The dubbing & subtitling of Bollywood films

International Colloquium at De Montfort University Leicester

(13th – 14th December 2018)

The Leicester colloquium was organised as the first event of the research project Multilingual Euro-Bollywood: an ‘imaginative language’ workshop funded by the AHRCs research programme of Creative Multilingualism. The two-day program included presentations by researchers from different parts of the world and discussions with professionals from the dubbing and subtitling industry.

Following a short welcome by Professor Justin Smith, Director of the Cinema and Television History Research Institute at De Montfort University, the first day started with a general introduction by Monia Acciari, principal investigator of the research project. Her presentation and the following discussion outlined the nodal question on cultural transfer, and raised more broad issues such as: subtitling will be soon substituted by computer-made subtitles and what kind of problems it will bring forth. Some specificities of dubbing and subtitling of Indian films were also outlined, e.g. that subtitles of Bollywood films are often translated to European languages from English subtitles, not from the original language, or that South-Indian films often get transposed into European languages via their Hindi language version. She opened the discussion on the meaning and problems of dubbing Bollywood in Europe, with reference to the Italian context.  

The first panel was opened by Bernhard Fuchs’s presentation starting from the trailer of the Viennale Film Festival 1995 entitled “Film Spricht Viele Sprachen” (Film Speaks Many Languages) and discussing questions such as: which routes of cultural transfer are inscribed into film through subtitling, and how does reception work beyond linguistic communities? Györgyi Vajdovich illustrated how the representation of European countries in Bollywood films has changed since the 1990s, how these transformations affect the linguistic representation of foreign countries and what kind of special translation problems the inclusion of foreign languages in Hindi-English dialogues create. Montse Corrius, Eva Espasa and Laura Santamaria, specialists in translation studies talked about methodological problems of translation in the case of a multilingual original text, and why the approach should be different in the case of subtitling and dubbing. The film Monsoon Wedding served to illustrate the case when a third language which is neither the main language used in the source text, nor the main language used in the target text is inserted in the dialogues, and showed what cultural references of the original text were lost due to the homogenising translation of the Hindi and Punjabi sentences in an undifferentiated way into Spanish.

In the afternoon panel Khetam Shraideh discussed the sociological dimension of translations by analysing to what extent the translator’s choices were affected by the social constructs such as race, class, gender, and economic status, and argued that not only dubbing, but also subtitling can be sometimes manipulating by articulating well-known stereotypes. Tejaswini Ganti talked about the dubbing practices of Mumbai studios translating Hollywood films into Hindi – a gradually developing business strategy generating a constantly increasing income on the Indian markets. She discussed the difficulties of such translations originating from the inherent differences of the source and the target language (English and Hindi), and cited some recent examples where the high quality translation of the Hindi version of a film was so successful on the local markets that even educated people generally preferring subtitled versions opted for watching the dubbed version of the given film. Hephzibah Israel presented on the problems of cultural and language transfer between different Indian languages, illustrating the problems through the cases of the Tamil film Roja and the Marathi film, Sairat. While Roja was released in a version dubbed into Hindi, Sairat was released with English subtitles and remade as a Hindi film. She demonstrated that in the case of Roja the Hindi version eliminated several layers of the film, notably the representation of Tamil nationalism and separatism expressed through the use of language, and she discussed how the ethnic and linguistic identity, and references to gender and case distinctions inherent to the original versions are lost in the Hindi dubbed version in the case of Roja or the Hindi remake in the case of Sairat.

The afternoon was concluded by two extended skype discussions with professionals from the dubbing and subtitling industry. Györgyi Vajdovich interviewed Nasreen Muni Kabir, one of the most acclaimed translators of Bollywood films who has subtitled more than 800 Hindi films in English till date. She talked about her methodological approach, that she considers the easy understanding and readability of subtitles supreme and more important than literal translation, and that according to her opinion song lyrics should be translated in the form of prose. She also described the problem that because of the widespread danger of piracy she has to translate the dialogues on the basis of the transcription of the texts without being able to watch the scenes.

Monia Acciari interviewed Claudio Sorrentino, the leader of Italian dubbing industry who has been working in the dubbing industry for almost 70 years and has dubbed more than 2500 movies and hundreds of sit-coms during his career. He talked about his methodological approach during the work of curating the dubbing of Bollywood films in Italy and his direction of the dubbing of the film My Name is Khan.

The second day included one panel with the participation of three researchers. Rituparna Dasanalysed the use of verbal and nonverbal signs and symbols through the representation of female figures in popular Bollywood films in different periods. Shruti Narayanswamy presented the case study of Netflix India’s first original series Sacred Games and outlined differences of the dubbed and the subtitled English versions. Though intended for an international market, the series was shot in a mixed language of Hindi, Punjabi and Marathi, but the dubbed version eliminated these cultural differences. According to her opinion on the contrary viewers of the subtitled version have access to the cultural references transmitted by the multiple layers of the original text. Claire Chaigneau talked about the complexity of Hindi used in Bollywood films and how the incorporation of words of different origin (like Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, English, Punjabi) give place to special cultural connotations or different layers of meaning, and how the constitution of this complex language has changed with time. The colloquium raised interesting and challenging problems of translation of Bollywood and Indian films, and the second day was concluded with the discussion of the possibility of extending the scope of the research field and setting up larger research network.

(Written by Monia Acciari)