Dubbed and lost in translation

The unmitigated disaster of Hollywood movies being dubbed into Hindi can only be avenged by Hindi films being dubbed into English with top Hollywood stars lending their voices.

Aishwarya Rai in her avatar as Maleficent in the Hindi trailer of 'Malefient: the mistress of evil'.

Suma Nagaraj
A spate of blockbuster Hollywood movies have undergone what is known as ‘localisation’ in current parlance. Bollywood superstars are lending their voice in Hindi for iconic Hollywood characters, much to the chagrin of the likes of me.

I was coerced into doing the review of Marvel’s ‘Deadpool’ for DH Talkies. First up, I am not a Marvel geek (or wasn’t back then), and second, as if Ryan Reynolds donning Deadpool’s guise but still being a frat boy wasn’t enough torture, there was the Hindi voiceover by Ranveer Singh, Bollywood’s (still) enfant terrible. An experience that has scarred me for life.

Karan’s alleged best 
The first Hollywood blockbuster to be dubbed into an Indian language was Spider-Man. In Bhojpuri. The dubbed version of the movie was called ‘Makkad Maanav’, and it made an arachnid-hominid superhero — who was hitherto available only to Anglophiles — a desi phenomenon.

Hollywood then realised this was a money-maker they could shake on the other side of the Pacific, where people were plenty and entertainment of the movie variety was at least 80 per cent running around trees, either in Punjab or Manhattan (in Karan Johar’s films, one of which he sold to Richard Gere as the best film of the year on a ‘Koffee with Karan’ episode).

And further translation project webs were spun. Hollywood saw there was a huge lacuna they could fill: action and superhero capers. And in a market as diverse as India, there was potential to dub English movies into our  languages for instant ka-ching.

The last decade or so has seen hugely successful franchises and fantasy films being dubbed into Indian languages. And this seems to have paid off for producers who hadn’t been able to conquer the Indian market until a few years ago. But what this has wrought on the unsuspecting moviegoer is that a much-loved character like Mufasa, the lion king, known for gravitas and heft even in his animated avatar, and voiced originally by James Earl Jones, gets voiced by the self-proclaimed Baadshah of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan.

Why not Big B?
Getting his son Aryan to voice Simba, the lion cub, might have been a aww-generating move as far as social media is concerned, but the art of translation itself got lost somewhere in the process of deploying a mere marketing ploy. First of all, Shah Rukh Khan has built his career around popularity, and secondly, hello, what? James Earl Jones, people! Wouldn’t the Big B have been a better voice fit? Aryan Khan could still have been Simba. Or even Abhishek Bachchan.

Recently, the grand beauty of Bollywood, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, voiced Angelina Jolie’s ‘Maleficent’. Aishwarya, a face that can launch a thousand ships, is precisely that. What a character like Maleficent needs is vocal prowess that drops menace with every syllable (a feat Jolie owns), not a goody-two-shoes wishy-washy mistress of bland spices. Think Vidya Balan, someone who can act, voice-act, eye-act, hand-act, shadow-act, pretty much everything Ms Rai Bachchan cannot. Or even Rekha. Or even Divya Dutta. Or even thousands of voice artistes who do this for a living.

PC on bandwagon
The latest to jump on the voiceover bandwagon is none other than PC, our desi girl export to the wild, wild West. Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who recently observed Karva Chauth for her husband Nick Jonas, is set to voice Elsa in ‘Frozen 2’. Her Lyra, Lyra cousin, Parineeti Chopra will voice the younger Anna. And social media is oohing and aahing at this turn of events for Mimi and Tisha (their nicknames  —  sure, Jan).

Disney princess songs have descended into shrieking shrillness ever since Vanessa Williams’s dulcet vocals for Pocahontas disappeared into the colours of the wind. Why not Asha-Lata, the grand doyens of music in Bollywood for over 60 years? PC Jonas (sounds like a superhero, no?) fancies herself a singer, and I don’t mean to be this cruel, but just imagine our desi girl screaming “Jaane do” at the top of her lungs inside an imaginary ice cave? Enough glaciers are cracking and melting and wreaking climate havoc on this world as it is. We don’t need that happening in our imaginations too now, do we?

And if this must happen for Hollywood’s coffers to fatten, then let us not be the only market upon which this aspersion is cast. The next SRK non-movie can be dubbed into English by James Earl Jones, the next vapid Aishwarya Rai Bachchan movie dubbed by La Jolie herself, and the next PC venture dubbed by Idina Menzel (she’ll have to perfect her accented English first, though, and perhaps learn to dance cringe-inducingly to a Nick Jonas song). Our economy is sliding, and Ravi Shankar Prasad needs his words to be true, so please, let’s do this.

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