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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.