Friday, September 09, 2005

The X-factor: Movies, accents and international audiences

I was reading through TIME’s article on Ash and why the Indian movie industry isn’t global, and a lot of questions about the movie industry per se struck my mind out of the blue.

Foremost, why aren’t subtitles a default when movies are screened to non-domestic audiences? Back in Coimbatore during my engineering days, one of the few entertainments we had was watching movies. Some of my college friends (a *relatively* good college, if you will), particularly the ones from towns and the like, have told me that understanding the accent is the foremost problem while watching Hollywood movies. The ones that are released in India almost always are action movies, simply because the story (if any) can be narrated audio-visually instead of speaking out. That explains why Arnold and Stallone movies are almost always a hit in India.

Considering that Indians are pretty good in English but it is the accent that could be a problem, why aren’t non-action movies released by default with subtitles? Surely, people who understand English aren’t going to be bothered by the presence of subtitles, will they? I, for one, would certainly love its presence coz there have been a lot of times when a specific slang or a wild accent (like those in the underworld movies) has left me confused.

The case applies to almost all the movies that are screened to non-domestic audiences. Consider Hindi movies in South India. There are a lot of people who like Shah Rukh and Aamir, but the language problem is a turn off.

Indian movie industry is one of the largest in the world – with about 1000 movies released every year compared to the 600/700 Hollywood. Just about 1/3rd of the Indian movies are made in Hindi, while regional languages fill in the rest. That essentially means that the fate of some 600/700 regional movies, even some of the very good ones, end within the specific region, let alone foreign countries.

A part answer to this problem is the dubbing of the movies that caters to the low end of the market, but the quality of dubbing leaves a LOT to be desired. Subtitles could just be the answer in between. I guess regional Indian movies have taken a slight cue since I remember Rajnikant’s Chandramukhi releasing in Delhi with English subtitles. But it remains to be seen if this could be the answer.


At Saturday, September 10, 2005 8:52:00 AM, Blogger Zae's Love Child said...

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At Saturday, September 10, 2005 1:43:00 PM, Blogger Jam said...

Hey Govar,

While I agree with the fact that subtitles will help Indian movies reach a wider audience, one must also ponder over the fact that most Indian movies are made only for Indian audiences, and probably will not have the 'global' appeal that most Hollywood movies will have.

Add this to the phenomenon that we Indians like to ape the West and not the other way around, which also probably explains why Arnold and Stallone movies almost always sell back here, while Lagaan and Devdas would probably not sell back there in the West, with or without sub titles.


At Saturday, September 10, 2005 1:46:00 PM, Blogger Govar said...

Point taken as far as most of the Indian movies are concerned, but I still believe some Indian movies qualify international attention. But the subtitles problem is more so for Hollywood movies in India. Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing subtitles in all the Hollywood movies... I think it has a huge potential to attract folks... my 2 cents.

At Saturday, September 10, 2005 8:50:00 PM, Blogger Subrahmanyam KVJ said...

Hehe...I am not sure of others, but whenever I switch on sub-titles in any DVD, I find myself concentrating more on the text than the image....Beats me why :D

At Saturday, September 10, 2005 11:34:00 PM, Blogger Govar said...


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