By Damian D’souza
Irrespective of whether you follow superhero movies, the latest Avengers is the new CrossFit. You might as well be an unkempt hermit who lives under a rock if you haven’t marked yourself “safe from fomo” on Facebook by “Watching Avengers: Infinity War Movie at Overpriced Multiplex Serving Overpriced Samosas with Friend and 5 Others”. Following suit later this week is Deadpool 2, which has Bollywood’s idiot savant, and might be the poster child for candy-flipping party drugs, Ranveer Singh, voicing the title character. A daunting task considering he’s dubbing for Ryan Reynolds, who is Deadpool IRL, without all the killing or badass red suit. But who better to play a swaggering, hard-drinking hedonist bro, the archetype of the grown-up adolescent, other than Bollywood’s Mr Brightside, right?
It’s difficult to take offence with someone who goes out of his way to be so likeable (unless of course, you’re the Karni Sena) and this is definitely a step in the right direction. Matching the on-screen character with the offscreen voice, ensuring the subtle vocal nuances that define the character aren’t lost in translation, is an often overlooked facet of the Hollywood-se-Bollywood endeavour. It is also key to getting the movie right.
Sometimes it’s like someone played “name-place-animal-thing” and added “maut” as an affix. What else explains Legion becoming Maut Ke Farishte, and Jaws transmuting into Maut Ka Samundar.
A few years ago, when a movie trailer announced something along the lines of “James Bondki dil dehlane wali kahani, Casino Royale, ab Hindi mein,” I was intrigued enough by the Hindi words coming out of Daniel Craig’s mouth to buy tickets to watch the film. At the part where I’d expect the secret agent to order three measures of Gordon’s – one of vodka; half a measure of Kina Lillet; shaken over ice, with a thin slice of lemon peel – with the same stiff-upper-lipped élan and panty-dropping panache in your very own matrubhasha, I got Shakti Singh, sounding like a Punjabi uncle ordering a “Patiala Chivas, aadha paani, aadha Coke, aur chaar cube barrf ke saath” at a desi shaadi.
How many times have you flipped through TV channels and found a rerun of Blade or The Mummy Returns where the characters sound like regional caricatures of themselves? Brendan Fraser saying “Mummy humare peeche hai” sounds less like the warning it is, and more like a reassurance that his mum’s got his back. And who is not scarred by Jurassic Park’s “Bhago, bhago badi chipkali aa rahi hai?”
This loss in translation begins with the title. The original title is usually swapped with a mindless Google translation, leading to LOL-worthy names such as Harry Potter aur Aag Ka Pyaala for Goblet of Fire, or Vanar Raj, for Planet of the Apes. Occasionally the dubbing artists, in an effort to build suspense, go for something mindless. The Matrix is re-christened Maayajaal: less Keanu Reeves dodging bullets, and more semi-pornigraphic masala movie about a femme fatale who seduces men, murders them, and turns their bodies into wax statues.
In the enthusiasm to rename a movie, translators seem to get carried away, explaining the title in too many words like it’s a tweet. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Eraser, which is about a federal agent who specialises in erasing people’s old identity either by assigning them new ones or killing them, turned into the overtly succinct Mita Doonga Naam-o-Nishaan. Hmm, I can only picture Dharam Paaji in the lead. Or when the disaster porn movie 2012 became Pralay Ki Shuruaat. Sometimes it’s like someone played “name-place-animal-thing” and added “maut” as an affix. What else explains Legion becoming Maut Ke Farishte, and Jawstransmuting into Maut Ka Samundar. Here’s a more exhaustive list on Quora.
It doesn’t help that often the dialogue is a convenient translation of the script, which fails to capture punchlines, colloquialisms, or any of the nuances of the original and the subs mirror the same. So naturally, “There was a dildo in the bag, it was vibrating…” from Fight Club became, “Woh ek khatarnak cheez thi aur woh hil rahi thi.” I don’t know how khatarnak a dildo can be, but I’m pretty sure, if a dildo attacked me, I could pull out its batteries real quick. Human – 1, Dildo – 0.
My brush with the Hindi Casino Royale ruined dubbed movies for me. That is, until the recent Jungle Book, where Nana Patekar stepped in for Idris Elba’s Shere Khan, piqued my curiosity once again. It didn’t disappoint. Just like Deadpool “is” Ryan Reynolds and Robert Downey Jr “is” Iron Man, Nana Patekar “is” the original Shere Khan. The very timbre of an actor’s voice can work magic for redubs, as I saw with Nana’s voicing of the vicious king of the jungle (ditto for Irrfan Khan as Baloo, and Piggy Chops for Kaa). Had Shere Khan said, “Aa gaya meri maut ka tamasha dekhne” before falling into the burning brush, audiences across theaters in India would have achieved a collective cinematic climax.
With Ranveer Singh in the Hindi dub of Deadpool 2, we’re a step closer to getting it right. That way we can finally watch the latest Hollywood release with our overpriced snacks and watered-down Cokes without having to wonder why a dildo is such a “khatarnaak cheez”.