Sometimes knowledge finds you at just the right time. Not two minutes ago I was emailing with Desi Dancer about how to capture the feeling of "listen up, bitches" in Hindi.

So, quality-control team at EROS (or the whole company, whatever): suno, saala. What exactly do you think you're doing putting out crap like this? I can deal with your idiot boasting about your role in promoting Bollywood. I can deal with the Tilda basmati folks (to be honest, I love the flying cauliflower). I can deal with all your ads for things I already know about.

But I cannot watch a movie with subtitles that cover, at best, 20% of what's being said and generally whimper along without the joy of complete sentences. The following list is just a sample of what you subjected me to under the guise of subtitled dialogue (with / indicating a new screen). All of these accompany lines spoken by one character in between speeches by other characters, which I assume is a pretty standard unit of dialogue, and therefore each should stand on its own as a complete idea.
  • Move aisde Gita! / a man's patience / several times in business! / between Sheetal and me! / he could do to our family! / without retaliating even once! / tolerate what he has done! / What harm have we done to him?!
  • against you... / you have done to me... / go and question your father!
  • married tomorrow. / in the ceremony. / his house and against his wishes. tell you is that... / attend the wedding tomorrow. / Because, in the father's absence... / who gives away the bride."
  • I've had today / of tennis this evening
  • comes from the heart / 3.
These read like they were written by a struggling student of Hindi taking an aural exam, just jotting down the bits of what was underestood, or maybe like what you might overhear through the wall if your neighbor watched Trishul with the sound up too high. In any event, they read like whoever wrote them did not catch all of what was being said. And that, my friends, is not the point of subtitles. If I wanted to get only snippets of what was going on, I would just watch the movie without any subtitles at all, since the bits of subtitles that did actually make sense were usually things I could have come up with on my own just by watching the characters' actions and expressions. I can struggle to understand the dialogues all on my own, so why do you even bother making subtitles like this? I hate that you do this to me. I hate that it's so hard to bypass your product completely. I hate that you don't seem to care about viewers like me even though I am such a keen user of your product.

I hate that you create an obstacle to Bollywood.

The first three examples above, while not grammatically sufficient, do express some of what's going on in the scene, and they did augment my understanding of the plot. I still can't say they're good, though, because obviously they don't read the way people generally talk. However, the latter two - I don't even know what to say about these. I can't imagine the two elements of the tennis one could even be from the same sentence, becuse how could the speaker have already had something that is happening later that day (they character was eating lunch, so evening hadn't happened yet)? And the last one...I can only hope that this is a cryptic augur of the eventual emotional, dramatic family reunion of the titular Gupta triumvirate or something.

(Sorry for the big words there. I'm all worked up.)

I'm so angry and disappointed. I really can't say that I saw this movie at all. How much of a badass was Amitabh?

Well, bad enough to light his cigarette with a dynamite fuse, but other than that, I don't know. What did Amitabh's dying mother say to him? I don't know. What were the details of Amitabh's scheme to bring down Mr. R. K. Gupta?

I don't know. Was Shashi a playboy gadabout or an actual asset to his father's company and otherwise standup fellow?

I don't know. (I do know he has some awesome clothes, though.) What were Shahi's flirty exchanges with Hema about the role of modern women?

I don't know. How did Amitabh manage to dance off with Shashi's girlfriend?

I don't know. Was there anything shady about Shashi's sister's fledgling romance? I don't know. Who were all the other businessmen? I don't know. Does it matter that I don't know these things? I don't know that either.

I made informed guesses for the answers to the above questions, based not only what was going on on screen but also on my very tiny grasp of bits of Hindi and on what I assume would be happening in a revenge drama from 1978, but any fine points of this - especially the Salim-Javed dialogues that reviewers rave about - were completely lost to me. One of the reasons I'm so disappointed in this DVD is that this is the first time I've seen Amitabh as Angry Young Man, and I can't imagine I'm not really missing out.

So there you go. My thoughts on a movie I didn't really see.

