Wednesday, April 10, 2013

TRANSMIGRATION VS TRANSLATION


We were at a cinema theatre a couple of weeks ago. Being early for the show  I was trying to kill time looking at the posters of the upcoming movies. That was when my eyes caught sight of a poster which seemed to ring a bell in my mind. I was wondering where I had seen something like this . My daughter enlightened me by saying  “ This is the Tamil version of the movie Delhi Belly”.

“ Delhi Belly” is one of the wackiest movies that I have seen in recent times. Set in Delhi, it has a crazy theme involving the consequences of a small mistake made by one of the three friends who live together- they exchange by mistake a stool sample with some diamonds which they were unknowingly asked to pass on to the bad guy.. And after that it is pure fun. Toilet humor certainly but you laugh till your sides ache.   I am not sure how it would translate on to the Tamil screen.  Actually, I don’t think it would translate  into a Tamil/ Chennai context at all.

Before you accuse me of being biased, let me explain why it would not. For starters, the film “Delhi Belly” is not in Hindi, it is in “Hinglish”. Most of the dialogues are in English with a smattering of Hindi. The characters are all from the English speaking class of the capital and the humor and situations  are peculiar to that culture! It would be very difficult to translate them to the Tamil – Chennai context. In a conservative city like Chennai where a Tamil movie is likely to be set it would be quite difficult to come across a journalist like Menaka (Poorna Jaganathan) or someone like Sonia (Shehnaz Treasurywala). Not to say that they do not exist but they would not strike a chord with the audience if they were to be featured on screen.

What I am coming to say is that humor is very culture specific and one has to stay rooted within that culture to enjoy it.  People who watch Tamil movies are part of a different sub culture which has its own brand of humor. I would like to take the example of a lovely film made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the 1980s called Khubsoorat starring Rekha and Rakesh Roshan. It was a light, lively family story with some clean humor. However when it was made into Tamil (I think the name of the Tamil version was                 Lakshmi Vandachhu”)  it was terrible!!! It started out as a scene by scene copy of the Hindi film   but went on to end in some kind of emotional melodrama which was completely out of sync with what the Hindi one was all about. Actually, I was surprised that the Tamil version was made into a mess like this because in terms of story it was culture neutral – it could happen in any part of India. It was a simple story of a carefree and fun loving girl who goes to visit her sister’s in laws and shocks them with her behavior. The Tamil movie made this girl into a cancer patient who was trying to live out the last days of life through laughter.. WHY ????  I was so annoyed when I saw this film that I grumbled all the way home. It was with great effort that my father soothed me saying  “In Tamil culture unless there is melodrama no one thinks watching  a movie is worth it”.

Then there was another film “Golmal” –again a product of the late seventies / early eighties. I don’t remember the name of the Tamil version but I think it was very loud. While not denying that Rajnikanth gave it a different but entertaining new treatment to the character played originally by Amol Palekar, I think the character of Utpal Dutt was annoyingly  over dramatized in the Tamil version. 

I hear that “Three Idiots” has also been made into Tamil. I shudder to think what that would look like !

However, before you think that I am against Tamil movies and Tamil culture, let me tell you that it works both ways. There was a beautiful Tamil movie called “Alaipayudhe” starring Madhavan and Shalini which was remade into Hindi. I do not remember the name of the Hindi version but when I saw it , I realized that the characters played by Rani Mukherjee and Vivek Oberoi were not real and believable like the ones in Tamil were. The Hindi characters were too glamorized and filmy.

And ofcourse everyone knows the damp squib that “Dayavan” was. A remake of “Nayagan” it can only be referred to in the worst possible negatives.

I do realize that in a country like India which has innumerable cultures and sub cultures it is not an easy task to remake films in different languages. Actually, I think one should not even attempt remaking them because it loses the flavor that makes the original one unique. It might be a better idea to simply use sub titles and introduce the movie to audiences in another part of the country. It would help others understand and appreciate better the culture in which it is set and over sometime do away with cultural stereotypes.

It is a pity when something that is good is turned round on its head and pounded out of shape just so that someone from another culture can relate to it. It is like trying to make pasta seasoned with mustard seeds and curry leaves. When that happens it is not pasta. It becomes upma and really who wants Upma made with Fetucini or Fucilli? And is it fair to the Italians if I can enjoy their cuisine only when it resembles and tastes mine?

But who can explain this to an avaricious film maker? It is obvious they  cannot see anything beyond currency notes. If something has done well in a certain language I guess they want to transmigrate it to another language forgetting that it might not fit. And they do this secure in the knowledge that there are only a few who may have tasted both Upma and Pasta. Those who eat pasta rarely come into contact with Upmav and those who eat Upma might just think that this is a change… What a world!!!

 

4 comments:

SG said...

Agree with you 100%. Tamil movie Nenjil Ore Alayam was remade in Hindi, Dil Ek Mandir. Hindi version was also a box office hit. Tamil version involved the audience more emotionally than the Hindi version. May be due to Director Sridhar being a Tamil speaking guy and therefore was able to bring out the emotions in Tamil.

KParthasarathi said...

I believe films are culture specific and any remake cannot bring the soul of the original .
Secondly some films are great success by the deft handling of the characters by some actors specially chosen.In Khubsoorat Rekha,
Ashokumar,and the old woman some Pathak did justice to their roles not to forget the youngest brotherinlaw.Can you think of any alternative to Amjad,AB,Dharmendra and great Sanjeevkumar besides Hemamalini for Sholay?They made the important ingredient to the film.
Tamil humour of Senthil ,Vadivelu and like type is loud and never subtle.You cannot import Hindi and English film humour in Tamil or vice versa.Think of a Roman Holiday in Tamil.It would be different.
The best one can do is to adapt the storyline to suit the cultural specifics of the region.

anilkurup said...

Uppma and pasta , sounds apt.A remake can triumph only in the hands of talented and deft hands.
And such talented people pick themes that they are sure of adapting.
The old Malayalam hit"Chemeen" was , it is said toyed by Universal pictures for a remake but shelved, because they found the dialogue and settings had too much of chaste nuance that could succeed only in the culture it was created. The love phrase "Thanga kodam" meaning my sweet or honey has no English parallel to convey the soul.

Secondly, it comes to the actors. Many remakes are a failure in Hindi , because it is more glamour actors there and not real actors. Nayakan , as you said is a prime example.

It is like often transliteration of works of Spanish , or Japanese writers into English. It stumbles.


Meera Sundararajan said...

Glad that all of you agree about culture being an important variable when it comes to remakes. @ KP, for every Senthil or Vadi velu in Tamil there is a Johny Lever in Hindi-equally crass! But the point is how much do people enjoy that brand of humor in each of these cultures? Probably the percentage may be higher in the southern state of TN.

@ Anil, remakes need to adapt the soul to the local context. You are right about Chemmeen not being amenable to the Indian context- it would have been like what KP says about making Roman holiday in Tamil. But I think societies sometimes reach a time in their evolution when they are ready for the remake in the exact sense. For e.g if you have seen the American film "Help" you will understand what I mean. It is about domestic help. It is very relevant to the Indian context as it is today.

@ SG, you are right, south Indian audiences love tears and emotion. My grandmother used to think that Sivaji Ganesan was a great actor because he used to shout his dialogues and make his eyes twitch-compare this to Sanjeev Kumar in Hindi- great emotive skills but exhibited very subtly!

PS : I am glad I have got some comments. My sister told me no would be able to relate to this post :)

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