him that SHOULD be watched. Hope the younger generation of the industry who grieves and pays homages to these legends does something about it.

    PS: Never commented on your blog but have always thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks for all the great stuff that you put out here!

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  12. I sometimes why the channels dont do this as well. There are good movies being shown on all these regional channels and some of them are invariably part of a package. If these channels begin broadcasting these films subtitles they may get increased TRPs for some.

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  13. Shankar: The very diversity among states is what prevents it, in many a case, from achieving national popularity.

    I kinda part ways with you here. I am not saying that subtitling will make these films national hits on par with the Khan films. Subtitled films — whether Tamil or French or German — will always be a niche-audience attraction. But at least those people will a chance to check out these films, which, right now, is not happening all that much.

    And at least in the metros, I’d think there’s a sizable audience for subtitled films, given limited screenings. I think — with enough promotion and hype and buzz — an “Aadukalam” can do well in Delhi or Mumbai. Will those audiences completely *get* the film? No. Subtitles can never be a one-hundred-per cent equivalent of the film’s dialogue, plus a lot of the ethos may not travel. But I am sure audiences will be willing to live with this loss of information.

    It’s like when we watch “Amores Perros.” We may not fully know about the slums and the equations there, but even as a story, as a narrative, the film is gripping — that’s what I’m saying.

    I haven’t seen “Mumbai Police.”

    Prabhu: LOL!

    ramitbajaj01: It depends. Sometimes, a special sub-titler is called in. Mani Ratnam’s films are usually subtitled by Nasreen Munni Kabir (she told me this at a lit fest) seated beside an assistant director. She told me that her not being familiar with the language gives the subtitles a non-literal feel (of course, everything is okayed by the director finally). Then there are screenwriters who do the subtitles themselves.

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  14. There can be discussions galore on this but the onus lies on how to put this into practice. Mr.Rangan – While your article is highly praiseworthy and I’ve often thought about this (geographical constraints prevent me from directly doing something beneficial about wider subtitling) are you thinking of any practical steps by which you yourself can directly facilitate a wider practice of Subtitling regional films? Why not jump in yourself and directly put some measures in to facilitate this?

    Perhaps we should identify places frequented by film-makers – like Studios, or Film Chamber offices – and prominently advertize the Subtitling companies and how their work can increase the reach and even commercial value of the film – at least the money part of it might galvanize some of the producers to act.

    Subtitling will take a major blow if the Director is foolish enough to not push for the subtitles.
    I was so happy when Subramaniapuram had English subtitles – while I could have somehow managed without them, the line-to-line translation was a huge help. I am willing to bet that M.Sasikumar gunned for compulsory subtitles in the DVD.

    The viewer who truly aspires to watch the cinema of other states has to know English, otherwise they are being lazy and unreasonable – I’m not being presumptuous here. The plain reality is that Pahadi or Tulu or Gujarati or Malayali subtitles are way too difficult logistically. Dubbing is a weak alternative to this, because only the big-scale films get dubbed.

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  15. @Shankar: The higher levels of literacy in Kerala at that time possibly played a part in that approach

    Well the literacy levels in Kerala is still high, but the film literacy levels among moviemakers and moviegoers have gone down :-) Mainly because malayalam cinema today doesnt have the writers and directors of the caliber of 80’s, Many of them have passed away are inactive\past their prime now and audience who encouraged that kind of high bro cinema doesnt frequent cinemas anymore or are much less in today’s generation.But the point you mentioned is exactly what i said earlier about the movies rooted in local culture and audience not able to understand it even with subtitles.You dont even have to see a highly artistic film for that. The classic eg would be something like Mammootty film Rajamanikyam. Its one of the biggest hits in malayalam cinema. But anybody from outside kerala watching the film would wonder what the fuss is all about?. It has the most pedestrian story made in a most commercially viable manner. The real drawing aspect of the film is the language and characterization\performance used by mammooty in the local thakkala trivandrum slang.This can be only understood\enjoyed by a malayali. Guess thats why it was never remade in any other language.so there….

    BTW why this obsession about Mumbai police :-) Did you like it that much, or is it the gay twist :-)

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  16. Interestingly, the Kannada film industry has just called for a bandh protesting against dubbing of other language movies into Kannada. A threat to local culture apparently.

