March 21, 2010

'Idiot' is politically correct!

Filmmakers win the battle with the censors for retaining risqué scenes, but dilute the dialogues in the subtitles, says Anuradha Varma

When Barbara Mori tells co-star Hrithik Roshan “Main ullu ki patthi hoon” in this summer’s release Kites, or when Dharmendra delivered his famous dialogue, “Kutte, main tera khoon pee jaoonga”, people all over the world could be reading it as “I’m an idiot” or “You’re a fool”.

Welcome to the world of subtitling... where filmmakers, who battle the censor board to get ‘objectionable’ scenes cleared, allow dialogues to be sanitised when it comes to subtitling. Says censor board member Nandini Sardesai, “As long as no word is inserted, there is no problem. The other day, I saw the word ‘shit’ written as ‘s***’... we wouldn’t have objected to that!” Vinayak Azad concurs, “It’s common sense, isn’t it? If it’s in the approved dialogue, why can’t it be in the subtitles? It’s self-censorship.”

Defends a spokesperson at HBO, “Some words or slang may be mild, but not read so proper, hence these are further edited in the subtitles to suit the sensibility of the medium.”

Most viewers are used to finding even words like “bitch” (Kambakkht Ishq) changed to “witch” or “jerk” turned to “idiot”. Says freelance writer Manoj Saral, “We automatically tone down abuses. For instance, ‘bastard’ will become ‘stupid, idiot or fool’ or a Hindi ‘gaali’ will be written as ‘Shucks!’ For the Middle East audience, even the word ‘jehad’ has to be changed to ‘righteous war’.” For Dev D, director Anurag Kashyap sat through the process, and tried to retain the spirit of the scenes.

Besides the demands of catering to a world audience, with regions like the Middle East that insist on conservative dialogues, tacky subtitles are also a result of the disorganised nature of the business. Comments filmmaker Pritish Nandy, “The people who do subtitling in India are not exactly conversant with English. They are good with Hindi, the original language of the film.”

Agrees Saral, “Anyone with a working knowledge of English can enter the field. A film is sometimes subtitled for Rs 1,000.” Says Devbrat Das of Words India, “For companies, it can be between Rs 5,000-Rs 50,000.”
Adds MS Sutar, of Future Works, in the business for nearly 35 years, “People like Ashutosh Gowarikar and Aamir Khan go into the details of the subtitles, but most don’t. We are regularly asked to do the job in 24 hours as the filmmaker wants to send his movie for a film festival.”

Explains Pritish, “We always subtitle a censored print. So there are no problems. We take a serious interest in subtitling our films when we send them to international film festivals or to overseas distributors. In fact, our overseas sales agents often work with us on the subtitling to ensure that the nuances of every region, every culture are correctly taken care of. However, in India, our distributors and those who lease the rights to our films take charge of subtitling and we allow them to. If they want our intervention, we work along with them. If they don’t, we let it be.”

There are filmmakers who retain the language, like Madhur Bhandarkar. He says, “My associate director oversees the subtitling process. From Chandni Bar to Jail, I have stuck to the dialogue, including abuses. For Traffic Signal, we worked with writer Nasreen Munni Kabir, so the scenes were accurately interpreted.”

Ishqiya director Abhishek Chaubey admits that it’s commercial considerations that ultimately rule. Having worked on Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara, he says, “We had to tone down profanities. An ‘adult’ film like Ishqiya would get a ‘15 and above’ rating in the UK and we don’t want to lose that audience.” However, between the rush for the box-office and film festivals, viewers are often left with tacky subtitles. Says Abhishek, “We had our subtitles once the script was locked, a year before the film released. Directors should get involved in their films. I’ve seen the audience in Europe lose interest because of the bad subtitles.”

Till then, it’s the audience that has to make do with watered down versions of films!


The Illusionist said...

I had always wondered why they dilute the spoken word on sub titles. It just does not make any sense. Why additional censorship ? Nice read here.

Pardesi said...

It is sometimes hilarious when dialogs in ENGLISH are subtitled differently from what is being spoken. I saw this happen most consistently in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi - that dilutes the effect of the dialogs even more, turning the whole into some comical farce.

Most subtitling for ripoff DVDs is done by some automated software and that is truly abysmal in content. I have learned to tell pirated DVD from original just by how it is subtitled. Except for abuses being watered down, most current film-makers seem to be paying attention to the subtitling in their official versions.

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