'Say no to regulation of dubbed TV, film content'

Calls to regulate dubbed content on Kannada TV and films need to be resisted

Dubbing is here to stay, it is now up to Kannada film TV industries to compete for the viewer’s attention

Representative Image. Credit: iStock

After watching the excellent dubbed Kannada version of Tamil superstar Suriya’s Soorarai Pottru, a dramatised biopic on the life of Captain GR Gopinath, the Air Deccan founder, I am certain that every Kannadiga watching it had the same question on their minds: ‘Why didn’t the Kannada film industry make this film?’ Captain Gopinath was, after all, born in the Hassan district of Karnataka. 

This perfectly captures the great divide between what the Kannada viewer wants and what s/he is being served regularly by the Kannada film and television industry. In this context, it becomes important to look at the role of dubbed content in films and TV. 

Not all are convinced that this is an avenue that provides viewers much with much-needed choice and access to well-made programming. In an article that appeared on this website, Ms. Anusha Bhat has called for regulation of dubbed content on Kannada TV. She appears to make the case that many TV series, including the critically acclaimed daily soap, Magalu Janaki, have paid the price of allowing dubbed serials to be aired on Kannada TV channels. There are multiple problems with her call for regulation. This article will seek to argue the other position. 

To begin with, a cursory search reveals that the serial in question was stopped because of the coronavirus pandemic and that its stopping had nothing to do with dubbing. Although Ms Bhat does say that the existing situation of job losses in the Kannada film and television industry, in conjunction with the pandemic, has led to many series being scrapped and also led tp loss of jobs for technicians and artists, the overall impression is that dubbing has directly led to stoppage of native content. This argument is disingenuous. 

Read | Why we must regulate dubbed content on Kannada TV
 

Dubbing and job losses 

The coronavirus pandemic has shattered the lives of many daily wage labourers and this includes technicians of film and TV industries of all languages. The Kannada TV industry is not an exception.

Sumanth Bhat, who is earning laurels for his brilliant performance as Suriya’s voice in the Kannada version of Soorarai Pottru has said in an interview that he lost his job as an announcer on TV just before the pandemic. If not for dubbing, Bhat would have remained unknown and unemployed, as was the case until sometime ago. 

The same holds true for many existing and aspiring voice artists, writers and other technicians for whom opportunities were few because of the unofficial dubbing ban that persisted for over 50 years. 

Winston Churchill once said that a pessimist sees a threat in every opportunity whereas an optimist sees an opportunity in every threat. Thousands of jobs are made redundant every year in the technology sector due to automation. This crisis is only going to get aggravated in the future with widespread use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Workers in those sectors upskill themselves and end up earning a higher paycheck instead of asking the government to regulate the use of automation or AI. 

Similarly, the Karnataka TV industry, for its own good, has to stop asking for regulation of dubbed content and should start competing in the open market for the viewer’s attention and appreciation. In this age of OTT content, the TV industry must indeed think out of the box by telling new stories and strive harder to provide its technicians better livelihood opportunities and, wherever possible, upskill them. 

Government intervention in free markets inevitably opens up a Pandora’s Box where every sector will start queuing up for government support when things start going downhill. 

A gateway to newer horizons 

While Telugu and Tamil film industries opened up for all kinds of dubbed content, widened their markets and embraced competition, it’s only with the 2018 release of the blockbuster, KGF, that came out in various languages, that the Kannada film industry realised the potential of its reach.

For over 50 years, the Kannada viewer was forced to watch good content produced in other languages. Only in the past decade, with the arrival of new and talented filmmakers, did the Kannada film industry seem to  make an attempt at reclaiming the ground ceded to film industries of other languages. 

Films like Bahubali, serials like Mahanayaka, channels like Discovery, are now available in Kannada for crores of Kannadigas who know no other language except Kannada.Their choices were restricted in the past citing various reasons, but not anymore.’

Whither consumer protection? 

Further, Ms. Bhat in her article writes that when “DD was the only accessible channel, the telecast of Ramayan eventually manufactured consent for the Ram Mandir movement,” and that “at least five dubbed serials in Kannada television tell stories from Hindu mythology.”

The Kannada dubbed version of Mahabharata was among the most watched shows through its run. Ms. Bhat’s statement about ‘manufactured consent’ is condescending and seems to indicate that the general public is ignorant and have to be educated about their choices. 

Due to social media awareness campaigns by organisations like Kannada Grahakara Koota (KGK) things seem to be turning around for Kannada consumers. As the phrase goes, 'Badalavane Jagada Niyama’ or change is the order of the world. Dubbing is here to stay, it is now up to the Kannada film and TV industries to up their game and compete for the viewer’s attention. 

(Supreeth Krishnamurthy is an engineer and a concerned citizen)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.