Viewfinder: The big, bilingual scam
The writer talks about the worrying trend of mere dubbed films being promoted as bilinguals
Some filmmakers can't stop talking about how difficult it is to make bilinguals. Actors talk about bilinguals almost in a scared hush, considering they have to endure the monotony and fatigue of having to shoot the same scenes, while speaking different languages. But having watched some of our recent films that are promoted as bilinguals, it's tempting to wonder what the big deal is, really.
When a film is promoted as, say, a Tamil-Telugu bilingual, it's very reasonable from both Tamil and Telugu audiences to expect not just a film in which the characters mouth lines of the local language, but also one whose content is localised. If it fails to do either, let us be assured we are being scammed, being sold the false label of a bilingual instead of a dubbed film. This is, of course, done to cash in on the increased interest in a bilingual, as opposed to a dubbed film.
The recent release, Nadigaiyar Thilagam, was a sensational disappointment in Tamil, precisely for this reason. It is a dubbed film in disguise. You hear Tamil audio, while the characters keep mouthing Telugu lines. The trickery reaches its nadir when Savitri is shown singing, 'Malarndhum Malaradha', but actor Keerthy Suresh is instead mouthing the Telugu lyrics. You can sense distinct disappointment in the theatre when this bit plays out. The song's as relevant here, and as memorable, but the makers either weren't really told this was to be marketed as a bilingual, or didn't think it important enough to shoot her singing the Tamil lyrics.
To view things in context, it's important to remember that a film like Sivaji, despite being released as a dubbed version in Telugu, had the Rajini-mimicking-yesteryear-stars sequence reshot, so Telugu audiences could see him impersonate the likes of NTR and Nageswara Rao. It was a dubbed film, and you could well have understood it if director Shankar had chosen not to care. If such be the effort put into localising a dubbed film, is it not fair to expect two films to be shot, when a project is promoted as a bilingual? Would we not call out a Tamil film when the lip-sync is horrible? Somehow, it seems that bilinguals get away with murder in the present climate, and make the most of the audience's empathy for sequences and dialogues that are out of sync. They deserve no such special empathy, and we must remember to treat the Tamil version of a bilingual as we would a Tamil film.
This isn't just about Nadigaiyar Thilagam's failure as a bilingual. Many, many films, including Baahubali and the recently released Diya have been following a worrying formula: Cast an actor each from across regions to appeal to the respective audiences, get them speaking that language, but by and large, shoot the film with the characters speaking one dominant language. In the case of Baahubali of course, this was Telugu. In the case of Diya, this was Tamil. In both cases, it's not a completely loyal local film across languages.
Let us then remember that when we fail to criticise incomplete bilinguals, we do much injustice to filmmakers - like Mani Ratnam and Gautham Menon - who give us two separate films when they set out to make a bilingual -- which, of course, is how it should be. And this, right now, can't be said enough.