Skip to main content

Let’s talk subtitles

Recently, there was some heated discourse in the social media after trolls appeared abusing a firm for translating subtitles of popular TV shows and revered movies in Malayalam. The now infamous term ‘colony’ was tossed around to bring about a class structure in entertainment. Apparently, the shows like Breaking Bad or Money Heist or movies like Inception were to be appreciated only by those who knew English. Reminded me of the racist Americans who go around saying “if you don’t speak English, go back to your country”. While, ideally it should have been “if you speak English, go back to England”. 

If they are purists and have a problem with subtitles in Malayalam, then they should have installed Dup and started learning Italian before humming “Bella Ciao”.

Anyway, I do have some history with subtitles. Nothing much, except that I have been asked to do the subs for some of the short films my friends have made.  I do not know how that offer came about, cause I have never been expressly interested in the activity. I suppose it is because they have read the pieces of fiction I have written in English and thought I would be interested. I used to think that doing subtitles was one of the least creative aspects involved in filmmaking. That is, until I started attempting on my own.

Over the years, I have learned that it is not all mechanical. When we translate something from one language to another, there is a fairly high chance that some of the subtleties or nuances could be lost in translation. Some of the fine elements are often language-dependent, and a literal translation of the same would appear meaningless.

One popular example is adages or proverbs. “കക്ഷത്തിൽ ഉള്ളത് പോവേം ചെയ്തു ഉത്തരത്തിലുള്ളത് കിട്ടിയതുമില്ല “ is a commonly used adage by us. If we translate it literally, the non-native viewer may not be able to grasp the entire sense of it. Instead, a better approach would be to use an original proverb from the target language that has the same gist. “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.

A similar case is when we use references that would click with the native audience but is foreign to the other audience. There is this scene in the movie Pranchiyettan and the Saint, where Mammootty is preparing a speech and Innocent tries to praise the one who wrote the speech by saying he is the Kamal Hassan in the field of speeches. The line works well with a crowd that knows who Kamal Hassan is. For a Japanese person watching the movie with subtitles, the idea would be lost if we kept Kamal Hassan in the subtitles too. Instead, a more sensible approach is to replace Kamal Hassan with the name of an actor who is known globally. Say, Leonardo Dicaprio. These are the little moments where the subtitle artist needs to be creative.

Creating subtitles is not a mean task. You need to be patient, and go line by line, while keeping the larger context in mind. It would be preferable to watch the video first to understand the setting before going ahead with the translation. And all you need is your favorite text editor. Notepad would suffice.


Popular posts from this blog

അത് എന്ത് കൊണ്ടായിരിക്കും?

അത് എന്ത് കൊണ്ടായിരിക്കും? ആക്ട് 1 : നമുക്ക് ആ ജനൽ ഒന്ന് തുറന്ന് അപ്പുറത്തേക്ക് നോക്കാം. പാശ്ചാത്യനാട്ടിലേക്ക് നോക്കിയാൽ ദേ അവിടെ 65  കാരനായ ജെയിംസ് കാമറൂൺ എക്കാലത്തെയും ഹിറ്റ് ചിത്രമായ അവതാറിന്റെ സീക്വലുകൾ പ്ലാൻ ചെയ്യുന്നു. 73 വയസ്സുള്ള സ്റ്റീവൻ സ്പിൽബെർഗ് മികച്ച ചിത്രങ്ങളായ ബ്രിഡ്ജ് ഓഫ് സ്‌പൈസ് (2015), റെഡി പ്ലെയർ വൺ (2018) ഒക്കെ പുറത്തിറക്കിയത് ഈ ദശാബ്ദത്തിലാണ്. ഐറിഷ് മാൻ സംവിധാനം ചെയ്യുമ്പോൾ മാർട്ടിൻ സ്കോർസെസെ യുടെ പ്രായം 75  കഴിഞ്ഞിരിക്കുന്നു. ഈയിടെ ഇംഗ്ലീഷ് സംവിധായകനായ കെൻ ലോക് ഇന്റെ രണ്ടു പുതിയ ചിത്രങ്ങൾ കാണാൻ ഇടയായി. 2016 ഇൽ പുറത്തിറങ്ങിയ ഐ, ഡാനിയൽ ബ്ലേക്ക് എന്ന ചിത്രവും 2019  ഇൽ സോറി വി മിസ്സ്ഡ് യൂ എന്ന ചിത്രവും ഹൃദയസ്പർശിയായ രീതിയിൽ ആണ് ചിത്രീകരിച്ചിരിക്കുന്നത്. 70 വയസ്സുള്ള സ്പാനിഷ് സംവിധായകൻ പെഡ്രോ അൽമൊഡോവർ, 60 വയസ്സുള്ള ഇറാനിയൻ സംവിധായകൻ മാജിദ് മജീദി, 59 എത്തിയ ദക്ഷിണ കൊറിയൻ സംവിധായകൻ കിം കി ഡുക്, ഇവരൊക്കെ സാമൂഹിക പ്രസക്ത്തിയുള്ള, മേന്മയുള്ള ചിത്രങ്ങൾ ഇപ്പോഴും സംവിധാനം ചെയ്യുന്നു. ആക്ട്  2: ഇനി നമുക്ക് ജനൽ അടച്ച് അകത്തേക്ക് നോക്കാം. എവിടെ ആണ് നമ്മുടെ മുത

Planet Perillamus

  Planet Perillamus An excited Ethoruthan broadcasted his findings to the Inter Universe Lifeform Detection Council. ‘I have discovered life on another planet.’ ‘Oh not again, Mx Ethoruthan!’, the Chairman of the council, Dan Maraman, shot back.‘ This is the eleventh time you are making such a claim over the last six months. How many missions have we launched to verify your claim - and have even one bore any result? These voyages are damn expensive, you know.’ ‘Please hear me out, Mx Maraman! This is not like the previous cases. I have proof.’ ‘What proof?’ Senior agent Thengaenthu was intrigued. ‘Do I have permission to present my thoughts to the council?’ Ethoruthan asked Maraman, Dan. ‘Yeah! You may.’ the Chairman relented warily. ‘Okay here is the interesting part. The life forms on this planet have devised something called movies - where some of them write unreal descriptions about unreal persons, and someone else would behave like those unreal persons. These behaviors would be re

Movie Review : The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Title : The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Language : Silent Movie Year : 1920 Director : Robert Wiene Genre : Horror IMDB Link Watch movie on YouTube Lead Role :   Friedrich Feher, Werner Krauss The movie is widely acknowledged as one of the landmark revolutionary offerings from the long gone era when movies did not speak. It may be technically incorrect to call a silent film German, nevertheless it was made in Germany during a time period when the European nation was in turmoils after the devastating World War I. The story begins with a young man by the name of Francis starts narrating the hardships faced by him and his fiancee (Jane) and the very peculiar, even horrifying doings of a strange man, Dr. Caligari. Dr. Caligari owns a stall at a nearby exhibition, and on display is a somnambulist Caeser, who allegedly has slept for 23 straight years! The doctor awakens him, and he answers questions asked by the spectators. To the horror of the locals, his prophecies comes true. Mean