Over the past few months, there have been many new channels launched bringing in international programming dubbed in Hindi. As a viewer, this is extremely laudable as it gives us a lot of choice. I for one relish watching movies from different countries beyond Hollywood.

Research shows that there is a huge audience for such programming, people sick of the standard saas-bahu and unreal dramatic reality shows. In a way, it is also a slap on Indian content producers for not generating enough variety and scope.

About dubbing:

However, I have an issue with the quality of dubbing. In the mass factory production that demands speed and volume, there seems to be a common consensus on all channels to do away with what may slow down proceedings – quality.

I am referring purely to dubbed movies as that is what I generally try to watch. My observation has been that in the process of dubbing, the entire weight of the dialogs as spoken by the actors on screen is dissipated. The impression I get is one where people are generally reading out Hindi lines which have been written as literal translations interspersed with the mandatory “Ohh!”s and “Kya Kar rahe ho?”s etc.

I would like to understand how films get dubbed. Because, based on the output that I see on screen, I am not sure whether the dubbing production follows any method. According to this news report, there is a great supply of voice artistes and production houses are also reducing the rates. This seems to be impacting the quality of dubbing.

That may be the case, but in my limited understanding of the issue, there are three aspects to dubbing

1. Understanding the basic plot / script of the program / movie and there fore understanding the essence of each scene in terms of converstation

2. Writing dialogs in Hindi (not as a translation) but as part of the script, follows from point 1. There is a huge role for script writers here, especially those with adaptive capabilities. That should not be an issue in India with most of the film industry resorting to plagiarism.

3. Getting voice artistes to emote on the mic, rather than just read out the lines. As a model, one can look at the animation films – Indian and Hollywood, where the voice artistes are people with some acting / emoting ability. Of course, one need not pitch for stars. One example of a catchment area for voice artistes can be from theatre

About Subtitles:

Subtitles are useful in their own right. Of course, one needs to be able to read the subtitles fast. I probably won’t be able to do so if the subtitles were in Hindi. Though I can read Hindi, it’s not as if I read Hindi as much as I read English. So it takes more than the fraction of a second to read.

However, in my case particularly, I use the subtitles (English mostly) to confirm whether I understood the scene correctly. My focus is on the screen and the actors and the tone in which they are delivering the dialogs. This gives me a good idea of how the film is moving. I catch the subtitles, sometimes only a word or so, just to confirm.

Subtitles help retain certain key elements of the film – like Arnold Schwarzneggar’s one-liners delivered in his typical Austrian accent or Will Smith’s one liners delivered in his typical pitch.

Dubbing vs Subtitles

Of course, from a mass viewership point of view, dubbing scores higher than subtitles. And logically, it should be the model. However, the model should be “Hindi remake” rather than “Hindi translation”. It is more expensive, requires more talent but the effect will be more watchable and enjoyable television and movies.

At the end of the day, inspite of the research, if the stuff is distorted because of the Hindi dialogs, then the proposed viewership may anyway find other entertaining and enjoyable stuff to watch.

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3 thoughts on “Dubbing vs Subtitles

  1. “Research shows that there is a huge audience for such programming”……this research is based on polls which is restricted to few that too in few belts of brodacsting region.There many other belts/region which never come in polls….its just the media which tries to project the “pulse” by observing the current situation.they always make us see what they “think/create.”

    demand for dubbed content has been from very start of Indian film industry where regional films used to be dubbed….indeed the history of dubbing in India isnt long as in europe.

    If people were really tired of traditional programming the entire “eyeballs” would have been shifted to TRPs of dubbed content…(ofcourse the method of TRP collection is again a different subject of debate)

    that said….people in general like dubbed content…often the pre-knowledge of source language (english) creats a ill feeling towards dubbing.

    Dubbed content has more viewers in India as the larger population has “access” to a better content & in a form which is “digestable”

    Quality:As in most industries the volume of work affects the quality which is very predominant in the dubbing sector of India.

    If you preview some of the dubbed content from 1994-99 period……most of the them had a certain quality aspect which was adhered by the studios.

    At present there are many other factors which also contribute to “dubbed” quality

    Literal translations:
    Often the translator/adaptors have more expertise on the target language (hindi) & thereby mis-interpret.
    But ideally if the flow of story is maintained its fine.The key is to adapt puns/jokes which is more difficult.

    The script-writers of Hindi film cant do much in dubbing as it involves more of adaption/re-creation than creation & more-so to write specific length to ensure lip-sync. BTW several hindi film script writers have done this work in their not-so good days.

    The aahs-oohs are now “part” of the system & difficult to shed as the original method has been sketched deep down in the translators.

    Most of dubbing talents do have a theatre background.But even they need to be trained to project less & emote more…which is bit different on stage than in studio.

    “I am not sure whether the dubbing production follows any method”
    they do follow one method….make money !

    Subtitles:
    Subtitles in Hindi would do wonders in rural belt but no-one has tried on theatrical releases in regular. Hindi subtitles on DD channel have generated a good response from the region & concept of “Same language subtitling(SLS)” has proved that people try to learn the language faster if some entertainment content is availabel alongwith it.

    English films should have subtitles which few theatres are implementing on few prints.

    Dubbing vs Subtitles:
    Dubbing does score in India at this point but subtitling will overtake in coming years( too long maybe).
    “Hindi remake” & no “Hindi translation” would be a Utopian Dream…as the efforts require a different environment altogether.

    There are no scalable budgets at present,there is no recognition from govt or industry in general

    Europe has altogether different scenario ….maybe because dubbing is more of cultural heritage & deserves more respect whereby everything has a certain grade of quality mark on them.

    Dubbing/subtitling allow cultural transfer between countries/regions & hence are important in any country.

    Media Movers, Inc.

  2. I will not attend a movie that I have to read. I go to see and hear (in my own language-English) a movie. Dubbing is better. I can look at the movie at all times and not waste it trying to read sub-titles. No way!!!

  3. I second that. Subtitles really get in the way of the movie experience. Half the time you eyes dart to those words flashing at the bottom of the screen. That said, however there are some movies (certainly not Will Smith for me šŸ™‚ ) like the Guy Ritchie movies (Lock Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels and Snatch), that are a little bit difficult to comprehend and need subtitles. I don’t think dubbing can ever emote the same experience as it did in the host language.

    I enjoyed Kaadalan (Prabhu Devas Muqaabla in Hindi (spare the spelling)) in Kannada, even though I never learnt to speak it. I had my servant explain some scenes and some were fairly obvious. In Hindi, the movie was totally trashed!

    Great blog by the way…Is there anyway to subscribe to it via email ? Xanga lets you do that.

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