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  17. Hi BR, as a kannadiga with working knowledge of both telugu and tamil I have exposure to a large number of films in all 3 of above languages, including some of ANR’s gems (and some of them are truly great cinema).. but thanks to lack of subtitles in most of them I find it impossible to watch them with my husband who is maharastrian kannadiga grown up on marathi films of which I dont understand a word! so we are left with no option but to watch hindi or english movies eventhough either one of us would enjoy regional cinema better anyday… but I often wonder in this digital age with singers, actors, music composers and other film technicians crossing all language barriers to work in different industries why are subtitles so hard to find?? say for example do the families of any of “imported” southern film heriones sit through a screening without understanding the language??!

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  18. say for example do the families of any of “imported” southern film heriones sit through a screening without understanding the language??!

    Are u sure that their families do watch their films? :-) Or do the heroines themselves watch it :-)

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  19. Another aspect here is, the makers need to wake up to the possibility that their film with subtitles will have greater reach….that might lead to more films with subtitles… as long as the makers lack the urge to take their film to an all-India audience, I don’t think we will see the subtitling wave….btw, lok sabha tv still shows a film every week (with subs)…saturdays at 9 pm and repeat on sunday at 2 pm…

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  20. You have really put forth wonderful points. We miss good regional movies for the sole reason ‘no subtitless’. I guess in Chennai, Sathyam Cinemas tries to display subtitles, at least in selected days for selected movies. I don’t see this happening in other theaters even if the movie has subtitles.

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  21. Hear hear…!

    Unfortunately (and this is an issue I’ve struggled with for years in certain ways) I think some cultural barriers and the general absence of a film culture (in the critical sense) are huge pitfalls. In my experience (and at the risk of generalization) it is about the hardest thing in the world to convince a Hindi speaker to watch for instance a Tamil movie with subtitles. Even when they’re otherwise accessing the same director (Ratnam) in Hindi! Things are still vastly better than they used to be. Online people are a lot more aware of Southern films than they used to be but it’s still not where it needs to be to justify anything that might be spent on subtitles and so on. One should perhaps thank the diaspora for whatever has nonetheless happened on this front. On TV you get dubbed versions of awful Telugu masala! The way things are I think a government initiative might help. What if there were laws that suggested DVDs or VCDS couldn’t be produced without subs? But again probably still not a realistic alternative given the greater costs it would entail. These might seem low but we’re dealing with an audience that even outside India where they ought to be more spoiled with proper DVD releases and so forth are quite happy to watch even the grandest big screen entertainments on poor pirated transfers. So the regional cinema issue is one piece of the puzzle that then ties in with this larger indifference to questions of quality. Again a quick example — even in Hindi it’s hard to get director’s cuts of any kind done on DVD. Rakeysh Mehra has for years talked about how Abhishek dies in his original conception of D6, how it was supposed to be a dead man’s narration and how he bowed to distributor pressure on this. This cut was even shown at a few places around the world but it’s not been available on DVD and isn’t likely to be. So I think and for want of a better term there is a general absence of proper film culture that could nurture some of these trends. But yes the resistance to the ‘regional’ (which is a loaded term to begin with and part of the problem) has its own specific history. I am very glad you wrote this piece. We really do need people like yourself constantly pushing this kind of commentary.

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  22. Baddy, where are we parting ways here? I think we are saying the same things! :-)

    @MANK, don’t be a spoiler, dude!

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  23. I am desperate to have the dvd’s of many Malayalam movies from the 80’s, with subtitles. No movies from anywhere in India can match the quality of many of those movies. When you compare with 80’s and now, the worst degrading of quality has happened to Malayalam cinema.

    It is true, even subtitles cant do complete justice to the subtleties and intricacies of local culture, but still they help. I am so impressed by some of the Marathi films, thanks to subtitles. I dont understand how come they manage to make excellent movies, inspite of being so close to bollywood.

    I have to say this, most dvds of todays films have subtitles. But they are all so lazily done. If Aadukalam can have good subtitles, that is a movie that will be much appreciated in Europe.

    It is puzzling, why everybody is so much impressed by Drishyam. It is yet another copy (honestly I havent seen the original, but couple of cinema guys in my gym have told me this), and above all, there is nothing new for Mohanlal in this. Even most dialogues he has delivered some where before and it is typical maochist crap all over. For a Malayaalee, it was just a big relief to see Mohanlal in an ordinary man role, after long long time, and may be that’s why they just packed the theatres.

