“Subtitling is an act of kindness,” says Nandini Karky. Conveying the true essence of a scene goes beyond merely translating lines from one language to another. “A subtitler should be empathetic towards the creator as well as the viewer,” she says. Nandini has written subtitles for films, including I , Pisaasu , YennaiArindhaal , and Thanga Meengal , and knows first-hand the challenges of subtitling for a film within three or four days, with barely any support from the film’s team.
“They are on a really tight schedule during the final stages of the production process… I’ve sometimes worked non-stop for 18 hours,” she says. “Those were stressful days.” That’s when Nandini decided to make subtitling an easier task — by creating a pool of well-equipped subtitlers for the film and television industry. She established ‘Subemy’, a subtitling academy, which she says is the first of its kind in the country.
Through Subemy, Nandini hopes to train people in the art of subtitling. The first course on ‘Tamil to English Film/TV Subtitling’ is set to begin later this month, for which Nandini held tests to enrol students. “They are expected to not just have an understanding of the two languages, but also have technical knowledge,” she says. Seated in the office of Karky Research Foundation in Adyar (she is the wife of popular lyricist Madhan Karky), Nandini talks about her dream of creating an exciting culture of subtitling in the country.
“I have taken only baby steps for now,” she smiles. But they are crucial ones towards taking Tamil cinema to the world stage. Nandini trained in subtitling at Subtitling Worldwide, The Netherlands. “What I learnt as part of my course can be applied to any language,” she says. Her subtitling academy will initially start off with Tamil to English subtitling, but Nandini visualises a curriculum that will bring all our regional languages into its fold. “We should, for instance, be able to give Gujarati subtitles for an Assamese film.”
Nandini also hopes to work on subtitles created specifically for the hearing and visually-impaired. “A regular viewer takes in various other sounds from a scene that will help in his/her understanding of it. But for someone with a hearing impairment, we will have to provide more information through subtitles,” she says. Nandini speaks of creating a movie experience for the visually-impaired through subtitles and supportive sounds and effects. Although not prevalent in India currently, she hopes her academy will contribute to making movies more accessible to the differently-abled.
Support from the film’s writer and director is crucial to its subtitler. “Directors Ram and Gautham Menon were very supportive,” recalls Nandini. She remembers Ram telling her that when Thanga Meengal was screened at a film festival for an audience that didn’t know Tamil, they laughed at all the right places. This was a big compliment, for conveying humour through subtitles is the most difficult part. A subtitler has done his/her job perfectly when the audience walks out of the theatre without the feeling of having watched a film in a language alien to them. “That’s the ultimate aim of a writer of subtitles,” says Nandini. To be present, and yet, not be present.