How subtitles break language barriers

If you are a non-native regional movie-lover, how often do you find yourself heading to the cinema to watch a regional movie, even if you are not familiar with the language? Chances are if that’s you, you’re okay with reading subtitles. And, you’re not alone.

The subtitle effect

These days, cinema-goers enticed by subtitles have encouraged filmmakers to incorporate subtitles as a pivotal part of a movie’s post-production. But, despite filmmakers’ best efforts, there are theatres that do not screen movies with subtitles. In one example, viewers walked out of a screening of a Malayalam movie being shown in an East Bengaluru multiplex simply because there were no subtitles. The viewers had gone to see the movie after they had heard that there were, indeed, subtitles in earlier shows.

But, filmmakers report that such inconsistency comes down to a lack of technical expertise among cinema houses. While the subtitles are certainly provided by the filmmakers, they have to be externally plugged in during a screening of the film. Due to the limited technical knowledge or, even, a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the technicians at the cinemas, filmmakers are losing out on their extended audience.

There is a silver lining, though

However, there is a silver lining. The sheer inconsistency of showing (or not showing) subtitles has actually compelled filmmakers to burn-in, or embed, the subtitles into the movie itself so that no one can remove them during a screening – or forget to plug them in, for that matter.

The director of the Kannada blockbuster, Rangitharanga (a film that had a myriad of subtitle issues when it was released), Anup Bhandari is reportedly planning to have embedded subtitles in his next film. The director has commented that there is an audience that would like subtitle so as to ensure that the subtitles are shown without failure, they are to be burned into the films.

We should note, though, that embedded subtitles are not without their teething problems. In fact, there is a perception among rural audiences, in particular, that any film that is released with subtitles must be a niche film. Others, who may not realize a film has subtitles, may walk out of a screening.

What’s the solution to this cosmopolitan effect?

So, how can today’s filmmakers deal with this problem and ensure their films, along with subtitles, break the language barriers often found in regional cinemas? Embedding in some prints is one solution. Others are prepared to go all out and embed their subtitles in each and every print of their films. The final decision may come down to budget, target audience, and desired reach.

As it is, in Bengaluru, subtitles seem to be going a long way to opening up local audiences to regional cinema.

It seems, then, that subtitles are a favourable way to break down language barriers, open audiences up to new films, and help filmmakers cast their nets wider. We see it as a win-win situation.

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