Grumpy Post About My Least Favorite Part of Indian Film-SUBTITLES!!!!

I don’t usually let myself complain, but it’s pouring rain, my summer schedule is looking like the things I want to do won’t be possible because of other stuff that is happening that I am less excited about, and I have a big irritating expense that appeared suddenly out of nowhere. Also I just got an email asking me to sub in for Sunday school this week and I REALLY REALLY don’t want to. So I am going to complain about a thing that I think we all have strong feelings about-SUBTITLES!

Non-Existent Subtitles

This is infuriating for me, selfishly. If Indian film wants to be taken seriously on the world stage, they need to provide English subtitles. There is no reason that international streaming services shouldn’t provide subtitles. Especially when the subtitles are available on the DVD version of the films, so they are in fact taking a step backward in terms of access.

It is also infuriating when I think about other people in the Indian market. If non-Hindi films especially want to break through and be taken seriously, then their producers need to get serious about spending just a little extra money to add subtitles. There is no reason that, for instance, I cannot find Vaaranam Aayiram legally streaming with subtitles. It’s available, sure, just without subtitles. For that I have to go to an illegal file sharing site and see the DVD version.

It’s available through Amazon Prime/ErosNow but without subtitles. That’s INSANE!!!!

The removal of subtitles is just so unwelcoming, it says to me “we don’t want you to watch this movie, we don’t think you will like this movie, we are going out of our way to make sure you can’t watch this movie”. And it’s also insulting to the film itself, it says “we know the Tamil audience likes Vaaranam Aayiram, but it isn’t a good enough movie to cross over, English speakers wouldn’t like it and neither would anyone else in India”.

Faux-Western References Subtitles

Next to no subtitles at all, this is my least favorite option. When, for instance, Student of the Year 2 mentioned jokes about “Raj” and “Simran” and “Kuljit”, why did my English subtitles translate it to “Elizabeth” and “Mr. Darcy” and “Wickham”?

On the one hand, it is expecting that people reading the English subtitles will not be capable of a frame of reference for Indian pop culture. Which is insulting to people like me, folks who seriously watch the movies but aren’t Indian. And also to people who are Indian and don’t happen to speak Hindi. I am sure there are plenty of ABCDs all over the world who know perfectly well who Raj and Simran and Kuljit are, but aren’t fluent in Hindi. Why insult them by pretending they don’t exist?

I still love this song, years later. And it describes the whole sweep of folks who might watch Hindi films and know Indian culture, and still need subtitles.

And second, it is minimizing Indian pop culture. It is saying “we are so ashamed of our cultural heritage that, rather than triumphing it and encouraging you to learn more, we are hiding it away behind western references that in our minds are somehow ‘better'”. I don’t see French movies changing “Napoleon” to “George Washington” in their subtitles, they assume that the audience should be familiar with this person and if they aren’t, it is on them to learn more. Why does it happen all the time in Indian film? This flattening and hiding of who they are?

Miss-spellings, No subtitles for songs, Bad word choice Subtitles-Not a Problem!

Really, I don’t care about this stuff. I would far rather have the “it looks like Simran has fallen for Kuljit instead of Raj” joke be translated as “Her dosen’t love you any more” than some weird white-washing of it.

Who cares of something is miss-spelled? We can still get the general idea.
Bad word choice? Still not a problem! So long as I can figure out the gist of the statement, it’s fine with me.

No subtitles for songs? That’s irritating, but doesn’t make me angry. The idea is clearly that songs are visual metaphors and beautifully sounding words, so we should not need the actual language provided. I disagree with the reasoning, but I can respect it.

I wish this had subtitles, but I don’t feel actively angry at them not being present.

The meaning behind all these decisions is “we expect the visuals and performances to carry the meaning more than the words, we expect the people reading the subtitles to either be so fluent in English that they can fill in the gaps or so barely fluent that they would not appreciate any further effort, we aren’t fluent in English and it is a struggle to write these subtitles but we care so much about welcoming in a new audience that we are trying our best”.

These a big push lately, for certain films, to get really really GOOD subtitles added to them. And that itself I find a bit, I don’t know, elitist? I would far rather all films be available with bad subtitles and I, the viewer, can choose which moves I care most about, than someone deciding for me which films I can and cannot watch based on which they provide subtitles for. And deciding what are “good” subtitles and what are bad subtitles.

The crowdsourcing subtitle files that are more and more common are, for me, revolutionary!!!! The people are deciding for themselves which films people should see whether or not formal official subtitles are provided. They are reaching out across cultures to make this possible. I find that far more hopeful than the push for subtitles that rhyme the lyrics of a song across languages, or come up with a loose equivalency for cultural references. The people don’t want that, the people just want to be able to watch the movies they want to watch.