A few other visuals-based points....
  • Having been warned about Shashi occasionally overdoing his megawatt smile, I laughed a lot through this movie because he certainly trots it out a lot - it seemed to suit his character, which came across to me as a good-natured flirt and slightly doofusy loyal son. During his first song with Hema, I said out loud "Hey there, Shashi, save something for the honeymoon!"
  • In said song, Hema and Shashi go golfing (and play tennis and do yoga). With the risk of opening a gigantic can of worms, I was startled by the dramatic difference in skin color between the stars and the caddies. Of course I've read and been told all about the beauty standard of fair complexions in Bollywood, but I'd never noticed such a stark contrast that also seemed to correlate so strongly to social status.
    If anyone wants to comment on whether these extras were cast on purpose (or maybe they are actual workers at the golf course), please go right ahead. This may be a completely unimportant or irrelevant thing to comment on, but, well, I noticed it, so there you go. On a sillier note, the white bell-bottoms on both leads are enjoyable - and Shashi even has VPL. No one quite rocks the white bell-bottoms like my FPMFIL, but still, A for effort.
  • I love street/city scenes that include posters for movies starring people who are also in the movie I'm watching. Here we see Hema with Dharmendra in a poster for Dream Girl (ha ha). I can't decide if this is sloppy or wink-wink.


beth the pics are awesome and so is the post!
Anon said…
Maybe you should question why the German, or spanish, or italian subtitles on your bollywood DVDs are not grammatically perfect (I speak all three, and I can tell you that they aren't. SImilarly, have you ever watched a Hollywood movie with Hindi subtitles? I have, and let me tell you, they are not even attempting to capture all the dialogue on the screen.

You need to get over your self-centeredness. These are HINDI movies and they are not intended for english speaking audiences. Maybe some bollywood films are today, but certainly not in the 70s. Maybe you should question why it is you think every country should cater their products so YOU, the privilieged white western women are better able to consume them.
ABM - I would not be at all surprised to discover that the subtitles in other languages are imperfect, whether the movie is from Hollywood, Bollywood, or anywhere else. Perfect writing is hard to do, as we all know. Laughing at typos - which I do in my own writing as well as in printed text from no end of sources - aside, it's the lack of meaning that bothers me. Basically, if the subtitles have been put there, why not have them actually function?

I feel that you have made some assumptions about my issues with subtitles that are unfair. I don't assume that every production should cater to me. I think that subtitles should be given enough attention as is needed to make them support the film - AND I am puzzled by the strange English because the work is made in a country that has more English-speakers than any other in the world. (Wikipedia says India and China have more English-speakers than the US; Wiki isn't my favorite source, but maybe it will do for now.)

I recognize that it's incredibly convenient for me that I am a native speaker of the language that is often the only one in Hindi film subtitles. But I'm not the only "type" of person who uses English subtitles. Surely many people in and/or from non-Hindi-speaking parts of India use English subtitles too, since it is such a common language in such a diverse country? From what I read and have heard discussed, much of the work in the film industry is done in English to start with, with scripts being translated into Hindi - so why not just use what's already been written? It's sloppy. It makes it seem like whoever is in charge doesn't care, even though surely they do.

And if Eros and other distributors - and other sectors of the film industry - are serious about "taking Bollywood places," then quality control will help promote their hard and otherwise completely enjoyable, delightful work. I would be thrilled to talk to someone who actually works at subtitling to know more about the process and to talk about why it (seems to be) so difficult.
Sharon said…
first off - beth, you didn't miss much, the movie ain't all that. Also, Shashi's constant saying of "Daddy" in that way he has grew old *very* fast. (And this is from someone who thinks he's one of the handsomest actors bollywood ever produced!)

I have to admit that it's odd that legitimate DVDs don't have decent subtitles... most of the ones i've seen had ok subtitles, except for the total lack of song subtitles. I mean, occasionally, I would disagree with the phrasing or tone of the translation, or the translation of a given idiom, but for the most part, they seemed to work fine.

The lower quality, i think, comes from the fact that most of the people who do buy these dvds do understand some hindi so they can maybe get the gist of it. It is kinda sad, given what a large chunk of our population does speak english, that we can't produce a better product than this though. :-S
Daddy's Girl said…
I'm sorry you had such a frustrating experience with this movie, Beth. On the plus side, I do agree with Sharon - 'Trishul' is not that great a movie IMO. A much better Amitabh angry-young-man movie is 'Zanjeer'. Or try 'Laawaris' or 'Muqaddar ka Sikandar'.

@sharon: Did Shashi actually say that about himself?! LOL
Sharon said…
@DG: No, SK didn't say that, I did (clearly i cannot communicate! :-S) What I meant to say was that despite his being (really quite) handsome, his character constantly saying "Daddy" with the same inflection everytime got on my nerves.
Daddy's Girl said…
Sharon, LOL - no it is I who clearly cannot read!! Looking at it now it's obvious you were saying that YOU think he's really handsome. I must've been having a little Jessica Simpson moment earlier. :)
Anonymous said…
I totally understand and agree with Beth about the poor quality of English subtitling in DVDs.

