Sunday, May 20, 2007


[cross-posted on the Passion For Cinema blog]

Bollywood DVDs continue to scale new depths in transfer quality and new heights in the quality of subtitles. The people working on these subtitles seem to have no clue about the language that the dialogues are being spoken in -- or if they do, they've decided that the original text was too boring and decided to improvise. Here are a few items collected from the numerous hours watching evidence that the idiot box deserved its name.

Consider the odes to surrealism served up in movies like Shabd (kyo.n becomes why? 53 15) and Shikhar (the appearance of the cryptic 0618 10:46:5:12 10:46:54:00).

Consider the influences of jazz in the improvisatory liberties taken on lines of dialogue or fragments of lyrics. In Zeher, saahil kii tarah kaaTe mujhako chaahat kii har lahar is translated as every wave of love hits me like a bank; In Chocolate, beggar outside a temple is offered as the subtitle of ma.ndir kaa pujaarii. The gargantuan Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena took sirf arjun chaahiye? usakaa to ham shaam ko hii ##encounter## kar dete hai.n? and gave us why don't we kill his friend Shyam?. Jaan-E-Mann offered several howlers: ye kitaab mai.nne chaar baar pa.Dhii hai became i've read Picasso four times and i like self-made men became i like good manners. Shrabani Deodhar's made-for-TV-but-didn't-even-deserve-that Pehchaan (The Face of Truth) didn't stop at kachchii umar hamane saath guzaarii hai becoming we spent our prime together; dialogue in the courtroom scenes suffered as well (acts like a drug on the brain becomes the radical astra-block in the brain). In addition to being laden with belly-aching tropes of stupidity, Madhur Bhandarkar's Aan: Men at Work offered a lyrical experiment: ek lailaa ne dil uchhaalaa hai/saare aalam ko maar Daalaa hai ... haaye haaye re cha.Dhaa (etc etc) nashaa nashaa nashaa morphed into one juliet has offered her heart/she has killed the whole atmosphere ... hey, the inebriation has taken effect.

Subtitlers love dealing with profanity: they often bowdlerise screen dialogue, but make up for it by introducing cuss words in subtitles for scenes that were milder in contrast. In Lage Raho Munna Bhai baapuu ko jo karanaa wo kar le became the much stronger i don't give a sparrow's fart!. A wrong keystroke (intentional or not) often serves to introduce profanity in a harmless movie: In Sardar, the innocent junagadh's a mere pawn in the game of chess became the historically egregious junagadh's mere porn in the game of chess.

If you thought this was a problem assailing new movies, think again. In Yash Chopra's Kabhi Kabhie, har ik pal merii jawaanii hai in Sahir's mai.n pal do pal kaa shaayar huu.N got translated as i am the fountainhead of eternal youth. In Sitamgar, Majrooh's lyric took a severe beating (kisake liye marataa hai kaun / jhuuTh se log lete hai.n kaam / sab hai.n ta.Dapate apane liye / dete hai.n usako pyaar kaa naam became no one's dying for anyone / it's just a pack of lies .../ each to his own, orgasm... / yet they call it love...).

Consider now how names and numbers changed. You see a vehicle's licence plate on screen and yet the subtitle insists that it's another number. Mehra becomes Verma (Zeher), 987 becomes 973 (Aitraaz), Indu becomes Andy (Corporate), unniis saal becomes 20 years (Family: Ties of Blood) and Leela Sharma becomes Leela Heera (Film Star).

It ain't over yet folks. It wasn't bad enough that Jag Mundhra's Provoked took drastic liberties with the truth; the subtitlers had a ball twisting the lines of dialogue: they even offered alternative English subtitles to the existing English subtitles for the Hindi/Punjabi dialogue: we've had a tumultuous relationship at best became we've had multiple relationships.

Now's your chance to make a difference. Head over to Bombay TV's page dedicated to movie subtitling and take a shot at adding subtitles to a movie scene: you can choose to become yet another incompetent subtitler or you can do a world of good.

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