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  24. After reading all the comments above, Baradwaj, with your permission I’d like to introduce myself here, certainly not for personal glory / hidden agenda but to bring to your (plural) notice how subtitling has improved by leaps and bounds now in Tamil cinema viz a viz pre-VTV

    A.P.International, overseas distribution company (they also master quality dvds to which they have rights) insists on subtitles and ensure the films they distribute reach the various theaters worldwide in time despite the chaos and pandemonium here before release. Trust me, I should know ‘cos I always work against a deadline, I started with VTV and now working on my 190th or so film (Tamil and Malayalam inclusive) in these 3+ years. It has been an uphill task but like minded people – API, director Shankar, Gautam Menon, all the recent films *ing VIjay, Aiith, Vishal Fox entertainment Cloud 9 Studio Green, STudio 9, Thenandal films, Escape artist to name a few have been backing me (and my team) up in my mission to take south indian films worldwide. From the Telugu industry Vishnu manchu has been a pillar of strength and I just completed subtitling my 3rd consecutive telugu film,of his. I am glad to share with you that more than 90% of our Tamil films are subtitled now. If more people gave feedback and lent a hand to fine tune this art / department, we would definitely catch up with Bollywood. as far as subtitling goes. Sathyam and AGs play subtitled films on Thursdays and Tuesdays respectively.Wish PVR and inox would take a page from them! Thanks a gallon for giving me your space to share a dream very close to my heart :)

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  25. Rangan : Why don’t you blaze the trail by providing sub-titles in your articles when you quote a line from a Tamil movie :) I like to read review of a movie even if I have no intention of seeing it, but I usually give up reading your reviews of Tamil movies because you provide liberal doses of verbatim dialogues from the movie without any helping of a translation :) I mean it wouldn’t take more than 5 mins of your time. Would it?

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  26. Agree with the subtitling. The issue will still remain – subtitles in how many languages and what about those who can’t read, which unfortunately is still a large swath of our population. Not being cynical, but the era of silent films, never had this issue :) Silent films are the truly the only “universal” films. :)

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  27. @Satyam, What!! Abhishek doesn’t die at the end of D6?!! The version I watched certainly was a tragedy with him dying. This one, I’m pretty sure! :-)

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  28. I couldn’t agree with BR more about the need for sub-titling. But it is highly unfair to say that Hindi speaking audience or people from the north who are more familiar with the Hindi terrain and its off-shoots are uninterested in watching Tamil films or generally, films from the south (not saying you are saying this BR). This goes BOTH ways; make no dime of a mistake about it. The South is as ‘ghettoised’ (for lack of a better word in my limited vocabulary) as the North or West or East when it comes to this.

    I still remember the days I used to screen Hindi movies (with English sub-titles of course, turned on), every Saturday, as ‘cultural ambassador’ (LOL) of the ISA at the US university (don’t worry; it was quite a famous university with a high cross-section of students from Indian states) I studied in. Not more than 2-3 students from Tamil Nad used to show up to watch the movies, irrespective of whether it starred Amitabh or ShahRukh or Ashmit Patel. It was always populated with people from Karnataka (the ones from the ‘city’ areas) and some from Hyderabad. One fine day, as I didn’t get any new movie, I decided to fetch HUM from the store and screen it. The show was to begin at 6 pm but the auditorium was jam-packed by 5:45 pm. More than 70% of the Indian faces were new. What the heck? For a 13 year old movie, this aud is full! Then it struck my Suppandi brain: Man this one has Rajnikanth! From the next week, as usual, after my Ghajini moment for a week, it was back to seeing all the familiar faces! For the life of me I couldn’t understand this. Most of the HUM-Rajnikanth audience was supposedly from Madras, which, even though limitedly, had access to Hindi films. The Tamilians that used to come to watch Hindi movies were the ones who had been all over the place; 2 years in Bhandup, 3 in Chandigarh, et cetera. And remember, I saw this ‘reluctance’ to watch Hindi films with sub-titles in an environment far away from home, where anything remotely connected to the motherland is supposed to flood you with ‘emotions’; where Idli-Sambar and Chole-Paranthe supposedly indulge in more than foreplay.