Oh, and then there is dubbing, which is a whole other fight. I will leave that, because at least the idea is to reach across cultures to folks whose first Indian language is different from the original language of the film. And/or who might be illiterate and unable to read subtitles. But please, if you dub a film, DON’T CHANGE THE TITLE!!!!! Or change the edit!!!! So many Hindi dubs of southern films cut 10-20-30 minutes from them, and change the title to something completely unrelated making it almost impossible for me to recognize the relationship.

What the heck is this?

That’s it, that’s all my complaints. Now I just need Hotstar and Amazon Prime to get on the bandwagon with me. Netflix, thank goodness, already seems to have gotten the message.


30 thoughts on “Grumpy Post About My Least Favorite Part of Indian Film-SUBTITLES!!!!

  1. I agree 100% with all you wrote.

    Hindi dubbed southern movies have the worst titles. It’s always Khiladi, rowdy, fighter or hero. And my personal fav is Charlie – the action man. WTF Must every southern movie be about fighters?

    Faux-Western References Subtitles – What makes me angry is that it limits people. Nothing happens if I don’t understand who Kuljit is, but if I really want to know, I can google it, and learn something. But if they use Wickham, I will never have the chance to broaden my horizons.

    Non-Existent Subtitles on streaming services (especially indian ones) in 2019 is a shame (yes, I’m talking to you stupid Zee5)


    • I just don’t understand the dubbed titles for southern movies!!!! Either use the original title, or translate it to the same meaning in Hindi. Why does it have to be something so disconnected I can’t even tell what movie it is? And then there is the editing, so that it really looks like it is something that would fit that silly title. “Action Man” or whatever, and then they cut out the family scenes and romance scenes and just leave disconnected action moments so what was in the original a deep social drama, becomes “just” an action movie.

      Can I also mention that the faux references makes it a lot harder to learn Hindi? I’m sure you learned the languages (sort of) the same way I did, you could use the words you knew as anchors and put together the rest combined with the subtitles. Swap “Kuljit” for “Wickham”, and I am completely at sea, I can’t tell what the original sentence was at all. And that’s not just for people like us who have no Indian heritage but watch a lot of movies, that’s also for ABCDs who know a little Hindi from their parents but mix it with subtitles to get the full meaning of a film.

      Especially since streaming services are working soooooo hard to get rid of piracy! Okay, fine Zee5, you don’t want me on einthusan or DailyMotion, then PROVIDE SUBTITLES!!!! I’m happy to give them my money, but not if they won’t give me the basic service I need.

      On Thu, May 16, 2019 at 4:21 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. `
    It’s lack of song sub-titles that irritate me, although it’s getting better than it was. Also, it’s sometimes dropped after the first chorus. Why? Does it cost more to repeat the subtitles for the second chorus? Mysterious.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with everything you say but subtitles to songs. I enjoy the sounds and visuals, but it gives a whole other dimension with the words. It irritates me a little when there are no subs on YouTube videos–looking at YOU, T Series. But it irritates me a lot when there are no subs in the songs in the movies as they are streaming. In Raees the songs had subs in the theater, but not on Netflix. Again, it’s like taking a step backwards when the work was already done.

    There are so many songs I’d like to share on my social media feeds if I could find them with English subtitles.Just two quick examples that pop into my head are Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai from RNBDJ and Dhingana from Raees. The lyrics are very sweet in the first case and clever and fun in the second case. With subs the songs tell a little story by themselves. Without subs, they don’t mean much if you haven’t seen the movie.

    Also, I’m getting to like certain lyricists, which you can sort of do from just hearing how nice the Hindi sounds, but which is easier and richer if you also have subs. In the last few months I’ve figured out that Manwa Laage, Hawayein, Safar, and Mere Naam Tu lyrics were all written by Irshad Kamil. Now, knowing that I love the way his lyrics sound, as well as their meanings, I can look for more songs by him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, about songs! One of reasons why I started watching indian movies are beautiful and poetic song lyrics, and I hate when songs are not translated. Especially tamil, and malayalam. I fall in love in malayalam because of Malare. Yes, the song is wonderful even if you don’t know the lyrics, but it’s even better when you know what they are singing. One of the first words in malayalam I learnt was;: മയിൽ – peacock, because I loved the part of the songs that goes like this: The couple of peacoks wakes up in me, and the love spreads in my heart.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Don’t they shoot some movies in multiple languages at the same time? Damn – an in English JHMS could have worked here in the US. Not dubbed. That drives me crazy. And I am not as gracious as you about the song lyrics. That should be the easiest part to subtitle!

    Liked by 1 person

    • They do shoot them simultaneously and I don’t understand why they don’t do that more, and in more languages. Tamil-Telugu seems to be the most common, partly because they share a film capital (Madras/Chennai, which is Tamil Nadu, but has the best studio facilities in India so Telugu films are made there too, and sometimes Hindi and Malayalam and everything). But if those same movies are doing well in dubbed versions on Hindi TV, why not just make them in Hindi to begin with? There have been a few so far done that way, Mom with Sridevi and English/vinglish with Sridevi, and also The Ghazi Attack. But it should be way more common! And you are right, no reason not to film them in English too! There have been a couple of English/Hindi films already, I can’t think of the names at the moment, but they were more independent art house hit kind of things.

