Subtitling woes

Vetrimaaran, the Tamil director who made the brilliant Aadukalam four years ago, finally has a new release. Visaranai, based on the novel Lock Up by M Chandrakumar, is a savage take on police brutality in India. Four Tamil-speaking men in Guntur are picked up on trumped-up charges and subjected to intense torture so that they would accept these charges. These sequences are the movie's most harrowing parts.

A scene in which the protagonist, Paandi, is repeatedly beaten on his back reminded me of a similar sequence in 12 Years a Slave. The movie's second-half slackens a bit, but it still holds up - thanks to a brilliant storyline and performances.

Vetrimaaran's gimlet-eyed observations about a gamut of issues - the treatment of outsiders in Andhra Pradesh, the politician-police nexus and the cover-up regarding deaths in police custody - must have been the reason why the movie won the Amnesty International Italia Award in 2015.

Ramalingam's unobtrusive cinematography lends the movie the heft of a documentary in which commentary is delivered by the actors themselves. G V Prakash Kumar's background score gives the right kind of subtext to the proceedings. I know we are only seven weeks into 2016, but I will be really surprised if there's a better Tamil movie the rest of the year.

This week I also happened to watch the Telugu movie Krishna Gadi Veera Prema Gadha, a start-to-finish laugh fest about a fearful person overcoming his fears to win his ladylove. Actor Nani delivered another amazing performance. However, I couldn't help but bemoan the fact that the movie didn't have subtitles (I happen to know the language). Telugu cinema needs to face the fact that there's a huge market for its films outside Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Every weekend primetime viewing on Hindi general entertainment channels happens to be dubbed - and sub-par - versions of Telugu cinema. Ever since Baahubali was released, the interest in Telugu cinema has surged - a fact lost on the producers. These days, the trend in Tollywood is to announce the release date on day one of shooting. Given such breakneck speed of shooting, the producers rarely have time to include subtitles. The producers obviously believe that the cultural references are too rooted for anyone outside the twin states to understand, but that's far from the truth. The language of cinema is universal and as someone who has never been to France but has gorged on everything amazing the French cinema has to offer, I can vouch for that fact.

The story wasn't much different with three entertaining movies that released recently: Bhale Manchi Roju, Nannaku Prematho and Express Raja. Directed by Sukumar, Nannaku Prematho might be uneven in terms of the plot, but it's far more technologically evolved than any mainstream Bollywood release of recent times - the movie was shot extensively in London.

Anthony Horowitz wrote this in Spectator under an elegiac headline "Only blockbusters can shoot in London": "We had to negotiate separately with 32 separate boroughs for every permit and parking suspension. Worse still, private companies have sprung up as self-styled 'film location agencies' who make it their business to ring-fence everything from well-known landmarks to domestic properties. This has pushed prices up to the extent that only the big American producers can afford to shoot here."

Although I appreciate the fact that the producers backed the project instead of relocating it to Dublin or Edinburg, it's baffling that subtitles weren't included.

Regional cinema has long left the shadow of Bollywood. In fact, it has far more interesting stories to tell and someone ought to tell this to the moneybags of Tollywood.

Visaranai is being shown all over the country with English subtitles

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel