A few years ago, like all children, my daughter had fallen in love with cartoons on Cartoon Network. She used to watch all kinds of programs including Tom and Jerry, Shiva, Chota Bheem and the cringe worthy Oggy and the cockroaches. As it is, for me the very word ‘cockroach’ is enough to induce a sleepless night, the three cockroaches made it worse! My daughter sat spell bound as the cockroaches and Oggy kept battling it out in Oggy’s refrigerator and at times literally tore the kitchen apart in pursuit of vengeance! The icing on the cake was that the voice-over artist sometimes mimicked voice of Shahrukh Khan, sometimes Nana Patekar, Sunil Shetty and other such then popular actors. After some months, I was so fed up that I asked my friends to help me. One of my friends downloaded and shared a Japanese Anime ‘Spirited Away’. At that time, there was no Netflix or other OTT, so we had to make ado with the subtitles. I showed the movie to my daughter and she loved it! And that was the reason enough to discontinue the cable service.
It has been a decade since I and my daughter introduced ourselves to subtitles and movies from different countries and languages. Earlier, we downloaded these from different sites like YouTube and torrents which offer ‘free’ movies. Initially, I was quite scared that some kind of Internet police might come and catch me for going on torrents and other such sites. I had prepared a list of counter arguments and kept it in my bedside cabinet for such emergencies and foreseen circumstances. Some reasons given in the list were:
- Downloading movies with subtitles is better than letting the children watch serials produced by Ekta Kapoor or other such people. Though the children are intrigued by the idea of saas-bahu politics (children are born politicians) and repeated plastic surgery (they love the idea that they can hide behind a new face if they do something wrong) and multiple divorces and remarriages (my daughter was simply hooked on to the idea that for each marriage she will get at least three to four new dresses with matching dress and jewellery!)
- Watching other movies with subtitles is actually education! One of my friends told me that her son who goes off to sleep in the English class at school actually learnt reading by watching movies with subtitles. He loved Hollywood action movies like Rambo and would actually read the subtitles to understand what actors like Sylvester Stallone were saying (most of them actually mutter under their breath). With time, his English literature teacher was actually impressed with his ability to read in the language!
However, my list of reasons kept lying in the cabinet because no one ever came! So, we read the subtitles and we watched movies. An old friend was curious about why did I go through so much trouble for movies with subtitles when most English movies either had Hindi subtitles or were dubbed in Hindi. It was then I told her about my experience with the well-known movie Jurassic Park’s dubbed Hindi version. In that movie, there is a scene where the female protagonist says ‘I want to see the dinosaur’s shit.’ This dialogue was translated into ‘mujhe dinosaur ka gobar dekhne hai.’ I am not arguing whether it was the correct translation or not but from that point onwards, I steered clear of dubbed movies!
I also bought a lot of CDs and DVDs of good movies that I believed would help her to inculcate some good values. Some came with subtitles while others did not. We kept our CDs very carefully lest they get scratch marks because then the CD would not either play certain segments or would simply get jammed . We also did not jump tracks because that again could lead to scratches and bad unplayable sectors. The CDs could only either be played on our computers or television sets which meant sitting in the living room, switching on the television or the laptop, inserting the CD and then waiting for it to play. When my daughter complained that it was a cumbersome process, I told her stories of the VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) in which we had to insert this huge video cassette, rewind it and then play. She rolled her eyes. She said that idea was unimaginably old fashioned and preposterous!
Then Netflix breezed into our lives. I deleted all my downloads and tore the long list of reasons. The CDs were forgotten in an old cupboard. Even today, I don’t know what to do with my huge collection. I thought of turning them into plates and decorations but then a friend advised me to wait because according to him one day, these CDs and DVDs would be treasured as antiques and I would be able to make a lot of money by selling them! I am still waiting!
With Netflix and later Amazon Prime and other such OTT platforms, my phone became my new cinema hall. I could walk into it anytime and watch the movie and the scene of my choice again and again- A far cry from the first time that I was introduced to cinema in Jaipur in my summer holidays!
Back then, my maternal grandfather hated movies with a vengeance! He believed that movies did nothing except corrupt minds of young people. So, on the pretext of going to the vegetable market, my aunt masterminded the great escape and smuggled my grandmother, mother, my brother and me in a matador car and took us to the Rajmandir Theatre to watch the matinee show Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘Sharabi’. She even paid a friend to shop for vegetables and fruits. When the movie finished, we went to Niros Restaurant, ate food, picked up the vegetables and fruits and went back home! Till date my grandfather is unaware of these little escapades!
Today, with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hot Star, and other such platforms, my daughter and me huddle up in any corner of the house and watch these movies and series regardless of their language. Sometimes, we hook it up to the television and even binge watch with a bowl of fresh popcorn. We hardly realize that we are reading the subtitles. The interesting bit is that we keep discovering new things about distant lands. One day, my daughter told me that in Japan, people are not scared of haunted houses because they believe that each house has its own spirit. So, whenever they move in to a new house, they thank the spirit and ask him to take care of them and their family. This fact she got to know from a movie called “My neighbour Totoro”.
Covid time pass
The good part about these movies with subtitles is that one has to pay attention to understand what is going on. Hence most of times, in this era of COVID, online movie watching is quite engrossing! Not that we have achieved nirvana but cartoons have been replaced by a lot of meaningful content and thank fully Oggy and the cockroaches have been completely forgotten!
However, the danger still looms large as I just discovered that Salman Khan has launched another no brainer ‘Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai’ on OTT. While Oggy and the Cockroaches rile me with goofy no brainer conversations, a Salman Khan movie brings up questions like ‘why cannot Salman Khan protect India from COVID?’ or ‘If he is so strong, why cannot Salman Khan help in dealing with the pandemic?’ Wouldn’t it be great if these OTT platforms had questions to these answers in subtitles too?
This article by Shailaza Singh was published in Rashtradoot Newspaper on 12 May 2021