Friday, 27 May 2016

Subtitles: The fear of language

Film or any visually dynamic moving image has never succumbed to restrictions because of linguistics. After all, a film in itself is a language, a language that uses visuals to convey a message. A film, as we know, is a major tool of mass media and in India, it addresses a diverse population of around 1 billion people.

Photo credit: Ashoke Chakrabarty (
Did you know that in the year 2014 the number of Telugu films made was higher than the number of Hindi films?

There are so many languages that are foreign to us, yet it does not restrict us from appreciating a film and the aesthetics behind it. Does it?
For instance, many of us watch Japanese films and anime, Korean Dramas – and what helps us comprehend the entirety of the text? – SUBTITLES.

There is, however, no such language that goes by the name ‘universal language’, because there is none. You must think that ‘ENGLISH’ is one such language, but think it over. A major portion of our population doesn’t understand English and ‘being literate’ is NOT synonymous to ‘knowing and understanding English’.

The Western half of the globe watches Hindi films using subtitles and guess what? The Eastern half watches English films using subtitles as well, regardless of knowing the language beforehand.

Parole – the actual utterances made by the speakers of a particular language. In layman’s terms, it would mean ACCENT AND PRONUNCIATION.

For instance, The term ‘schedule’, its U.K. pronunciation goes like – “she-dyool”, however, its U.S. pronunciation goes like – “ske-dyool”.
One cannot ignore accent and pronunciation because the diversity in the world is vast and so is the dependence on the English language. This is where subtitles come to our rescue.

Subtitles are the necessary evils of the film language. One can argue that it is only important for images to convey the thought and that this is the true success for a film. In order to clear the air and get rid of an ‘over – the – top’ definition of films, one must understand that we’ve moved way past Silent Films and here we stand on the brink of moving towards another modified form of the film using enhanced technology, visual effects, and dialogues.

Recently, many of you must have encountered the humour that comes with ‘literal subtitles’. Here are some examples that will help you have a barrel of laughs:

Subtitles are necessary and distracting at the same time. Don’t tell me subtitles like those in the above images aren’t distracting. Of course, they are. They rattled my humorous bone.

So, you see, language - may it be Hindi, Telugu, English, Japanese, Spanish – is a filmmaker’s added tool to increase the transparency of what’s on the screens.

The inevitability of it (dialogues) comes from our ability to use language for communication.

Written by Smita Ganguli
Aspiring cyber journalist but too damn opinionated.

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