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Why releasing films with subtitles gives them wings
Do you know what gave me a rollicking, laugh-out-loud time at the movies last week? A pesky little fly. That buzzed and flew, flew and buzzed, protecting a pretty girl, slaying a monster. That wore a nifty helmet, lifted weights, grew some muscles, and learned other smart tricks in order to go on a revenge spree. When "Eega" vanquished its enemy, I cheered, much as I would for Salman taking on 20 guys built like tankers.
The best part of the experience was, apart from the film of course, that to catch the Telugu Eega, I didn't have to resort to a film festival where it would have been programmed (once) with other films of other languages, or an Andhra Bhawan type sarkari screening, or a stealthy download. I just went off to my neighbourhood multiplex, bought myself a ticket, and watched it in a theatre, crowded with enthusiasts like me.
Over the years, there have been many occasions when I have sat through films which have been in neither Hindi nor English, the two languages I speak, think in and use. That's a line of duty for people like me who watch movies for work. And, of course, pleasure. But it's invariably been a diminished experience: if you cannot understand what's being spoken, you are missing out. It's like going to a foreign country where everyone is in on the joke, and you're left out in the cold.
It's one thing to be deprived of dialogues in languages such as Finnish or Thai or Japanese: this has happened to me at film festivals. If the film is really good, the absence of speech (not sound: background music is background music in any language) can sometimes cause you to sink into a meditative space, where you are forced to pay attention only to the visuals. I've spent time like this, imagining what the characters were saying, trying to connect the dots. It's been fine only some of the time, other times, it's plain annoying especially when you go in expecting subtitles, and there are none. So then it's all down to all right, read my lips, bud.
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