Reading between the lines - Understanding Chennai's subtitles scene
Vinoth Cj, who runs the Twitter handle Subtitles Help, talks about availability of subtitles, what could be done to make the process transparent
If you are a cinephile in Chennai, with a liking for other-language films, then you have probably heard of the Twitter handle, Subtitles Help. The account is handled by Vinoth Cj, marketing head of Sathya Jyothi Films, in an attempt to provide information about subtitles for films that release in Chennai, Coimbatore, and Pondicherry. With close to 4000 followers, the handle is gradually becoming a source for authentic information about subtitles in Chennai.
The handle began when Vinoth himself faced immense difficulty catching other language films in the city. Using information from contacts he developed, Vinoth has consistently been providing info about which films will be screened with subtitles and where. His biggest challenge right now? "PVR screens," says Vinoth with a laugh. "With Sathyam, Inox and Fun cinemas in Coimbatore, we have always been correct. But with PVR, even when information is from legitimate sources, they aren't consistent about their subtitles," he says.
As an avid cinephile myself, I had quite a few personal instances to quote as well. You walk into a show that is said to have subtitles, find the Censor card proclaim the same, and then find that the film has no subtitles. Ask Vinoth about the same, he gives a list of probable reasons. "First, the producer has to send the content with the subtitles The subtitles might have been censored. But some films might have minor changes later." This means that the subtitles have to re-synced to the final copy that is sent to theatres. "So if production houses miss that, then you won't get your subtitles." Some production houses aren't quite insistent on it, says Vinoth. "But even the ones who know the perks miss it at times. Take Dream Girl for example. Considering his past few films, Ayushmann Khurrana's track record here is known. Yet, they missed out on adding subtitles."
A few films do get subtitles after its release, which Vinoth says can be done, provided they have been censored. The recent rule mandates that subtitles have to censored to be screened in India. "If it is a matter of missing to send it, censored subtitles can be added later with the help of Qube." But why would a producer refrain from tapping into an available market? "There is, of course, lethargy. But then there are also cases when films are released in a hurry. They sometimes don't get it done in time for the censors."
Apart from films, Subtitles Help has also begun tracking streaming sites to provide information on subtitled content. "I check at 12 every day, across streaming platforms to know which film is releasing," he says. And in this process, he finds Zee 5 to be a constant defaulter. "It has been one and a half years since Geetha Govindham released and the film still doesn't have subtitles. For streaming platforms, .srt files are basic deliverables. If that can't be done, then it is lethargy," he says.
What can be done to make this information more transparent, at least with theatrical releases? Vinoth says production houses do have to step up and take responsibility. "Only the production house should ensure that all screens are playing the film with subtitles. They can even promote using this as a peg here." For their part, exhibitors can also help in making the experience transparent. "The individual exhibitors can also ask the producer for subtitles if the Censor card says the film has been certified with it," he says.