Dubbed Hollywood blockbusters taste
success and failure
By Moneisha Gandhi
BOMBAY, November 24.
A blue-eyed Gaelic warrior gallop in on Scottish highlands brandishes his sword and bellows “Wo hamari jaan le sakte ham, par vo chheen nahin sakte hamari azadi (They can take our lives but they can never take our freedom).’ The scene is from 'Sherdil' the dubbed version of the blockbuster Braveheart, one of the many Hollywood films available to local audiences in Hindi.
Ever since 1992, when the government lifted restrictions on dubbing foreign films in Indian languages, several motion picture companies have ventured forth and dubbed Hollywood films in the local lingo. Yet, they tread with caution and have still to ascertain whether or not a market for such films exists.
Jurassic Park, the first Hollywood film to be dubbed in Hindi, Tamil and Telegu, stormed Indian metros in April 1993 Released by Paramount Films of India Limited, it was a roaring success and inspired the dubbing of several other films. Not all were quite as successful, though. And film companies have since been trying to figure out what makes or breaks foreign films amongst local audiences.
“We are still in the process of learning,” said general manager of Paramount Sarabjit Singh. “Jurassic Park and Saccha Jhoot (True Lies) were major hits. But we have faced several disappointments, as well. The response to Schindler's List, Flintstones and recently Casper Ek Pyara Bhooth (Casper the Friendly Ghost) fell far below expectations,” he said,
Most firms that have been in the market for a while, however, have discovered that certain formulae work. “Films that transcend all barriers, namely action,adventure and family movies, tend to do well” Warner Brothers marketing executive Denzil Dias observed. “But serious, thought-provoking films do not have the same appeal.”
Companies that offer dubbed movies have to keep in mind that they are competing with scores of Indian pictures that Bollywood and regional film makers regularly dish out. “If we want our films to sell, we have to provide audiences with something extra,” Mr Dias pointed out. “Warner Brothers chose to dub the action film Under Siege 2 since it has some breathtaking stunts, something that no Indian film offers,” he said.
“Indian audiences today are looking for variety,” said Twentieth Century Fox country manager Sunder Kimatrai. “Even in Indian cinema, those films that have dared to be different — like 1942 A Love Story and Roja — have been the biggest hits. So despite foreign films not having the popular song and dance sequences of Indian cinema, the response to them is steadily improving.”
In addition, Mr Kimatrai observed that the opening up of the skies and satellite television had brought about a globalisation of culture. ‘These days, even Hindi-speaking audiences are in touch with the West, and would like to watch what people in other countries are watching,” he said.
The people at Twentieth Century Fox are satisfied with the money their dubbed films have made. However, Columbia Tristar Films of India Ltd general manager G M Hariharan has a different story to tell. “So far, the response has been poor. Indian audiences probably feel that a dubbed film is a second-hand one.” Cliff-hanger made about Rs I crore, but in the case of Street Fighter we did not even recover the theatre costs. It’s a gamble as we are still not sure what makes films click,” he said.
While it is a gamble, film producers know at least one thing for sure. If the audience can be made to forget that a film is dubbed, it is more likely to be successful. “This can he quite challenging,” confessed UTV dubbing director Eliza Lewis. “Whilst translating the script, one has to go by the feel of the scene rather what is exactly said. We are constantly adapting scripts to suit Indian audiences.”
Dubbing too can be difficult,” Ms Lewis said. “The dubber’s voice must co-ordinate with the movement of the actor’s lips. When sentences in the two languages are of different lengths one has to improvise on the spot. Films with exciting visuals better than dialogue-based films, she said.
Said Mr Kimarrai, “So far, in India we have only been dubbing blockbusters. In more sophisticated markets, where literacy is high, almost every film is dubbed.”