Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Perils of being a film purist

Just some passing thoughts on what it means to be a purist when it comes to watching films, and to what extent that is even feasible living here. This topic has been sparked by the re-release of a computer-colorised Mughal-e-Azam. I posted a diatribe against colorisation a few weeks ago but discussing it with Shamya and Ajitha the other day I realised that I was in fact excited about the prospect of watching this film on the big screen - and if this is the only way to do it, well so be it.

Must clarify though that I don’t usually feel that way. My attitude has traditionally been hidebound: if you can’t watch the film as it was made and intended to be seen, don’t see it at all. I first realised how strongly I felt about the subject when Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful was released in halls in Delhi a few years ago, in dubbed form. Repeatedly, friends in Britannica exhorted me to accompany them for screenings and repeatedly I refused (my popularity ratings in the EB office were slipping at the time; I’d distributed sweets when Australia won the Mumbai Test in 2001). This wasn’t obduracy-for-show; I honestly felt no desire to watch a movie that had had its original soundtrack removed. [Note: most people in India are very scared of subtitles, and dubbing is sometimes the only way a foreign-language movie gets commercial release here.]

This is where my viewpoint diverges from that of S and A. They are more dedicated movie-watchers than I am (regular VCD renting, etc) these days and, excepting an irrational love for Adam Sandler films, they generally have good judgement. But on this subject there’s conflict: I consider it no great loss if one has to miss a "must-watch" movie on principle, there are always hundreds of other options.

Having said that, the idea of a 'principle' inevitably leads one into grey areas. How, for instance, does one reasonably define "watching a film as it was meant to be seen"? I think it was Leonard Maltin who said that watching something like Lawrence of Arabia on a small screen should be made a punishable offence. Well, I have the DVD of that film.

Anyway, like I said before, none of this applies to Mughal-e-Azam: it’s far too rare an event to be passed up. Incidentally the film is also getting the aural treatment. Like Shamya, I’m wondering what Dolby might do for Prithviraj Kapoor’s bellow...


  1. Aaah! Kind words for me, I see. I'll take it with a pinch of salt...but maybe, unless one of your many 'accomplices' want to catch it with you, we could plan it together for sometime this weekend. What say you?
    NOTE 1: I'll ignore the Adam Sandler jibe. Like I explained to you before, picked up Anger Management (the only Sandler flick I've seen) more because it shouted 'JACK NICHOLSON' bigger than 'Adam Sandler' on the cover.
    NOTE 2: Have learnt something over the years, primarily because Ajitha doesn't speak or read Bengali. Every single subtitled Bengali film I have watched with her has been an outright disaster. Simply because Indians don't have a clue about sibtitling. Now, through those days of Sunday afternoon DD 'award-winning' film-watching, it never occured to me that I might be missing so much. Now I know...because it can't be so different. It can't be that only Bengalis can't translate and stuff. Dubbed is better, however bad it might be.

  2. no, shamya, i completely disagree. dubbed cannot possibly be better. what we need is better subtitles. a dubbed movie does not have the voices of the original actors and that takes away a lot for me, personally. (which is why i don't understand why we have actors performing in movies where they can't speak the language and their dialogues have to be dubbed. bengali movies seem to have a lot of that.) besides, i also get irritated with the no lip-sync thing. i feel that the effort they make to dub the movie is better channelised to creating intelligent, intelligible sub-titles.