Thursday, 12 October 2017

Speaking two languages ain't an easy job

It all started when veteran film producer SS Vasan showed Tamil film industry a new gen marketing technique by releasing the all time epic blockbuster Chandralekha(1948) in two languages. Probably, it should be the first Tamil movie to be released in an another subcontinental language. Though, the Hindi version of Chandralekha released a couple of months after the Tamil version, it had created buzz among the producers across the country by showing a 700 per cent profit and inspired them to make multi lingual films.

However, the present scenario on multi-lingual films has been witnessing greater differences both in terms of business and in content reception. In recent times, a lot of bilingual and trilingual films have been experiencing failure in one or all languages they are made in. After going through such instances and having an overall analysis on this, I've tried to detail the factors behind the shortcomings of such multi-lingual, big banner movies which even have leading stars in their cast and legendary technicians in the crew.

Spyder (2017)
Let's start with the most recent examples, Solo and Spyder. Though both the movies had a mass star in their lead along with a typical story-line(s), both of them failed to convince a major section of audience, especially in Tamil Nadu, despite their success in the other version. In the case of Spyder, the movie has a lot of Murugadoss elements including a gripping screenplay, a conjourous villain and refreshing visuals. In spite of all theses attracting elements, the movie had a lot of loose ends in terms of dubbing, action and stunt sequences.

Spyder's dubbing had a good lip sync. However Mahesh Babu's Tamil was not so pleasing and had a hidden Telugu accent and sounded too alienated. The next shortcoming were those unbelievable stunts that played vital part in the film. Running towards a rushing roller coaster and boarding it for a stunt is an over doze of action and how can one accept that? May be it can convince Telugu audience who have been watching a lot of action movies, but in Tamil Nadu, people have already started hating over exaggerated action even if it from their favicon.

While, in the case of Solo, starring Dulquer Salman, the movie was bilingual with a Tamil and a Malayalam version released on the same day. The movie was so fine and looking epic in terms of it making and content. But, there was huge lag in many other aspects. The first comment that came up from many movie buffs was the lack of nativity.

Solo (2017)
Solo, in most of its long conversations, sounded like an ad-film. The tone of every character on screen was so artificial that one does not feel like watching a movie at all. May be in the Malayalam version, audience could have found it so relatable. And the geography of the plot too suited well with the visuals, when I watched the Malayalam trailer of the film. (Yet to watch the whole movie in Malayalam).

Solo was welcomed well by Malayalam audience especially for its subtlety in dialogues and screenplay. Even there were a lot of mistakes found in the movie in terms of production where the makers failed to concentrate on. For an instance, the scene where Shiva (Dulquer) enters Triplicane police station (sign board outside), will be taking place inside a police station in Kochi (sign board inside). However, these technicalities are very much negligible. But, the loss of nativity is what matters a lot.

Vaayai Moodi Pesavum (2014)
The same Mollywood star had a Tamil-Malayalam bilingual a couple of years back, which was a hit in both languages. It was Vaayai Moodi Pesavum (2014) by Balaji Mohan. Other than its contemporary narration, the prime reason for the success of this movie was because, it did not possess the nativity of both Malayalam and Tamil cultures. Vaayai Moodi Pesavum's plot was set in a fictional hill-station and so the filmmaker had the freedom of building the geography and culture on his own grounds.

Considering this, when I look back, most of successful multi-lingual movies have been made on similar grounds of fiction, mythology, history or fantasy supported by eye catching visuals, but it never would be something relating to nativity. The best example is the Bahubali duology. Had Bahubali not been made with such fictional elements and mind-blowing visuals, it would be hard to adjudge whether that movie could have been as successful as it is now.

Irudhi Suttru (2016)
But movies like Aayutha Ezhuthu/Yuva(2016), Mudhalvan(1999)/Naayak(2001) and Irudhi Suttru/Saala Khadoos(2016), failed to make it a success at the box office in one among the two languages they were made in.

The loss of nativity can be felt in a lot of Maniratnam movies too who is considered to a master of multilingual movies. Until a decade back, when the legendary director was making a lot of independent and single language movies, all his movies were tasting a default success. But, once he started making movies like Raavan/Raavanan, his legacy started to fall due to the mix of cultural identities from both the South and the North.

In earlier times of his bilingual journey, even Maniratnam had adopted some strategies when making movies like Thalapathi (1990) which had two climaxes where Devaraj(Mammooty) gets killed in one version, while Surya (Rajinikanth) gets killed in the other version, thus by convincing the fans of both the heroes in their respective regions.

Thalapathi (1990)
Same was in the case of AR Murugadoss, who had to release the Telugu version of 7aam Arivu by showing Bodhi Dharman, a Telugu king(seriously?).

Since the days of Chandralekha, the one aspect that has been convincing the fans of all languages is the level of relativity to the context.


When movies like Maya Bazaar(1957) were released, the audience could be roped in so easily, not only because of the making technology they had adapted. But, the movie also had a folklore plot derived from Mahabaratha, a long told mythology among A and B centers, which helped Maya Bazaar to be a great success.

Maaya Bazaar (1957)
Apart from the fictional, mythical and fantasy aspects, there is one other aspect that becomes a success factor for any movie. It is the traditional term , 'Based on true story/events'. Some of  the best examples for this is the Hey Ram(2000), Vanayudham/Attahaasa(2013) and The Ghazi Attack(2017). It is clearly evident that biopics or documentation of  true events could also fetch success apparently. Even Maniratnam's Bombay and Roja too are in this pack.

While in the mid 70's and 80's there were a lot of commercial movies starred by mass heroes of Tamil and Telugu industries made as bilingual ventures. In a particular time span Rajini  had acted a lot of Tamil movies that were apparently made in Telugu which mostly features Siranjeevi in the lead. Kamal Haasan too was not an exception to this for he had did movies like Pushpak/Pesum Padam, where he was the lead in both the versions.

Billa (1980) and Don (1978) - Source: Filmy Keeday
Going back in time, method acting mass stars like Sivaji Ganesan too have starred in bilingual movies like Thangamalai Ragasiyam/Rathnagiri Rahasiya (1957) made by PR Panthulu. But, such movies were a hit  as their plot was built on any of  the aspects discussed earlier - fiction, fantasy or history.

Be it Billa(1980)/Don(1978) by Rajini/Amitabh duo (though Billa was a remake) or Naalai Namathe(1975)/Yaadon Ki Baaraat(1973) by MGR/Dharmendra duo, all those bilinguals or remakes of the retro age had a fitting, gripping, commercial and fictional screenplay that was relatable and interesting to audiences from both Tamil and Hindi backgrounds. But, the problem is that the same formula is being implied all these years where people have started differentiating the identities and cultures existing among themselves.

Since Indian sub continent has a multi faceted society, writing a content convincing people from two or more regions has been a swelling hurdle for filmmakers for a long time. It is up to the writers and filmmakers to revisit the strategies and techniques to make an interesting movie for people from various cultural and lingual backgrounds.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, October 12, 2017.

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