A five-member panel headed by renowned film-maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan is mulling options such as denying substantial money by way of subsidy to Malayalam films with English titles. The panel has been forced to take up cudgels against this growing dependence on what clearly is not the Queen’s language but more of an amalgam of jargons and clichés in Angrezi given the backdrop that industry federations such as FEFKA have already sought an additional tax on non-Malayalam titles. To buttress their argument, it is pointed out that such an initiative already exists in Kollywood.
Clearly, no other language film industry in India depends so heavily on English titles as does Mollywood. Consider some recent titles—How Old Are You, Angry Babies in Love, Beware of Dog, Buddy, Happy Husbands, Hi I’m Tony, God’s Own Country, Escape from Uganda, Mr Fraud, Gangster and Ringmaster, Manglish– and you get a sense of how a section of Mollywood functions. Conversely, other film-makers come up with titles like Nee Ko Nja Cha, Nakku Penta Nakku Takka and Koothara, which are equally convoluted, in some cases distasteful.
While there are established film-makers like Siddique and Lal who first worked as a team, before parting ways but in both avatars tasted success with English titles. Thus, they had Ramji Rao Speaking, In Harihar Nagar, Godfather, Vietnam Colony and Kabuliwalah. Siddique later made Hitler, Friends, Body Guard and Ladies and Gentleman while Lal’s solo ventures include To Harihar Nagar, In Ghost House Inn, Tournament and Cobra. Meanwhile, the new generation is pulling all the stops and going the extra mile, with English titles that are more in your face than earlier ones.
There is no denying that what began as a fad among a few production houses some years ago has grown into a gigantic wave, with half the films made in Malayalam coming out with full-fledged English titles. If English ruled in 76 out of 158 titles in 2013, so far 45 out of 88 releases in 2014 rode the wave. In 2012 it was 47 out of 127, while 2011 had 41 out of 88 films carrying English tags. Out of 626 Malayalam films made since 2009, 257 came with English titles.
There are many who feel this is but a reflection of a changing society as nearly every modern amenity and lifestyle facilities are spoken about by their English titles, be it a mall, multiplex, school, college, office and market. It is all the more true about everyday words in parlance within the film industry—theatre, cameraman, editor and the inevitable “start, camera, action, cut and pack-up” just as Keralites go to the cinema and not chalachitram. The flip side is some Mollywood titles are indeed out of context and apparently have been thrust on the unsuspecting public in a bid to keep up with the “Joneses”—in this case, the Lals and the Siddiques.
The stage is set for an intriguing climax as and when the panel submits its final report and the government decides to introduce a subsidy for titles in Malayalam to safeguard its newly acquired classical language status, especially if it comes along with a hard-to-refuse `25 lakh carrot. Given that Malayalam movies are being made for around `2 crore, one shouldn’t be surprised if English titles were to soon desert Mollywood. It’s debatable though if money should influence a filmmaker’s freedom to give titles.