      On Thu, May 16, 2019 at 9:50 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  5. Preach. Other pet peeves, although this might only occur with the sort of subtitles you get on Youtube: sometimes there’s a long stretch of talking with no subtitles. I sort of assume it just can’t be translated, but come on. Also: If the hero holds up a letter from the heroine to the camera long enough that we are obviously supposed to be reading it, then subtitle that too!! Duh!!

    Also, please don’t worry about my delicate sensibilities when subtitling. When someone in a movie uses the Hindi bh- word and it’s translated as “moron,” it’s whatever. Fine. But when I can clearly here the actor say the f- word and it’s in the subtitles as “darn,” why???

    Liked by 2 people

    • YES WITH THE LETTERS!!!!! That was one thing I noticed in the Netflix Ek Ladki Ko Dekha that was different from the film version, they actually subtitled the letters.

      On Thu, May 16, 2019 at 10:40 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



    • Laila-Majnu. It’s a famous legend from Persia that made its way to India. There are a few variations on it, but basically they fell in love as children and had a strange bond. But their families disapproved (either because of incest taboos or a family feud), and separated the children. Years later, they met as adults and were passionately in love. Laila’s family married her off to another man. And Majnu because “Majnu” (crazy), a mad man wandering in the desert. The title is what they called him, “Laila Mad”. Laila eventually died of a broken heart, Majnu was found dead years later lying on her grave. Familiar, right? Hero and heroine in love as children and then as adults, heroine married off, hero goes mad/sad.

      On Thu, May 16, 2019 at 11:47 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  6. These days, US shows on streaming services have Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi subtitles!

    But, a point to be noted is that Kalank played with subtitles in all theatres in India, including songs.


    • Yeah, we were talking about Karan needing to change his promotions. One of those boring smart things he is doing is putting his company on the forefront of cross-language work. Subtitles, dubbing, and filming simultaneously in two languages, Dharma is doing it all.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. But, honestly, I went Kalank with my friends, and we needed a show without subtitles. All hindi movies here play without subtitles, with only one or two rare shows in the elite cinemas having subtitles. Surprisingly, Kalank had subtitles in every single show. No show was without them.


    • That is super interesting!!!!!! I wonder why? If it was a calculated decision, so that even in the Hindi belt audiences that might not be fluent in Hindi could have subtitles, or a technical decision, something about the digital file dispersal meant they couldn’t have two versions?

      On Fri, May 17, 2019 at 7:45 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      • I haven’t seen Kalank so I can’t be sure but maybe the Hindi used was tougher to understand. Quite possible since it was a period movie. In that case, they would have to have subtitles.

        I can provide my own example. Although I’m of Indian ethnicity, I’m not from a Hindi speaking family. I never learned the language formally and basically know whatever I do just from watching movies. The Hindi used in most movies is very very simple and nowadays they use so many English words in between that you can pick up what’s being said. India has so many languages that a lot of movie watchers are not actual native Hindi speakers so they have to keep the language simple.

        When Omkara came out, I was visiting India and we went to see it and they had no subtitles. I ended up going to sleep because I couldn’t understand a single word that was being said. Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies are indecipherable for someone like me because the vocabulary and sentences used are more complicated than the usual. Maybe Johar was smart and realized Kalank was not easy to understand the way SOTY would be and provided subtitles to everyone.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well, yes, that is a good explanation, because Kalank had majorly Urdu. But then I would expect other films like Bajirao Mastani or Ram Leela to have subtitles too, as they were even tougher to understand.

          I think I can explain that by simply naming Sanjay Leela Bhansali and how he sees his craft.


    • Can we also address how Malayalam cinema (even very old movies) have an annoying tendency of blocking content in other countries! Like how do you expect to gain an international appeal when I can’t listen to a song from a 20 year old film? And I face so many copyright issues when I promote songs on my IG page (when it’s readily available on YouTube?)


  8. Very engaging thread. I’m at a point where, if I want to see a certain film and can’t find it with subs, I watch anyway. But only formula films. It doesn’t work with the better ones. I can’t find Salman’s Notebook with subs. I already know the story but, in this case, I want the words.

    As to songs, I agree that subs are good but not necessary. In fact, bad subs can ruin a song for me. How many times have I watched the hero dancing in the street, carousing with his mates, and shimmying next to women’s belly buttons, when the subs say he’s actually singing about god?


    • Good point about the songs! No subs, still possible to enjoy them. Bad subs, all enjoyment is gone.

      On Fri, May 17, 2019 at 12:32 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  9. Perhaps a post explaining the blessing components and variations of the rituals by regions? Do the eat a pinch of fennel, sesame seed? Also, perhaps an explanation of the different styles of clothing along with a when and why and how. (How do the guys make the … um … package area … stay in that perfect codpiece shape in harem pants???)


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