Demand spikes, but subtitles remain a mirage for movie buffs

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“For movie buffs of Bengaluru - to share and receive info on subtitles so that it helps all to watch different language movies,” reads the bio of a twitter group, Rally for Subtitles.

The group garnered attention following a campaign that urged theatre owners in Bangalore to screen movies with subtitles. Its activities inspired film buffs to form similar groups in Mumbai and Hyderabad.

Vivekananda Kodandaraman, who is the administrator of the group said the Rally for Subtitles informs film goers which theatre runs subtitles and which does not. Vivekananda has raised this issue many times with theatre owners. “But it has not been sorted out yet,” said Vivekananda, who watched Lijo Jose Pelliserry's 'Angamaly Diaries' 15 times.

Vivekananda said if a movie is being played with subtitles in a theatre, the same film will be screened without subtitles in another theatre. “It happened with Nivin Pauly's movie Love Action Drama recently,” he said.

Malayalam speakers do not face trouble when they watch Malayalam movies in Benguluru and Chennai. “But it troubles people who do not understand the language. That is why we demand subtitles,” said Vivekananda, who works at an informational technology company.

But this is not just the case in Bangalore. Filmgoers in Kerala face the same issue while watching other language movies.

“I wanted to watch Saaho in Telugu but I was told there was no subtitles when I reached theatre. The film had subtitles for its Hindi version. It is a serious let down for people who yearn to watch films in its original language,” said Vivek Ranjith, a subtitler from Kerala.

Where lies the problem?

Vivek, who had subtitled 126 Malayalam movies, said he has been fighting for subtitles in all language movies for the last five years. “The film crew toil hard, put everything together to make a movie. But lack of commitment from the theatre owner's side, a major chunk of our effort goes waste,” he said.

One of the highly rated movies of the year, Kumbalangi Nights, had a good run outside Kerala. “Initially, very few theatres screened the movie with subtitles. As it became a hit, the demand for subtitles went high,” said its director Madhu C Narayanan.

But Uyare director Manu Ashokan did not face any such problem. “Our scriptwriter Sanjay's wife Sangeetha had subtitled the film. We had planned subtitles right from the pre-production stage,” he said.

With movies like Lijo Jose Pellissery's Jalikkattu and Geetu Mohandas' Moothon and Sanal Kumar Sasidharan's Chola gaining international recognition, the scope of subtitles is getting bigger in Malayalam movie industry.

Vivek said ticket booking platforms can provide information on subtitles. “In Chennai, Mayajaal provides the details, such as the movie is being screened with or without subtitles. But Book My Show does not have such a facility. It is high time booking platforms alerted the viewers,” he said.

Subtitles have become an integral part of movies with the boom of Malayalam cinemas at the OTT platforms. Jessi Mathew, a social media manager, felt that subtitles can hook casual viewers. “The media sector as a whole is making 'thumb-stoppers' – the short videos that will make people stop what they are doing and watch the visual stories. And interestingly, subtitles play crucial role in videos. It engages the viewers,” she said.

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