I have noticed this in quite a few movies esp the ones of 70s and 80s before i switch off the sub title option since i understand and speak hindi fluently

Quite often the meaning is lost in sub titles esp scenes which are very imp to the story. Also sometimes the sub titles come up after the scene is over!

Full marks to Beth and all other non hindi speaking people who continue to watch bollywood movies despite these difficulties

Aparna said…
Trishul, is again, one of the movies I love watching, esp because of the music, the breezy comedy by SK and also the fact that each character has a story and also, the heroines are not all 'fluttering-eyelids-come-save-me' types.
The part which Beth talked about- the first interaction between Shashi and Hema was really funny - he goes on congratulating her as being 'today's woman' who is 'on equal footing on men, and is going places, etc.' and then twists it to 'I am asking you to have lunch with me, I would not have asked anyone else because they might have taken offence, but you being today's woman, you would not mind lunching with a man' to which Hema replies, 'I understand that today I need to go out for lunch with you, else all the 'today's woman' of the world will be marked as a failure today'.
And then follows the song 'jaaneman tum kamal karte ho' which Shashi keeps on complimenting and fliritng with Hema, and Hema keeps on pointing out that she understands that he is flriting. Bubbly and funny!
Also, the revenge of amitabh's character was very slowly done and though we see it in later movies, this was sort of one of the first....
Anonymous said…
Hey Beth,

I think we both know Carla :-)

I have to wonder why this movie became a hit. Seems like AB was on a high, so (almost) whatever he touched during that time turned to gold. The characters act in very illogical and unconvincing way and the acting wasn't all that great. It was a case of "now I love you, now I hate you."

I reviewed this movie a while ago, and I have to agree that this is a forgettable one, even with AB and SK in it.

Interestingly enough, Sanjeev Kumar was the same age as Shashi Kapoor, and only 6 years older than AB!!!

As for the posters in the background, the common thread is the producer Gulshan Rai, so it's very much intentional.

Regarding the subtitles, I guess putting English subtitles is not a priority for Eros/whoever makes the DVDs. Their loss. And, I don't think it's being self-centered to mention the bad quality of sub-titles.

Unknown said…
Kudos to you Beth, I am delighted to read your comments re the insufficient translation! As a watcher of the "Young and the Restless" I simply kept all of the business take over plots in my brain as "Victor Newman" stuff, which made sense, and will make sense to other Y&R watchers. Furthermore, the bad translations also made me think I know more Hindi than I do, because I heard words like “bhai, shadi, zindigi, lekin” and so on and knew damn well that “brother, marry, life and but” were NOT included in the English translation!

Other points of interest in Trishul for me were:
1. I can't stop looking at Amitabh's chocker, is it there? Do you see this? It's like a small thin woven brown plastic lace stretch choker, as sold to young girls at Claire's about 8-10 years back. Fashion forward Bachchan!
2. Hema really wears slacks well.
3. I was really liking these fight scenes, especially the style of Vijay showing up for his first two fights with an ambulance in tow in anticipation for his victims after the throw down. What a BADD ASS!
4. Excellent slaps. I consider myself to be a woman of peace, yet why do I love the Bollywood “tight slaps to the face” so, so much? I particularly like when a man slaps a woman, like when Shenker slabs his little sister Bubbly. I love it every time and I’m not afraid to say it!
5. Vijay calling R.J Gupta an “illegitimate father.” Touchee to you Vijay! R.J. Gupta’s dying lines “Let the blood flow. It will wash away my sins.”
The fair/dark skin color thing! Ahh yes. Sometimes I fear Shashi's Renowned Beauty had something to do with how white he was. Did you hear about when SRK did that ad for Fair and Handsome a few months ago? Much cringing! I was even more shocked to find various skin bleaching products here in Fiji. This is madness.

It's hard to find darker-skinned leading actors/actresses. The darkest I can think of are Nana Patekar and Irrfan Khan, both of whom are faaah-ine, incidentally.

Onto the film: I preferred Trishul to Kabhi Kabhie, if only because I found the plot a lot more focused and wonderfully classical, whereas KK meandered a lot between the young and old generations. (Also, ironically, the subtitles on my copy of KK are pretty awful!) Trishul just smells like something archetypal. Mmm, good. Also, of course, the notable lack of Rishi Kapoor, thank goodness. (That said, I am dying to see Karz ever since Om Shanti Om.)

To weigh in on your right as a white woman to complain about poor subtitles in foreign films, I must say calling it selfish seems a little silly and ironically ethnocentric. Demanding English subtitles on all non-English films would be selfish and entitled, but demanding that the English subtitles already included in a film be at least readable seems entirely reasonable, regardless of race or gender. Tut tut, all this aggression, Angry Brown Man (ABM?).
Hans Meier said…
As for skin colors, on reason i like south Indian films is that the skin colors vary more, at least for male actors (ladies seem to be obliged to be fair, albeit maybe not *as* fair as in Bollywood proper).