    And not to remember that unforgettable moment in my life when a group of friends were watching KKKG (with sub-titles) and at the juncture when all the separated members of the great family in this film meet in some fancy mall in London; my Tamilian friend got up and started wearing his shoes. He was so sure that the film was about to end. ‘Everybody met na, film vower!!’ Or that wonderful moment when we were watching BAGHBAN’s Amitabh deliver a soliloquy marvelously (sub-titled) and my Tamilian friend from Madras was getting so restless with the ‘talk’ going on that he ejected the DVD and put in a Captain’s flick (we had to watch what he wanted; he ‘paid’ for the DVD player part of the movie watching).
    Now one might say, hey, you didn’t like ROWDY RATHORE in Telugu or Tamil, but you made it a 100 crore hit in Hindi!! Well, Duh! As a population, we are used to picking up the ‘bad’ things from anywhere fast! What should we learn from those Hollywood movies? Using cuss words and showing skin of course! (Don’t be surprised if you get the fortune of watching TWOWS ‘inspiration’ ‘Byculla ka Bhediya’ with Sunny Leone and Sachin Joshii in the near future). Seriousness in a narrative, more value, and more money to screen-writing? Erm, what are these ‘alien’ concepts? They won’t work in India. The Telugu masala films are one of the worst I have seen in my life. But these are picked up by Hindi film industry as regularly as SRK wins awards! The problem is not that these films exist [it would be highly elitist of me to expect these films to go away; they have their own cultural back-stories and ‘need’ an audience]; the problem is ONLY they exist (don’t give me examples of 1 or 2 stray exceptions). For the last 20 years, it is the SAME story recycled and recycled and recycled; a heroine imported from North (No Siree, we do not want Priyamani or anymani; Tamanna or Kajal will do enough to satisfy our ‘gora’ fetish – to heck with ‘local culture’); beat up a few villains with punch-lines; then a climactic fight. Lo and behold, Sohail and Salman are on the next flight to Hyderabad to buy the ‘rights.’! Chiranjeevi goes down with an imaginary veena in a song in one film; in the next film, he comes up with the same imaginary veena. (What goes down must come up.) Take that Hollywood. This is what we call a ‘sequel.’ And the Hindi film industry is more than willing to copy such juvenile stuff from anywhere and turn this into a hit thanks to its larger base and the wallets that open up automatically to such stuff. Equal opportunity offender the Hindi film industry is, for sure.

    For that matter, how many ‘non-discerning’ non-Bengali people watch Ray’s films? How many of the Indians in US check out Ray’s movies which are available in almost ALL county libraries in the US? They seem to be reserved only for nostalgic Bengalis and film-studies students. How many non-Bengalis watched CHANDER PAHER (that was with sub-titles)? For that matter, how many watched DEDH ISHQIYA? Some bit of high Urdu put off a friend of mine from Orissa! Dude, that one has sub-titles! No thanks. But he watched Aamir’s D!@k3 twice, cursing all the time!! The point is people who are willing to watch movies from other languages or countries or states will watch no matter what. These are the people needing sub-titles. And it is the job of the industry to provide it. It is completely impractical to expect a sizable population to show interest first and then put in the sub-titles as a reaction. It is NOT a big cost to put in these sub-titles and make them accessible to speakers of other languages. Don’t crib. Put in the sub-titles and release it in non-Tamil or Kannada or Malayalam speaking places. People that are interested will watch; people who are not, won’t, even if you provide them with free pani-puri in those exorbitantly priced multi-plexes.

    In the US, except for those BIG CINEMAS/RELIANCE theaters or whatever, NONE of the mid-level theaters have sub-titles for regional films. There have been umpteen instances during my stay in Minneapolis when I went to the theater to watch a Tamil film and had to switch thanks to the lack of sub-titles. The Tamil film industry has the budget to compete with Hindi film industry shoulder to shoulder, fly to Alaska if need be for 3 months to shoot 3 action sequences, but doesn’t have the money to arrange for a guy who could write sub-titles? Give me a break. The Hollywood honcho in Burbank doesn’t sit on his ass wondering why the family in Patna is not interested in watching MAN OF STEEL. They dub it in Bhojpuri with Ravi Kissen and release it – however rudimentary, however chuckle-worthy.

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  29. Baradwaj, this one I can relate to, as right now, I subtitle everything I make… it’s really, really hard, even though it’s Tamil (my mother tongue, a language I’m very comfortable with) to English (again, fairly comfy with the language). But how hard it is to get across the nuances! There’s one point when someone says “avan sudukaatikku poitaan” – the beauty of that statement lies in the casual *way* he says it – almost like a dismissal, for a dead craftsman. How the heck do you say it in Eng? Even the chap who works with me on these – a very young boy, from deep south TN did not get it the first time he heard it! But when a non-Tamil speaker sees it, without understanding it the way I do, how can he/ she enjoy it fully?

