Films may only last for a few hours, yet industrious film makers may put in months, if not years, to complete the finished product.
And for such an investment of effort, producers will want their films to reach as many people as possible. That is why an increasing amount of importance is being placed on generating the most effective subtitles.
India is not only one of the most industrious film-producing countries in the world, it also has a diverse range of languages spoken within its borders. This is why filmmakers from the home of Bollywood have been taking the translation of their films so seriously in recent years.
One area of growth in the India film industry is the translation of Tamil films into a number of languages, including English and Chinese as well as some of the other tongues spoken in the sub-continent, such as Hindi and Bengali.
At this year’s Shanghai International Film Festival, veteran subtitler Rekha Haricharan spoke to The Hindu about her latest work on the picture Kaavalan and her career in film making.
Rekhs, as she likes to be known, has worked closely with many international film festivals. She said it used to distress her that festivals featured films in Swahili but none in Tamil. “For them, Indian films meant Hindi films. It is time to take Tamil films to the big stage.”
Responsible for the English subtitles on Kaavalan, she recalls how she translated her first film Thoovanam in 2007. It was not for another three years before she was offered the chance to work on Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya.
“Soon after, I approached many directors. No one took me seriously,” she says.
Since then she has translated around 125 Tamil features and 500 short films.
Sub-titles make economic success
Translating films into other languages can bring cultural benefits. Film theorists say translation means reaching larger audiences and cutting through language barriers as well as helping to explain nuances that might otherwise be lost. It can also encourage families to watch films together, according to director-producer Arun Vaidyanathan.
He says: “Many South Indians living abroad are married to people from other parts of the country, or locals. What if they want to watch a film as a couple?”
Talking about his film Achamundu Achamundu, set in the US, he said: “The script was in Indian English; the subtitler set it in a local context — non-Indians could fathom the intricacies.”
But it’s not just the cultural benefits that film studios weigh up. Experts say that translations also add commercial value to a film by:
• taking pictures to newer markets
• helping them get a place in international film festivals
• opening doors for collaborations.
Rajeev Kamineni is executive director at PVP Cinema, which has produced several big-budget projects. He says more and more foreign distributors specifically ask for subtitles.
“They say it translates into 20 per cent extra business,” he explains.
Trained subtitle professional Nandini Karky believes it is time more production studios gave subtitling a serious thought, due to their immense potential for generating returns on investment.
“When a story is just in one language, its reach is limited. You must amplify it, so that it is heard across the world. Subtitles help you achieve that.
“Once a film is subtitled in English, it can be cross subtitled in so many other languages.”