And toooo bad about the broken subtitles, i really understand your frustration. Esp if one has mentally etc already prepared to view this film, maybe has opened (but not read) online reviews that will be digested after the film, has pre-memorized other movies with the same crew or from the same time - and then the bad subtitles block your access, a pure breach of contract coming from the distributor. In India at Musicworld, i bought a tree DVD set with AB-movies Deewaar, Trishul and Satte Pe Satta. The subtitles are basically ok everywhere, even though Trishul is a tad worse (incl. typos) than Deewaar. I often find that subtitles in other western languages than English seem to be lousy computer-translations and maybe even only available on DVDs of dodgy origin.
KnittingWallah said…
I know I'm four years late to the party here, but I've just seen Trishul and I am compelled to agree with you.

It was the worst subtitle experience I've ever had with Bollywood (therefore it's up against some pretty stiff competition).

You are literally given exactly half of evvery sentence,then half way through the subs simply disappear for half an hour. Naaahhhhiiin!

Oh well, at least I could gaze at Shashi for a while without being distracted by bothersome words at the bottom of the screen. Pah! Eros Entertainment.
Hans - Sorry for the late reply here! I haven't seen enough south Indian films to have much of an opinion, but based on what I have seen, it seems that there's more variety but that heroes and definitely heroines tend to be lighter than some of the supporting cast and backing dancers. But that's based on about a dozen films, so I might be completely off the mark.

I like your wording about basically inaccessible subtitles being a breach of contract. I don't have the legal knowledge to know if that's the technical term for what's going on here but the feeling is there - we were told we'd get X but the company didn't deliver.

KnittingWallah (great user name!) - Sorry you had a crappy DVD too! I've since purchased a copy that seems to work better.... If I could find it in my giant stack of films, I'd tell you what it is.
Anonymous said…
This is a fantastic film and the actors are all equally great. To understand it fully perhaps you should put some effort into actually learning may solve many obstacles!
Eskay said…
I love “Beth Loves Bollywood” and have gone through a great number of reviews yesterday and today on this blog. Trishul is a powerful movie which hits you hard with the theme and its presentation. You would have read the real life impact it had thirty years later when earlier this year a youngster here in India has been inspired to wage a paternity battle with his illegitimate father, who is a political heavyweight. If not, just Google search with Rohit Shekhar Paternity Suit. He has himself stated to have drawn inspiration from this movie. This is not to draw argument in support of this movie, but a vast majority of popular movies have had content in them that satisfied the public taste at that time. Many of them have withstood the test of time in their appeal to the audience. Trishul has been shown on Indian television on numerous occasions in the past few years and I still like to see a few scenes even after having watched them 10 - 15 times.
Injun Gone Loco said…
It is heartbreaking that the subtitels robbed you of such a fantastic film, and for those telling you to watch Zanjeer and others bad mouthing let me say this- you have reviewed Deewar, Kabhi Kabhi, Kaala Pathar and Waqt- so this is the same director- Yash Chopra so have some faith and get better subtites the movie is good, Yash Chopra made just one dud with Amitabh and that was Silsila, and for those recommending Zanjeer- puhleez- Prakash Mehra gave us Zanjeer, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Namak Halaal, Lawaaris, Khoon Pasina, Sharabhi and Jaadugar none of which is a classic and Zanjeer is remembered because it was Amitabh's first solo hit. How can a Yash Chopra movie with Amitabh, Shashi and Sanjeev Kumar be bad ? It's a must watch
Shreya.... said…
Dear Beth,

Firstly, I'm glad to have come across your blog (after SO long!), and love your POV on Indian movies.
Secondly, like some other readers have already stated, you didn't miss out on much in Trishul. I felt it was one of the most sloppily-edited movies I've ever seen. Several scenes seemed so out of sync, songs were thrown in for the heck of it (I think to bank on Shashi Kapoor's effervescence, as much as I adore him), and basically, an average film. Meh
Hi Shreya -
Thank you! It's interesting that you're commenting on Trishul right now because I'm currently reading the new bio of Shashi Kapoor (which is excellent) and the book discusses it at some length, and I was thinking it was probably time I re-visit it. From what I remember, though, I bet I'd agree with you - Shashi is pretty hyper in that movie, the youngest generation's story doesn't add anything, and I'm rarely a fan of Sanjeev Kumar (an unpopular opinion, I know).

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