Why we must regulate dubbed content on Kannada TV

Why we must regulate dubbed content on Kannada TV

Many Kannada serials have been replaced by their dubbed counterparts during the last few months and hundreds of technicians and artists have lost jobs

Representative image: iStock Photo

For decades, the Kannada Film Chamber of Commerce and Karnataka Television Association (KFCC and KTVA) had imposed an unofficial ban on screening dubbed content. In 2012, a few consumer rights groups fought for the removal of the ban. Following a Competition Commission of India  (CCI) ruling in their favour, the group managed to mainstreamise content that otherwise could not have been accessible to the Kannada-speaking population. This was a welcome move, which made important shows from the Discovery Channel and certain serials like Mahanayaka (based on the life of BR Ambedkar) available in Kannada.

Post the lifting of the ban, however, several dubbed Hindi serials have flooded Kannada channels. The film fraternity has repeatedly expressed concerns about dubbed TV content bulldozing native content and the ensuing loss of jobs. And sure enough, coupled with the effects of the lockdown, Kannada serials have been replaced by their dubbed counterparts. 

Problems with dubbed content

In the last few months, hundreds of artists and technicians have lost their jobs. The serials they worked on have been permanently scrapped, including critically acclaimed serials like Magalu Janaki.

With technicians losing their livelihood, worker associations have been advocating for regulations in dubbing. Pro-dubbing consumer rights groups, meanwhile, have vehemently opposed the introduction of regulatory measures.

In the current context, one of the arguments made by the advocates of dubbing is that it will create new opportunities in voice acting, sound mixing, and translation. However, these are not new jobs. The demand for these roles has existed in equal measure before the advent of dubbing.

The second argument is that the competition arising out of dubbed shows will force native serial directors to up their ante, eventually ensuring that only “good” Kannada content survives. This concept of the “survival of the fittest” stems from the discredited theory of Social Darwinism. In West Bengal, a similar premise led to a TV channel acting as dumping ground for dubbed Hindi content, so much so that the channel now does not telecast any original serials. Back home too, this narrative has proved costly for Kannada serial directors and producers. 

Role of large media corporations

Even though shooting has resumed post-lockdown, dubbed content continues to rule the roost. For large media corporations, dubbed shows are cost-effective since the cost of production for an original show is between Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 1 Lakh per day, while dubbed shows need only minimal input. 

Karnataka does not have its own GEC (General Entertainment Channel). Most channels are owned by corporations based out of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. While it can be said that a Kannadiga-owned GEC would work in favour of original content, this assumption is reductionist. 

Even when GECs are based out of their own state, the situation is grim. TV worker associations in states like West Bengal, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu are fighting to regulate dubbed material. In Tamil Nadu, significant screen time is occupied by dubbed Hindi serials, even in channels owned by Tamil GECs. The networks are driven more by TRP and profits than the interests of their workers and artists.

The argument by worker groups across the nation is similar – the dumping of dubbed content leads to native serials being discontinued, forcing small-time actors and technicians to bear the brunt. Even if we were to believe that jobs will eventually be restored, the debate fails to acknowledge the immense amount of power that large media corporations have come to enjoy, owing to our current approach to dubbing. 

This will inevitably create a hegemony, wherein a media corporation controls what the producer creates and what the viewer consumes. The power granted to the media corporations will enable the telecasting of agenda-driven serials. In the 80s, when DD was the only accessible channel, the telecast of Ramayan eventually manufactured consent for the Ram Mandir movement. Today, at least five dubbed serials in Kannada television tell stories from Hindu mythology. 

Looking for solutions

There is no quick-fix to the dubbing chaos we are in, but we can look to our neighbours for possible measures. In Andhra Pradesh, 70 per cent of all screen-time is reserved for native serials. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, levies an additional tax on dubbed serials to force media networks to telecast a limited number of foreign content. By limiting the number of dubbed serials that a channel can telecast, regulations work in favour of the local workers.

The opening of doors to dubbing was meant to protect Kannada and Kannadiga rights, but the uncontrolled approach is proving to be anti-worker and pro-corporate. There is still a long way to go before Kannada television airs content that truly provides the Kannadiga with what they earlier did not have access to, while safeguarding the workers’ interests. The removal of the ban might have been the first step to democratise infotainment, but the movement will be self-destructive if pertinent regulations are not put in place. 

(Anusha Bhat is pursuing postgraduate studies in Development from Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. She has worked as an assistant film director)

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