Every regional and Hindi film should be released with English subtitles, so it reaches a wider audience

“Kai Po Che is such a lovely film. But had to wait till Thursday to watch it with English subtitles,” a friend who doesn’t speak or understand Hindi, pinged me on Facebook.

Another non-Hindi-speaking friend wondered why they don’t just play films with English subtitles for Hindi films on all days.

Thanks to English subtitles, the market for Hindi films has opened up to even non-Hindi speakers who have always wanted to watch Bollywood films (mostly because they haven’t been able to escape the multi-crore marketing blitzkrieg unleashed upon them from every TV slot, newspaper ad, posters and social media).

Interestingly, every time there’s an interesting Tamil film that releases — and we are talking about not just big ones such as Enthiran or Vishwaroopam — and creates a buzz on Twitter and Facebook, movie-buffs from the North want to know when the films will release there with subs.

Unfortunately, most of them have to wait till the DVD is out because Tamil films get subtitled only for DVDs. But even if late, films such as Aaranya Kaandam, Pizza, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom and Kaadhalil Sothappuvathu Yeppadi have found fans in the North, thanks to DVDs with English subtitles.

Who would have thought that a country that makes barely a handful of films in English every year would consume films in English! As strange as it sounds, English is probably the most functional language in the country.

Yet, Indian-English cinema is practically dead. The economics don’t add up. You cannot recover more than a few lakh for a film made in English because it gets a niche release and there are no TV channels that buy Indian-English content anymore. And big Bollywood films spend crores in just marketing the film alone and flooding the market with prints.

But, for Indian-English films to get marketed, the posters and promos should have saleable stars. Barring Rahul Bose, there are none. And it’s not as if Bollywood hasn’t tried making Hinglish films. Saif Ali Khan did Being Cyrus, Imran Khan did Delhi Belly... While Being Cyrus was too darkly indie and appealed only to a niche audience, the more popular Delhi Belly was sold through Hindi songs. Remember ‘Bhaag DK Bose’? Many did not even realise Delhi Belly was an English-speaking film because the film was infested with everyday cuss words and half-a-dozen Hindi songs. Expletives know no language barrier.

The problem with desi English cinema, however, is more basic. Even if there are a few writers who think and write in English, most Indian actors get too conscious about their accent because the English they speak has a strong regional accent. In an attempt to hide the local flavour, they unwittingly put on an affected accent that takes away the connect with the character (unless the actor is playing someone with a fake accent). Indian-English accents differ from State to State. Put a camera in front of the most confident English speaker and you will see a slight change or put-on sophistication.

We in India consume quite a lot of Hollywood English content that local English on screen sounds self-conscious, not-right and sometimes inferior because our production values never match up with the blockbuster Hollywood fare we are exposed to. And yes, there is a lot lost in translation from writing to performance in Indian-English cinema.

However, while we maybe a shy or self-conscious English-speaking country, we are a confident English reading country. Our grasp of English beats most countries in the world. Which is why, maybe it’s time to put those reading skills to use to get to know our own cinema better.

Dear producers, may every regional and Hindi film be released with English subtitles?

Because there’s a treasure trove of Indian stories and local cinema waiting to be found in translation.

And maybe some day in the future, this reading habit might translate to a listening habit and our English won’t sound all that bad to us from an actor speaking the language on the big screen.

RELATED NEWS

Art or accident?February 22, 2013

Why not call it Most Favourite Film?March 1, 2013

The home and the worldFebruary 15, 2013