EuroBollywood Creative Multilingualism Workshop 3

Creative Industries, Translations and Cultural Transfer. A Colloquium.

16-17 May 2019, Department of European Ethnology, University of Vienna, Austria

The Multilingual Bollywood Colloquium in Vienna discussed the economics and politics of translation by focusing on different social positions within the creative industries. This focus has most intensively been exemplified by the final panel with practitioners from the industry – a confrontation of perspectives of a dubbing actor, a program director, and a translator for subtitles.

After a welcome by Monia Acciari the conference started with a screening and discussion of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD; dir. Zoya Akhtar, India 2011) – this time in the German dubbed version (Man lebt nur einmal). For some participants without proficiency in German this was a challenge as the menu of the German edition does not offer English subtitles. Material and technological aspects appeared in different contexts during this conference as defining and sometimes limiting moments of multilingualism, suggesting a heuristically promising combination of Socio-linguistics, Material Culture Studies and Science and Technology Studies. The question has been raised whether the German audio-file might contain undubbed parts with the original voices e.g. when they speak in Spanish.

Only after the conference I could falsify this conjecture; even the Spanish speaking character Nuria has been dubbed (Iris Artajo is the dubbing voice for Ariadna Cabrol, both have “authentic” Spanish accents). Both have “authentic” Spanish accents yet there was criticism of the fake Spanish accent in the dubbed version. Analysis based on the German DVD is more difficult because of technical problems – in contrast to other DVDs switching between different language menus is impossible. The DVD also does not provide any information on translators or dubbing voices. Later during the conference Lucia Krämer (University of Passau) in her analysis of Haider (dir. Vishal Bhardwaj, India 2014) showed that the German DVD which is based on the TV-broadcast on Zee.One actually has fragments of the original Hindi-Urdu soundtrack in the German soundtrack. The dubbing is not complete as the parts which have been cut for TV have not been dubbed at all! Krämer brilliantly combined this observation with analysis of the intended audience and the transformation of Bollywood during the cultural transfer: Bollywood movies become depoliticized for German tongue audiences to match the escapist image of Indian cinema in that region. Critical audiences interested in the original text are supposed to be subtitle readers.  

In the ZNMD-film viewing and discussion only a small group of seven people participated – including one scholar of South Asian Studies who speaks Spanish (Borayin Larios), one Folklorist who has never seen a Bollywood movie before and a Viennese Bollywood fan without academic background. Alaka Chudal, a South Asian Culture scholar of Nepalese origin articulated her preference for original versions but praised the quality of this particular dubbing. She narrated that initially when she came to Austria she tried to utilize Germanized Bollywood in order to learn German but was disappointed by the unfaithful translations. Our discussion included aspects of cultural representation and heritage, religion, class and gender roles but also linguistic aspects with a focus on moments of code switching and multilingual communication. Borayin Larios stressed the use of Spanish tokens as an aspect of tourism and internationalism and discussed the irritating and inappropriate use of polite forms in German in a situation of flirt (the first meeting between Laila and Imraan). Detailed comparison between the original and the German dubbed version made clear that here the original code switching has been reduced, address in English and intimate forms in Hindi have been translated with honorific forms in German – producing unrealistic and absurd dialogue. (Interestingly on this DVD even the German subtitles for the original and the dubbed versions differ.)

Bernhard Fuchs and Rajinder Dudrah

The film discussion was followed by a thought provoking presentation by Rajinder Dudrah (Birmingham City University) on the Bollywood talk-show Koffee with Karan. This part of the colloquium reached the largest audience with students and scholars from different departments of Vienna University (more than fifty people). Rajinder described the evolution of academic research on Indian popular cinema and the emergence of new perspectives which inspired his own work especially assemblage theory (Amit Rai) and the “Geo-televisual Aesthetic” (Anustup Basu) – this paper was part of his new book project on E-Bollywood. The case study helped Rajinder to explain his approach which went beyond textual analysis and representational debates, analysing aspirations, ideological implications, and pleasures in changing historic contexts – including the biography of Karan Johar, legal and economic constellations, gender relations, the Bollywood star-system, intertextuality with other media and the material assemblage of the studio. Rajinder described how this talk-show shifted from gentle polite to more risky conversation and suggested that we should observe “not just texts and contexts – but texts and people and objects and things and how we might bring these together”.

Angelika Köpf

The second day was structured around three different fields of attention (a) different Indian and Non-Indian languages in Bollywood (b) representations of Europe and inclusion of European languages in Bollywood (c) dialogue with translation studies, socio-linguistics and industry talks. (a) The first session on multilingualism in the Indian context and representation of different linguistic communities in Bollywood consisted of three papers: Angelika Köpf (Ph.D. candidate, University of Vienna) analysed the representation of Dravidian languages and South Indian communities based on an extensive sample of Hindi-films stating that only Tamil is chosen to represent “the South” and usually it is symbolized by accented Hindi flavoured with some catchwords. Areshpreet Wedech (Ph.D. candidate, University of Vienna) discussed the war-movie Border (dir. J.P. Dutta, India 1997) as an example of stereotypical and jingoist representation of Sikhs as a martial race.

