Tuesday 26 July 2016
facebook.com/Outlookindia twitter.com/outlookindia digimag.outlookindia.com instagram.com/outlookindia youtube.com/user/OutlookMagazine

Queen’s Gambit

Why is the Malayali thinking more in the saayip’s tongue, at least when it comes to movie names?

It was the late ’80s and in college, a couple of Bihari friends once accosted me in the hostel corridor. They were planning a ‘noon show’ run and wanted to know if a certain Mallu film, Heart for Hire, would be worth the gas and the eight kilometre ride to town. Now Heart for Hire (a literal translation of Vadakakku Oru Hridayam, a purported ‘social’ which had the heavenly Jayabharati in the lead and touched on themes like erectile dysfunction and adultery) turned out to be a little too “innocent” for their liking, but the incongruous English title did tickle the funny bone for a while.

Now, 25 years later it’s Malayalam cinema itself which is vexed over the issue, and it’s not translations: the titles themselves are in English. The Malayali is thinking more in the saayip’s tongue, at least when it comes to movie names. And the state is thinking of closing the gate on it: no more subsidies for the saayips. Now in God’s own country, where everything’s up for debate and argument, this hasn’t gone down well. Filmmakers bristle at the intrusion into their creative rights. How do you justify subsidy to a recent film title like Koothara, some ask, which—not discounting its creative merits or lack thereof—is surely Malayalam but translates to a slur which even Tri­vandrum lowlife might be a bit shame-faced to use? Or find a plausible desi translation for Ordinary, which rev­olves around the lives of the ‘ordinary’ (statespeak for ‘local’) bus workers at a hill station? What in ‘thani Mala­yalam’ can stand in for all this?  

What about a title like ‘ordinary’, what in ‘thani Malayalam’ can explain the local bus of the title?

So what brought about this sudden surge in Malayalam pride? Could it, dare we say it, have anything to do with the Malayali’s uneasy rapport with the Eng­lish language, especially onscreen? After all, this is the land where sup­erstars have built careers on their ability to mouth off in the Queen’s tongue, que­stioning people’s “sense, sensibility, sensitivity” and all; where TV hosts with fake accents and stilted glottises are recalled “by popular demand”.      

Unfortunately, this whole controversy comes at a time when ‘Mollywood’ itself is going through a ferment, a new, youngish energy after a long desultory patch. And some of the ‘English film titles’, it has to be said, are part of the revival. Some of the best of the batch, like 22 Female Kottayam or Salt ’n Pepper, to name just two, can hardly be imagined with an alternate Mal­ayalam title. There’s also a case to be made that the English title brigade have been pushing the limits, as it were, on story ideas. What else can exp­l­ain how a film like Idukki Gold—which in a nutshell is about five ex-pothead school friends getting back together for a trip to score that elusive, mythical weed of the title—ever got the go-ahead? This in a state so uppity that ‘good families’ even today will not admit such a thing exists. The hope, of course, is that when the dust settles, it’ll be good cinema that wins over such trivialities. As the yoga acharya keeps reminding me in another context, when you enter the hall, keep your mind open to possibilities. Inh­ale, hold for 10, exhale. Sometimes, rarely, it’s pure gold on the screen, isn’t it?


Sasi Nair is associate editor, Outlook; E-mail your columnist: snair [AT] outlookindia [DOT] com

READ MORE IN:
AUTHORS: Sasi Nair
PLACES: Kerala
SUBSECTION: Opinion
OUTLOOK: 11 August, 2014
Download the Outlook ​Magazines App. Six magazines, wherever you go! Play Store and App Store

Post a Comment

You are not logged in, please Log in or Register
  • Daily Mail
THE LATEST ISSUE
CLICK IMAGE FOR CONTENTS
OUTLOOK ON TWITTER
POLLS

The cricket icon is reported to have tried to curry favour with Defence Minister Parrikar for a friend's property adjoining defence land in Mussoorie. Parrikar is said to have declined to help. The recipient of India's top honour is also busy endorsing various products. Is India's legendary batsman insulting the Bharat Ratna, which was given to him after amending rules?

POLL STARTED ON: Jul 19, 2016
Quiz
Kashmir has been the scene for massive protests following the killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani on July 8. “Non-lethal” pellet guns used against the protesters have blinded many and 45-odd people have died in the face-off against security forces. The scale of protests have led to frayed tempers in the mainland with many resorting to high-voltage jingoism. But how well do you know Kashmir? Find out, take this quiz.
QUIZ STARTED ON: Jul 25, 2016