Wednesday, May 25, 2005

English titles for Hindi films: Neither do you know, neither do I

Have been reading a book titled Bollyworld: Popular Indian Cinema Through a Transnational Lens, with essays on topics ranging from the contrasting personae of Fearless Nadia and Devika Rani in films of the 1930s to notions of “Indianness” as represented in NRI-targetting films of the late 1990s and beyond. There’s plenty here that’s good – I enjoyed the Nadia chapter, written by Rosie Thomas, as also Sudhanva Deshpande’s “The Consumable Hero of Globalised India”, about the changes in the Bollywood leading man post-liberalisation.

Inevitably, some of the essays are bombastic, full of words and phrases like “transformative modality”, “hermeneutics of self” and “totalizing formations”, usually all in the same sentence. (Damn you, Academia!) To be fair, this sort of thing can be edifying. If you successfully get through two consecutive paras of such writing without eye-glaze setting in, you can literally feel your brain expanding, like Maggi noodles bubbling and spilling over in an untended bowl. This mind-swell happened to me no fewer than three times during the scintillatingly titled chapter “Belonging and Respect Notions vis-à-vis Modern East Indians: Hindi Movies in the Guyanese East Indian Diaspora”, and it felt good. But then, in a chapter dealing with the Bachchan character in Deewaar, I came across the following passage:

“The raw materials for micropolitical redemption exist beyond the scope of the nationalist imaginary…Vijay also violently unsettles the distinctions between citizen and stranger, and hence of the reductive parameters of ‘nationalist’ discourse. For if his only function is to reflect back upon the territorial integrity and mythical self-appointment of the unified nation-state, then this effectively ignores the ways in which his cultural identity exists as dynamic process rather than static emblem.”

Disheartened, I turned for light entertainment to the many English translations of Hindi-film titles scattered throughout the book. Each time a film is mentioned, an all-too-literal English version of the title is included in parentheses, along with the date of release, e.g. Pyaasa ( Thirsty, 1957) or Kabhi Kabhie (Sometimes, 1976). Now the interesting thing about this is, it isn’t done merely for the benefit of readers who don’t understand Hindi and want to know what the title means. Most of these are the “official” English titles of Hindi films, to be found on DVD/video cassette covers around the world. And most of them are direct translations, completely bereft of any dramatic weight. Consider the following, all taken from references in this book:

Parvarish (Nurture)

Mard (Man)

Trishul (Trident)

Sharaabi (Drunkard)

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something or Other is Happening)

Kaho Na Pyaar Hai (Say That There is Love)

Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (Still the Heart Remains Indian)

Na Tum Jaano Na Hum (Neither Do You Know, Neither Do I

Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (alternately The Brave Heart Shall Take the Bride or The Bold Shall Win the Bride)

[it probably isn’t coincidence that DDLJ was released in the same year as Mel Gibson’s Braveheart]

Exactly which viewers is all this literalism aimed at? People who understand Hindi won’t need the translations, except possibly for comic relief, and those who don’t…well, what exactly will they gather about the film from the above titles?

It’s no secret that the original Hindi titles of Bollywood movies have been getting increasingly moronic - the stultifying trend these days being that of titles based on songs featured in earlier movies, which has resulted in one big incestuous mess, with a new Abhishek Bachchan film deriving its title from a song in a Hrithik Roshan movie, which in turn was named after a song in a Shah Rukh Khan movie; how do even the most avid Bollywood buffs tell the films apart? (And while we’re at it, what happened to the good old rat race? These days everyone makes guest appearances in everyone else’s movies. Except for Aamir Khan, who scowls down at the other rats from his ivory tower, Bollywood is just one big beaming family…but that’s material for another rant.)

Anyway, why don’t publicists abroad take the opportunity to make translated titles more representative? A few years ago, while copy-editing articles for Encyclopaedia Britannica’s book on Indian cinema, I discovered to my everlasting delight that Deewaar has been distributed overseas under the title I’ll Die For Mama! (Made me think of the James Cagney melodrama White Heat, with its climactic shout “Made it, ma! Made it to the top of the world!”) Now in one sense, I’ll Die For Mama! is a silly title, which contributes to the caricaturing of a film that’s quieter and maturer than many think. But at least it’s more inventive and to the point than the sterile, more frequently used The Wall, which says nothing at all about the movie.

So, suggestions please: what should Na Tum Jaano Na Hum really translate into on the foreign cassette cover? I’m not getting in on this; I suggested Soggy Hindu Family Mess for Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (in place of Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sadness) but it was rejected.


  1. Nice post.
    At least shouln't it be "Neither Do you know, nor do I"? :)
    The original English title chosen is literally a "literal translation".

  2. Whaaa !!! This is riprolarious..

    Something or Other is Happening
    Wrong. It shd be: "Something Something Happens".

  3. Excellent post. In fact, I find the trend of putting the English transalation of the Hindi title into the subtitle of the movie, even more hilarious.

    e.g. Anth (the climax), or Zanjeer (the chain). And what of Daag (The fire) ??

  4. Na Tum Jaano Na Hum: We're Clueless.

    Gamesmaster, the funniest one yet, Jo Bole So Nihaal (No if! No But! Only Jat!).


  5. Shouldn't Kabhi Kabhie have been "Sometimes, sometimes" and not just "Sometimes"?

  6. And do you remember the movie "Aao Pyaar Karein"? The one that went with "Come, let's make love"...

  7. Interesting that you blog on this. Putu the cat wrote something on similar lines

    Does that make you the elusive Putu?

  8. Putu grins evilly

  9. Sunil: no, unfortunately I'm not Putu...though I maintain that I have a higher Cat Quotient than that pretender. I DO have the keys to Putu's lair, though I haven't exercised my blogging rights there yet. Soon.

  10. Daag - The Fire actually made complete sense to my Bollywood-loving white friend. He simply pronounced it as D'aag, which sounds somewhat similar to The Aag, I guess?

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  12. The paragraph on Deewar that you quoted reminded me of the title of M. S. Sathyu's classic Hot Wind.

  13. Na Tum Jaano Na Hum - Neither you know, Nor I

    THE best translation. :)


  14. Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham was also translated to: Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Sad. And also: In Happy and in Sad Days/Times.
    Really great post you have here:)

  15. Stumbled upon your blog while looking for nursing home furniture. Very interesting indeed!

  16. Guess the Hindi movies for these English titles:

    When Hum Mile
    Tum, Mein, And Us
    The Heart Wants
    Our Our Estimate
    He who wins is only Alexander the Great

  17. The original English title chosen is literally a "literal translation.

  18. Pls can anyone tell me the English translation of munna bai mbbs