    That’s one. The other is just a really bizarre exp many years back, when we lived in Holland. We happened to watch Jodha Akbar in the cinema there. It was three hours long, right? And in Hindi? You see, I don’t quite follow Hindi (ok, I don’t follow it at all!) and this movie was subtitles in Dutch! We still wince everytime we talk about those three hours… :)

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  30. @Rajesh

    Come on , you mean to say you didnt find the film gripping at all?.I dont want to spoil things for others, but it was after a long time when i watched a film thriller(especially in mal) where the film was always one step ahead of me.i dont mean its a perfect film but how many films are.Yeah mohanlal getting back to his roots playing an ordinary hero was another aspect of it.It isnt a copy as such, Just the basic storyline is taken from a japanese novel, but it has been adapted to the Kerala milieu very well.

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  31. An Jo :Chiranjeevi goes down with an imaginary veena in a song in one film; in the next film, he comes up with the same imaginary veena. (What goes down must come up.)

    :) LOL. What else do you expect when you make films only to please your fan base.BTW that was some rant! :)

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  32. Totally agree with the need for subtitles. And in most cases these days its zero additional cost or effort. I live in London and all “desi” films screened in theatres here (be it Hindi/Tamil/Malayalam/Telugu/Gujarati) almost always have subtitles so someone somewhere is doing this work already. It can’t be that hard to use the same prints for screenings in India, can it?

    Older films though are another matter. My biggest frustration is with Malayalam films from the 70s and 80s and the fact that the DVDs for these rarely (if ever) come with subtitles. My knowledge of the language is minimal but the few films (especially of Mohanlal) that I have seen with subtitles make me keen to watch a lot more. Maybe a crowdsourcing effort to make this happen is warranted?

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  33. @Rekhs
    I dont think I have ever communicated in anyways to somebody doing the subtitling work. Salute to you sir/maam. I understand it is a difficult job. I am just a movie lover and watch movies from around the world, which will be impossible without those .srt or idx/sub files. So sincerely, a big thank you to you.

    I just hope people like you will concentrate more on subtitling the offbeat movies too, not just the popular potboilers. I am desperate to find a dvd of Naduvula konjam pakkathe kaanom with subtitles, and many similar movies, to show my wife.

    Congratulations and All the best.

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  34. @Mank
    Sorry friend, Within a few minutes itself Mohanlal had started delivering his routine lectures here and there and once the thing happened, and since the script helps – it mentions thrice about the possibility – it was very easy to see what was going to happen. The way that was shot, it held the viewers interest, thats all. Not anywhere near to be kept near the best or near bests of Malayalam. It was the lady police officer and the constable character which was anything different.

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  35. @Kaushik Bhattacharya

    I am a Malayaalee, desperate (for the dvds with subtitles) for Malayalam cinema from the 80’s. Some of the best are not even available as vcds. I would really like the subtitles as I think they will become very important, to show to the future generations how good we were. By then, I dont think most Malayalees will understand good Malayalam which was used in these movies. I even wrote to Mammootty Mohanlal etc, in their blogs, as their best movies all came in the 80’s and it would be good for them too. But nothing has happened.

    Real pity. 80’s were the golden age of Malayalam.

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  36. Vivek Gupta: Haha! Touche! But I maintain that I convey a sense of whatever’s in Tamil. The exact translation is not needed, IMO.

    Anand: That’s such a surreal misinterpretation of what I’m saying here… I had to laugh out loud. Thanks :-)

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  37. “Because regional films reflect regional sensibilities and by watching these films, we open ourselves to tiny transfusions of culture. We see not just what kind of stories our neighbours from other states like to watch but also what kind of lives they lead, what they do for work and play”

    It would be fun to hear the conclusions someone might draw about tamil culture from dropping into a random selection of our movies. I wonder if they would pick up on why our rather serious culture chooses to mainly peddle movies steeped in maudlin sentiment and rustic comedy. On second thought, maybe they’d see that as a pan-India thing.

    “But maybe we are making good films. It’s just that the people who don’t speak the language don’t know anything about them.”

