get the pain where you give the force', 'Mind your cleavage', 'love, fear the world', 'I am a chunk of sweet'... These lines may appear pornographic, but they're literal translations of dialogues from family films like Aasal (2010), Rishtey (2002) and Inkaar (1978), thanks to the art of subtitling in Hindi movies gone awry. These subtitles, more often than not, tweak normal dialogues and give them kinky connotations and turn dignified actors into blabbermouths.
Illinois-based Beth Watkins's blog Paagal Subtitle, a crowd-sourced project, celebrates such creativity, typos and expert image-and-word juxtaposition in subtitles in Indian cinema. "I'm grateful that so many Indian films are available on DVD with English subtitles. I'm also amazed at how strange some of the subtitles turn out to be. Usually it's just a case of a typographical error that gives a word an unintentional meaning," she says.
Shahid surely didn’t sound this kinky in Jab We Met
It all started when Gurinder Chadha's Bride and Prejudice released. Watkins, a lover of almost all Jane Austen adaptations went to the film's website and started poking around. "The director had put up a list of Indian film conventions that she was playing with in the film, and as I read about them I thought why have I never seen any of these movies? I ran to my local independent video store and grabbed things at random. Because it had such happy-looking people on the cover, my first Indian film was Mujhse Dosti Karoge, I was hooked," Watkins told Guardian20.
Started in September 2010, Paagal Subtitle is inspired by Hong Kong Subtitles, a similar project that collects funny English subtitles from Hong Kong films. She used the term paagal because that's one of the first Hindi words she learnt by watching films and liked how it is used to connote someone being crazy in a fun way.
As usual, southern flicks take the cake, as in Madhurey (2004)
Watkins says that 99% of the subtitles are perfectly fine. "Based on what I know about Hindi language and my observations, most subtitles are perfectly serviceable. But when you get a string of really awful subtitles in the same film, I wonder why there isn't more quality control," she avers. "I am not criticising the differences between Indian English, the North American and British English. The subtitles that make me laugh are ones that have elaborately bad grammar, sentences that don't make sense within themselves, odd abbreviations and, the ones that have absolutely nothing to do with what's going on in the film."
This killer from the 1978 film Inkar beats ‘em all
She opines that writing subtitles is more about accurate and evocative communication and not just translation. "I would love to know how they do it. Do they have lots of debates over exact word usage? How do they decide when to be literal in translation and when to be more poetic or creative? Are there certain screenwriters or lyricists whose work is harder or easier to translate? Some of my responsibilities at my job are writing and editing, so I spent a lot of energy being careful with writing. But it's impossible not to laugh in empathy when I see a typo that changes the meaning of a sentence," she says.