Film subtitles enhance visual experience
There is no doubt that cinema is a universal language. Thanks to its innate visual narration, it evolved as a creative art form that has transcended borders and cultures. However, it is also a reality that to decipher fascinating movies and series from across the world in its fullest sense, knowledge about language in which a film is produced will come handy. This is where film subtitles become relevant.
Subtitling basically is a translation, but the challenge is that it should not be a mere literal translation. They have other dimensions. According to Dr Indumathi S, a Bengaluru based academician and researcher in film studies, subtitles have become an important aspect of films that helps in understanding visual storytelling.” Though subtitles cannot be considered as part of mise en scène (visual design) that weaves magic in our minds, they enhance cinematic experience. Subtitles should be concise and clear, else it can interfere with the comprehension of the film. It should be clear not only in terms of the language but also the font type and style,” she said.
Ajith MS, a movie buff and internal communications specialist pinpointed the peculiarity of subtitles in movies. He thinks subtitles are better than dubbed audio. “I feel preserving the original language of the movie is important in preserving the originality of the work. And subtitles are a non-invasive intervention unlike dubbed audio,” he said.
Meanwhile, the availability of subtitles is an issue. This is more evident when it comes to old classic movies. However, there is a promising trend. Film enthusiasts, film clubs and other cinephile communities are taking initiatives to make the subtitles available online.
Coming to the relevance of subtitles in the newly released Malayalam movies in specific, one could clearly understand that subtitles act as a catalyst to expand the horizon of its viewership. There was a time when subtitles were limited for film festivals or award committee screenings. This has changed. Wider acceptance of Malayalam movies has breached geographical boundaries. Though nation-wide release and international release of some Malayalam films, initially triggered this trend, with the advent of OTT platforms, subtitles are now inevitable.
Film critic CS Venkiteshwaran and senior sound editor Krishnan Unni are some pioneers of film subtitling in Kerala. According to Vivek Ranjit, one among the new generation subtitle creators, film subtitles are not mere literal translations. He who has done subtitles for more than 180 films consider it as an act of conveying context in a textual form. Vivek who is also known for his roles as a screenplay and writer TV-host shared his perspective. “The challenge in writing film subtitles is that we need to convey the dialogue and context in minimal words. Not just the words should be minimal but also the time to read the text will be limited. So considering all these limits we have to convince the audience and filmmakers by complying with censor board standards and OTT platform guidelines,” he said. He further added that his film writing experience has come handy.
Detailing the film subtitling process Subash Babu, representing 1'' Barrier, a professional subtitle writing team in Kerala, said that for subtitling Malayalam movies into English one should think in English itself. He too pinpointed the relevance of context. “The objective of the subtitle is to provide context according to the sound, mood and emotion of the dialogue. A person needs to think in English, if he is translating the vernacular dialogues into an English knowing audience ,'' he said. Meanwhile, the team has done subtitles for movies like Great Indian Kitchen and Home.
The film subtitling process happens along with other post-production works. Modification, tweaks, changes and improvisation happens at that time. Some filmmakers go line by line on the subtitled versions. While some cherry pick certain sequences and review them.
Film critic Paresh Palicha flagged the issue of subtitles going out of context. “Sometimes subtitles may look funny or awkward. Sometimes it fails to convey the real sense of the sequence. I am a person who knows five languages like Malayalam, Hindi, Gujarathi, Marathi, and English. I have found that many a time literal translations end up in blunders,” he said.
Meanwhile, it is also a reality that unlike translated novels and other written work, cinematic subtitles have a limited chance of deviating the meaning since there is the visual and it's language addressing the viewer.