Hindi actors in Southern films a disaster

Hindi actors in Southern films a disaster

Saaho is another filmwith Bollywood actors lip syncing to Telugu dialogues. Why can’t the southern industries find actors in their own lands?

The Baahubali films (2015 and 2017) created history in more ways than one. S S Rajamouli created something that future generations can look up to. Its marketing strategy (in which Karan Johar played a major role) is worthy of study in film schools.

Now that the north has thrown open its doors to movies from the south, a sudden desire has taken root here to make pan-Indian content. Earlier, dubbed versions of southern films premiered on TV in Hindi, but Baahubali was the first Telugu film beamed on 1,000-plus theatrical screens in its Hindi dubbed version alone.

This week’s big release, Saaho, isn’t a straight Telugu film like Baahubali. It is being marketed as bilingual (Telugu and Hindi), but if you pay close attention to the lip sync, you realise many scenes were shot in just one language. That is the reason it looks like a dubbed film.

Take the key actors: Shraddha Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Chunky Pandey, Mandira Bedi, and Mahesh Manjrekar. Do you think they’re comfortable with Telugu? No, they aren’t! They’re primarily Hindi actors. How can anybody expect them to learn a language, or even the dialogues, so quickly?

If you want to watch the Telugu version of Saaho, you’ll have to put up with actors from Bollywood. This isn’t the problem of just Saaho. And this isn’t happening for the first time either. The other highly anticipated Telugu movie, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, headlined by Chiranjeevi, stars Amitabh Bachchan. But, mind you, Bachchan has won all his four national awards for Hindi films. What’s the point in making him star in a Telugu film if he can’t dub? Even if he does, it is sure to have a strong accent (remember Shah Rukh Khan in the Tamil-Hindi bilingual Hey Ram?).

Almost every actor in the Baahubali series spoke Telugu. Sathyaraj was an exception, but his lip sync was impeccable. Filmmakers in the south shouldn’t have to rope in actors from Mumbai to make their movies appeal to wider audiences. But in an industry where the heads of art are butchered in order to make more space for the limbs of business, there is no easy solution. And Rajamouli has also fallen victim to this scam–he has already cast Alia Bhatt and Ajay Devgn in important roles in his upcoming Telugu film RRR.

I’m not against cross-pollination in Indian cinema; in fact, it helps erase many cultural boundaries. Nevertheless, it irks me when I watch a film in which the actors cannot match their expressions–or actions–with their lines. In Karthik Subbaraj’s Tamil movie, Petta, Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Singaaram, a man hell-bent on revenge against his archenemy Petta Velan (played by Rajinikanth). Though a fine actor, Siddiqui raises his hands and eyebrows only after delivering his dialogues.

In one telling scene, Singaaram chides Jithu (Vijay Sethupathi). Here, Siddiqui takes his own time to utter, “Ayyo, Jithu! Yen da, ipdi paithiya kaaran maari yethetho pesure?’ (Ayyo, Jithu! What’s wrong with you? Why are you talking like a mad man?).” He then gestures with his hands to express his displeasure. This is what happens when an actor speaks in an unfamiliar tongue. If Siddiqui had known Tamil, he would have combined the dialogue with the gesture.

Actors have the option of mouthing lines in whatever language they want, since they know directors and producers take them on board only for their commercial value. Dubbing artistes are later given the job of mitigating the on-screen malaise.

The only question that remains at the end of the day is: Why can’t the Telugu and Tamil film industries (even Kannada, for that matter) find actors in their own lands? And if they feel the need to make bilingual films, why don’t they work with two sets of actors, like Mani Ratnam did with Raavanan in Tamil (Vikram, Aishwarya Rai, Prithviraj), and Raavan in Hindi (with Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Vikram)?

(The author is a film critic based in Bengaluru)