Mind your language please, we are Indians

Published: 04 November, 2011 08:00 IST | Vanita Kohli-Khandekar |

Many years back, without knowing the language, I watched two Tamil films

Many years back, without knowing the language, I watched two Tamil films. Both Nayakan and Dalapathi were brilliant, I could see that from the quality of acting and the terseness of each frame.

But without subtitles or dubbing I couldn't appreciate them better. Later, their Hindi remakes never did capture the essence of the original in Tamil.

In the last five years however, the whole non-Hindi cinema market has opened up for me and millions of people like me, who want to watch cinema in different languages and from different regions.

Not lost in translation: Spiderman dubbed in Bhojpuri and Tamil
were huge hits

So Tamil films are dubbed in Telugu, Telugu in Tamil, English in Hindi, Hindi in Polish and German and dozens of other languages. As a Hindi/English/Marathi speaking person, theoretically I have access to almost all the 1,100 films made in India, not just the 200 odd films that would fall in these three languages. So I watched the dubbed versions of Sivaji and Robot with relish. And now thanks to UTV World Movies or other such channels, I can watch all kinds of films from any part of the world.

It is a variety that is my right as a paying consumer. That is why the suggestion that Hollywood films should not be allowed to be dubbed in Indian languages is regressive and backward. It tramples on your rights as a viewer completely, ostensibly in the name of protecting film makers. There is talk of lobbying with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The logic -- these dubbed versions eat into the local industry's share.
This is exactly the sort of silly argument that the Kannada film industry used to ban Tamil or Telugu films from being dubbed in Kannada for release in Karnataka. This has stunted the growth of the Kannada film industry, making it more or less irrelevant in Indian cinema --unlike say Telugu or Malayalam films -- which do well in markets like Mumbai too. It has also killed the variety available to Kannadigas.

The real reason some film makers want to stop dubbing of Hollywood films is because they are popular. For instance, Spiderman in Bhojpuri and Tamil were huge hits. Why should something that you and I like as viewers, be restricted to protect the interests of a few film makers?

At a time when the world is accepting Indian films as they are and appreciating them, this move will trigger a wave of protectionism from other countries where Indian films, particularly in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam are popular. This includes the Middle East, Germany, Mauritius, South East Asia, the US and Europe. If 15-30 per cent of a film's revenues come from the overseas markets, as all the analysts tell us, then that could be in danger.

India is one of the few countries in the world with a strong, robust local film industry. This is because we are an open market. There are no restrictions, quotas or bans on importing any film into India as long as it meets censorship norms. Yet after more than 100 years of such a policy, Hollywood remains just about 5-7 per cent of the total box office collections in India. This is because we like to watch our films, in our own language. So we may watch a Jurassic Park or 2012 in Tamil or Hindi, but what we really like is 3 Idiots and Dabangg.

Last week Ra One released with 4,000 odd prints across the world because Shah Rukh Khan is hugely popular in Europe (Germany in particular) and the US. What if the Americans decided that only English films can be released in the US or only German in Germany. Once you start shutting your mind  to languages, cultures or people -- you just ghetto yourself in. And that is what some in the Indian film industry want to do to us -- the audience.

Vanita Kohli-Khandekar is a media specialist and author (http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik)

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