It’s odd how more people have not acknowledged the burgeoning number of Malayalam films with English titles

Three dots, Amen, Red Wine, Good Idea, Dolls, Radio, Lucky Star, Shutter, Housefull, Black Butterfly, Cowboy, Celluloid, Players, Romans, Entry

What do the words above have in common besides all of them being English? A fair number of you may have guessed (they say you’d bump into a Malayalee on the moon) that these are names of some of the Malayalam movies that released in 2013.

The long-standing apparent fascination the Malayalam film industry has with English movie titles is one of those things my father likes to point out to me every so often for the past couple of years. I usually react with a ‘Dad must you harp on so’ and one of those patronizing wave of the hand, that daughters master at sixteen when they realise they’re too cool for school.

Truth was, I always assumed that the trend, being so obvious, would have been discussed, analysed and dissected to death. But a quick Google search revealed that that is hardly the case. Though a handful of people have pointed it out on their blogs nobody seems to have given it much thought.

Some numbers

In 2012, out of the 127 Malayalam movies that released, about 46 had English titles. Out of the 46 films that have released in 2013 so far, 24 have English titles. By English I mean English enough for the meaning to be understood by a non-Malayali. That excludes titles like Doctor Innocent Aanu and qualifies titles like Amen (though it is pronounced ‘Aamain’ in Malayalam).

A quick tabulation of releases and proportion of English titles in the past 8 years suggests that this trend actually started picking up at around 2008. Since then more than 30 percent of the releases have had English names.

Why does it matter?

Well, it doesn’t really. But it has always seemed unwarranted at times, especially with movies called Chocolate, Lollipop, Sandwich, Poppins, Laptop, Orange, Notebook, and Textbook (not kidding!).

Perhaps directors feel that giving their movies an English title makes it more attractive to the younger crowd. That would be a strange and uncomfortable explanation if true. Do youngsters really think English is cooler than Malayalam? I asked an assistant director in the industry what he thought about this theory of mine, and I was a little relieved that he didn’t agree. Some films, he said, just work better with English titles. While others don’t. He cited the example of 22 Female Kottayam, a title that you have to agree elicited a fair amount of intrigue (and justified too, if you ask me) among movie-goers.

I heard that Amen a recent Malayalam hit, was initially supposed to be called ‘Solamante palli, Shoshannayudeyum’ (Solomon’s church, and Shoshanna’s too). But it was later renamed Amen to better facilitate the tagline ‘A divine comedy’. Fair enough. In case of Amen though, I’m rather grateful it wasn’t called Solamante palli, Shoshannayudeyum, because that would have been a mouthful while recommending the movie to my non-Malayalee friends.

So I guess it sometimes pays off to have a more universally palatable movie title. But it gets rather annoying when the title seems to have been chosen more to bring in audiences and less for its relevance to the story. This seems to carry the implicit suggestion that English words are more ‘youthful’ than Malayalam words, a flawed logic to say the least.

All said and done, the Malayalam film industry has the freedom to choose whatever movie title that pleases them – unlike their Tamil counterpart where films (U-rated ones) with Tamil titles have to pay less tax than those with English titles in accordance with a 2006 government ruling aiming to promote the State language. Whether targeting the language of the title of a movie is the best way to do this is debatable, but as long as they have not banned English titles there’s not much to argue about.

Now that I have spent an extraordinary amount of time analyzing a rather mundane aspect of Malayalam cinema, I can now go back to trying to decide whether to watch Three Dots in the theatre or stick to Ordinary on DVD…


(Nandita Jayaraj writes about her encounters with the strange and interesting. You can write to her with feedback at nandita.j@thehindu.co.in. You can also tweet her @nandita_j )

Keywords: Malayalammovieenglishtitles