When Rajnikanth catches a bullet mid-air and shoots it back at his adversaries, it’s not just cinema halls in South India that resound with wolf-whistles and cat-calls; the mustachioed superstar has his fans all over the country.
And that is why, when we hear that his next opus, ‘Enthiran’ (in Tamil, ‘Robot’ in Telugu), is going to be dubbed in Hindi (with all three versions being promoted with equal fanfare), it doesn’t come as a surprise. After all, good entertainment knows no boundaries, imagined or otherwise, and Rajnikanth’s last big movie, ‘Sivaji - The Boss’ (2007), did good box office business in all its linguistic avatars, getting a 100 per cent opening across India.
‘Sivaji’ is not the only example.
In the past, a number of movies made in the South have done great business when dubbed into Hindi. Mani Ratnam’s ‘Anjali’, ‘Roja’ and ‘Bombay’, and Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Shiva’ are examples of movies that saw both critical and commercial success in regions traditionally dominated by Bollywood fare.
Producer Boney Kapoor says, “Audiences, whichever part of the country they may belong to, all want the same thing — a good, engaging story.”
Director Singeetham Srinivasa Rao endorses this opinion. Kamal Haasan starrers — ‘Appu Raja’ and ‘Hindustani’ — are well-remembered by audiences in both the northern and southern markets. Rao attributes their universal success to strong plots and good characterisation. “Factors like region and language stop mattering if the story is gripping. The success of international movies dubbed into Hindi or other Indian languages can vouch for it,” says Rao.
However, what is puzzling is why ‘Robot’ is being dubbed, at a time when more South Indian movies are being remade. Mani Ratnam, who once dubbed his movies, recently made 'Raavan' in both Hindi and Tamil. Ratnam says, “It is usually the setting that decides whether a movie can be made in two languages. If the subject is rooted up North, then I make it in Hindi. But if the subject is common, then I am open to making the movie in multiple languages.”
Rao too, rather than simply dubbing his next project, an untitled film based on the life of Jesus Christ, has chosen to make it in four different languages — Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi and English. Kapoor — who has consistently remade South Indian hits in Hindi, the last one being ‘Pokkiri’ which was remade as ‘Wanted’ — points out, “These days, unless the movie stars Rajnikanth or Kamal Haasan, it won’t be dubbed. In case a movie has a good story, but not an actor who is well-known in the North, it is safer to remake it in Hindi.”
Often, the biggest attraction of dubbed movies has been the music — whether it was A R Rahman’s scores for ‘Roja’ and ‘Bombay’ or Ilayaraja’s for ‘Anjali’. Champak Jain, director of Venus Records, however, states that music is no longer a big factor for two reasons.
“One is that of course, even in South India, there are really only two big names — AR Rahman and Ilayaraja — that hold any attraction for a pan- Indian audience. The other problem, which is increasingly coming to light is that a lot of
South Indian songs are difficult or awkward to translate to Hindi. So unless the producers can get someone like Gulzar or Javed Akhtar to write the lyrics, it’s tough to make the music work for the film.”
This certainly is true of ‘Robot’s music, which despite doing well worldwide, has failed to catch on in North India. The movie’s promotion in the region focuses on the presence of Rajnikanth and the promise of great action sequences. Jain, in fact, suggests that it is the stunning action sequences that makes these movies such an attraction, even when dubbed.
The Vikram-starrer ‘Anniyan’, which was dubbed as ‘Aparichit’, did not set the box office on fire; although as the actor himself points out, it made an impact nevertheless. In an earlier interview to this paper, Vikram had said, “Even in remote corners of India, when I’m travelling, I run into people who recognise me from ‘Aparichit’. The drama and the action sequences in the movie greatly appealed to them.”
Ultimately, though, numbers talk. ‘Sivaji’ may have done well, grossing almost Rs 5 crore in Bollywood territory, but the actor’s biggest rival, Haasan’s ‘Dasavatharam’, which also released in 2008, collected a measly Rs 1 crore with its dubbed version (‘Dashavatar’) in its opening week in the North. As Kapoor points out, “Dubbing even a superstar’s movie is as much a risk as making any Hindi film. There are no fix-it formulae. The film business continues to remain a gamble.”