Júlia Szivák

Júlia Szivák (Ph.D. candidate, Birmingham City University) analysed the genre of the “Bollywood Party Song” and its parodies highlighting the multilingualism and transnationalism of this genre but also economic aspects of the production of these songs (her innovative research is also modeled on the assemblage theory).

Györgyi Vajdovich

(b) Monia Acciari (De Montford University, Leicester) informed about her research on dubbing of Bollywood into Italian. Bernhard Fuchs analysed cinematic discourse about language and the inclusion of German language in Bollywood (Albela – dir. Deepak Sareen, India 2001), Jab Harry Met Sejal – dir. Imtiaz Ali, India 2017)). When Györgyi Vaidovich discussed the same scene from Jab Harry Met Sejal – where Shah Rukh Khan talks in German – different perspectives became obvious: While Bernhard observed the text and quality of the German speech and how the multilingual scene got flattened in the dubbed version, Györgyi as a non-German-speaking Hungarian was not attracted to the content of the speech as it is not even subtitled in the original version. She learned from an interview with the director Imtiaz Ali that it was his intention to present the foreign languages as alien. She suggested that a faithful translation of the movie would require that such speech should be substituted by dubbing in a different language contrasting the target language. Györgyi combined analysis of representation of multilingualism and of European locations on a variety of recent movies coming to the conclusion that there would be a trend towards more detailed, realistic and naturalistic representation of Europe. In recent movies the industry expects greater knowledge among the audiences and avoids crude misrepresentation. Györgyi systematically analysed the functions of multilingualism and the different strategies of subtitling and dubbing. Lucia Krämer (University of Passau) explained the transfer of (and by) Bollywood with the Shakespeare adaptation Haider (based on Hamlet) and its marketing by the German creative industry.

Socio-linguist Julia Purkarthofer (University of Oslo) presented the concept of “linguistic repertoire” as an approach to multilingualism as a social practice exemplified with a female Somali migrant in Norway who appropriates not only Norwegian as the language of her new environment but also Hindi which she has already learned from watching Bollywood in Africa and which helps her to connect to a transnational community of Bollywood consumers. This Somali student even writes poems in Romanised Hindi modeled on Bollywood lyrics.

Rajvinder Singh

(c) Dubbing actor Rajvinder Singh (Berlin) presented the insiders’ view of the German dubbing industry stressing economic aspects, practical aspects of dubbing and the effects of categorization. The German industry struggles when Bollywood refuses to conform to Western genre conventions. Different humour becomes an obstacle for cultural transfer as exemplified by the dubbed version of Chandni Chowk to China (dir. Nikhil Advani, India 2009) (with the German title Kung Fu Curry). Here the dubbing director decided that the dialogues in the original would be rather weak and should be substituted by something funnier in the German version, even the text of the narrative should be “spiced up a bit”. Such considerations produce binding direction for dubbing actors. Bernhard Fuchs also mentioned examples of German dubbing which took great artistic license and where some dubbing actors are celebrated stars. Translator Sonia Majumder (Hamburg, also a freelancer like Singh) talked about standards of subtitling which would often be endangered by practices of the industry.  She is a founding member of the German Association of Audiovisual Translators which since 2011 is aiming at the maintenance of quality standards and trying to improve the working conditions in the creative industry. A contrasting position was represented by Zee.One program director Thomas Vink who stressed the pioneering position of his enterprise on the German tongue market as a free TV provider of high quality entertainment from Mumbai in German dubbed versions.

The colloquium was concluded by the attendance of the premier show of the movie De De Pyaar De (dir. Akiv Ali, India 2019).

All the participants enjoyed the exchange of ideas during these intensive two days. Rajvinder Singh informed me recently that he has been inspired to write a book on dubbing from an insider’s view. Borayin Larios commented: “The colloquium: “Multilingual Bollywood: Creative Industries, Translations and Cultural Transfer” was a fantastic opportunity to engage critically during two days with the global phenomenon of the Bollywood industry. The topics of discussion were rich and varied, ranging from the polyglot nature of Bollywood and translation and dubbing practices and methodologies [of translation] into European languages, to the production of publics and semantic tropes that revolve around modern global cultures. Personally, it was an opportunity to think more deeply about how socio-cultural sensibilities, new digital media and patterns of consumption are shaping Indian cinema and how India and Indianness are represented, negotiated and embodied through new idioms and tropes. “