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Lost in Translation

If the language of cinema can transcend boundaries imagined or real, why is it that someone like Mani Ratman hasn't been able to 'crack' the Hindi cinema code? Gautam Chintamani wonders.

brunch Updated: Apr 24, 2012 17:41 IST
Gautam Chintamani

If the language of cinema can transcend boundaries imagined or real, why is it that someone like Mani Ratman hasn't been able to 'crack' the Hindi cinema code? A few days ago while channel surfing I ended up watching bits of Raavan (2010) and couldn't help but wonder how was it possible for Ratman to botch up the Hindi version while Raavanan (2010), the Tamil cousin of the same film, packed all the right punches?

While directors such as Ravikant Nagaich, K. Vishwanath and K. Raghavendra Rao didn't find it difficult making the transition from south to Hindi films, Mani Ratnam never bothered with Bollywood for the longest time. He was happy making his films in Tamil and films were happier too. Thanks to AR Rahman's songs from Roja (1992) that became a rage with non-Hindi audiences someone decided to dub Roja in Hindi. The Hindi version of Roja was, to say the least, a success though the film looked rather stupid when dubbed- Roja (Madhoo), who can't converse in Hindi, argues with the Army officer in Tamil and her relative translates the conversation in his broken Hindi showed the desperation as well as the officer's empathy that doesn't need any language but in Hindi they all talk in Hindi so the scene was pretty funny. The dubbed version of Bombay (1995) thanks once again to AR Rahman's music piqued enough interest to be dubbed in Hindi but Ratnam never really looked beyond Tamil films till Dil Se (1998).

In the bid to increase the reach of his films Mani Ratnam finally bit the bullet and made a film in Hindi. Dil Se featured Shah Rukh Khan, one of the biggest stars who enjoyed a pan India presence, besides a director who was perhaps somewhere more revered than the star himself. But in spite of everything the film didn't work. I believe that Ratnam's discomfort with the language worked against the film. Ever since the beginning of his career Ratnam has been regarded as one of the most socially aware filmmakers. Even though the degree of his consciousness could be questioned, its presence is more than evident. For such a filmmaker to be aware of what he's doing is of paramount importance and somewhere his limited ability to think in a language that wasn't his own, to me, seems like the reason for the way his non-Tamil films shape up.

Why is that K. Vishwanath didn't have this problem that seems to haunt Mani Ratnam when he makes Hindi films? Some of K. Vishwanath's most successful Hindi films like Sargam (1979), Sur Sangam (1985), Sanjog (1985) and Eeshwar (1989) have all been remakes and yet the change in the language never hampered the films. Unlike Vishawanath's remakes most of Ratnam's Hindi films perhaps barring Guru (2007) have been in two versions. While Dil Se was dubbed in Tamil it never really worked as well as Ratnam's other films, his next Yuva (2004) was planned as a Hindi film but somewhere in the middle he started shooting a Tamil version as well. When released the Tamil version was more commercially a bigger success critically more lauded than the original.

Coming back to Raavan/ Raavanan, Vikram's bravado Veeraiya as opposed to Abhishek Bachchan's non-committal Beera could be a big reason why the Tamil Raavanan is wonderful and the Hindi Raavan completely avoidable. But those who have seen both the versions would know that it's the writing more than the casting that separates the two. The first scene where Ragini (Aishwarya Rai) comes face to face with the dreaded Veeraiya works beautifully in Tamil and sets the bar for the film. In the Tamil version she recites a poem to tell Veeraiya that she isn't afraid of dying and fumbles… Veeraiya, who is the poet she recites unknowingly, coolly completes the poem. That one small scene speaks volumes about the character whereas in the Hindi version Abhishek Bachchan just isn't able to convey the same emotion. The Tamil dialogues and the lyrics have more sting than their Hindi version and that conveys that somewhere Ratnam's better off making films in Tamil than in two languages.

Mani Ratam's earlier Tamil films like Mouna Ragam (1986), Nayagan (1987) and Agni Natchathiram (1988) are leagues ahead of the films his non-Tamil audiences know him for. Just watch Kannathil Muthamittal (2002), the Tamil film he made in between Dil Se and Yuva, to know what his Hindi films lack…watching Raavanan immediately after Raavan somewhere makes you want to kick yourself for watching his Hindi films; watching Raavan after Raavanan makes you want to revisit vintage Ratnam in order to convince yourself the filmmaker is still great! Thankfully Ratnam's next would be in Tamil and thank god for subtitles for not much will get lost in translation.

Gautam Chintamani is an award-winning writer/filmmaker with over a decade of experience across print and electronic mediums.

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

From HT Brunch, March 18

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