    This is so true. More than once I’ve been shown movies in Malayalam / Bengali where dialogue actually matters and I had no idea what was going on. Especially where the story doesn’t have a lot of visual movement to detail the plot i.e. it’s not stuff like people trying to defuse a bomb, but rather a delicate situation between individuals, it is important to understand the details of what is being said. Otherwise you’re left clueless, wondering what has angered the husband so much that he throws his plate away untouched. I’m still wondering :)

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  38. Mystery solved (i think) – An Jo is not Mr.Mohanty.

    @An Jo: That was a good rant and some valid points.

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  39. Shankar, the version that was released had him surviving at the end. If you recall there was a scene with Bachchan Sr, a vision of sorts, and then he lives. This was the version released everywhere. Later Mehra released the director’s cut at a few places but it’s unlikely you had the chance to see this. Unless you saw it much later in the theater and did see this. I don’t think it played in India but I could be wrong. Also don’t think this version is available on DVD. Would be thrilled to discover otherwise.

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  40. Surreal, yes. Because I follow your writings and I’m sure you didn’t mean that.

    But, don’t you acknowledge that’s the only meaning conveyed literally? And that it should have been worded better, ESP. in a National news magazine?

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  41. Bravo! This is something that drives me crazy. Being a non-Indian fan of Tamil films can be very challenging. One of my main woes is that National Award-Winning films are released without subtitles. (Especially Vaagai Sooda Vaa) All I know is the more Tamil films I see, the more Tamil films I want to see. Over the past year we have been watching more Malaylam films, too. (Aranya Kaandam is a real sore spot for me, too, I really want to see this movie!). That one went to so many festivals and still I can’t find it on DVD. But I refuse to stop watching these movies. I will watch a film without subtitles but it isn’t easy to have the entire experience. A lot of research is involved before watching it and then I have to do more research after seeing the film. This can be fun but it is also frustrating. A recent example is the Malayalam film Ayaal, I learned so much about the culture and even ended up buying a CD of Pulluvan songs.

    It is especially frustrating with newer films, we’ve been watching Tamil films for over ten years now and still so many new films are released on DVD without subtitles.

    Please keep doing what you are doing and if there is a way to correct this problem, please let us know! I’ve actually considered writing to film studios to complain but they probably won’t give a hoot.

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  42. Ooops, Ayaal does have subtitles. I was all fired up and just realized I didn’t mention that, I did a lot of research on the Pulluvars af Kerala and then we had to watch the movie again and enjoyed it even more.

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  43. @Satyam, this is the second instance, in the recent days, of me thinking that I watched a film with a certain ending and then learning about an alternate ending!! Am I getting all muddled up, with all that movie watching? :-)

    But seriously, after seeing your reply, I went back to see the ending of the movie I had seen which i distinctly remember had AB dying. The reason I say this is because this was a topic of conversation in the household about whether the film should have ended tragically or not. To add intrigue, when I watched, I’m pretty sure, the film was available for streaming on Netflix. But when I checked today, there’s only the DVD version….streaming is gone!! I must now get the DVD in order to check the ending, hoping it’s the same from what I think I saw originally.

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  44. @Donna:I did a lot of research on the Pulluvars af Kerala and then we had to watch the movie again and enjoyed it even more.

    Are you doing this as part of some film course or for the pure love of it ?. Anyway great to hear something like that. We need film viewers with that amount of love and dedication for it. I love pulluvar songs myself .Now that you are familiar with pullavar culture, i suggest you watch Lohitadas film Bhoothakannadi(if you have not seen it), that would be a good experience!.

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  45. Mank, for the pure love of it and wanting to know more about the culture. (I was very disappointed that the pulluvan songs in the film were not on the CD!) I will definitely look for Bhoothakannadi and if you can give me a source for more pulluvar pattu, please let me know. (I am also a learning Thamizh).

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  46. @Donna

    Great to hear that. . BTW i suppose English is your mother tongue.So are you able to fully enjoy these songs. But its great you are studying new languages , A lot of pullavan songs have been uploaded to the youtube. you can get some by checking out the below link.Also the pullavan songs from ayal is also available on youtube.

    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=pulluvan%20pattukal&sm=1

    If i find any more links, i will be glad to pass it over to you.

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  47. Mank, thank you for the link, the third one, Kasyapanude Bharyamaargalil is one of my favorites, the camerawork is wonderful. I have watched that one many times. Yes, I am an American, no matter how much I study I will never be able to fully appreciate the subbtleties, scope and breadth of the Thamizh language. Please email me sometime!

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