This author has time and again expressed concern over the growing trend of keeping English titles for Hindi films. While many in the industry have been convinced about our argument that except in some big cities, knowledge of the English language is not very widespread, there are others who don’t buy our logic. For all those who think we are outdated or are still living in the 19th century, here’s a shocker.
In a city like Lucknow, 66% of the people frequenting a respectable single-screen cinema did not know the meaning of the word ‘ghost’ in this week’s release, Hum Tum Aur Ghost. Unbelievable? But it’s true. If the above is not shocking enough, here’s more: Some of those who didn’t know that the word ‘ghost’ was the English equivalent of the Hindi bhoot, felt that it must be the name of a Bengali character in the film. Obviously, they had mistaken the film title to be Hum Tum Aur Ghosh. So much for Hindi films with English titles.
If this is the case in a big city like Lucknow, one can well imagine what the situation must be in other parts of Uttar Pradesh or, for that matter, in the other states of the country.
Even if awareness about the Queen’s language is growing, it is very basic English that people are able to comprehend. Words like ‘sorry’, ‘thank you’ are very commonly used but even words like ‘apartment’ or terms like ‘well done’ (this week’s Well Done Abba uses the term) and ‘wake up’ (as in Wake Up Sid) aren’t what many among the audience in places other than the metropolitan cities would understand. Why, even in the big cities, there is a sizeable section of the population which finds English words difficult to pronounce as also understand.
It is basic psychology that a person would more likely keep away from a film if it has a title in English which he can’t comprehend. The worst fear of a human being is to fall in esteem in his own eyes – and frequenting a cinema, where a film with an English title is showing, gives many the feeling of being small as compared to the others who understand the English words. And, therefore, this chunk of the audience is lost, thereby resulting in losses to the producer.
Of course, there are films which target only the class audience. The content of such films is such that it would make sense only to the literate crowds. For such films to have English titles may actually be a more sensible proposition because the people who are the potential audience would feel, the film has been made specifically for them. But it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to opt for an English title for a film which has a script for the masses rather than the classes. Well Done Abba is a classic example of the above. The film deals with a problem – scarcity of water in a village – which would find more identification among the public in small towns and villages. But yet, filmmaker Shyam Benegal chose to title it Well Done Abba. Why? To what avail? How many among the illiterate masses residing in villages and towns would understand what ‘well done’ implies? And if they can’t, what’s the logic in making a film for them but keeping a title which would not appeal to them?
As an exhibitor had, some years ago, very rightly remarked, “It may be fashionable for the producers and directors to come up with English words, whether simple or difficult, in the titles of their Hindi films. But how do we convince the public that the film is in Hindi? If they ask us, we can tell them that it’s a Hindi film. But think of the people who simply don’t come to the cinema because they simply assume that we are screening an English film.”
William Shakespeare may have said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” But the celebrated playwright was not talking about names of films. And definitely not Hindi films! For, there’s a world of a difference between Shakes- peare’s ‘rose’ and the Indian public’s gulaab.