An informal ban on dubbing of movies from various languages into Kannada, for more than six decades, seems to be taking a few steps towards being dubbed banned.
Vega Mattu Udvega 8, the Kannada version of Fast and Furious 8 hit the theatres recently. It immediately set the pro-dubbing activists on fire.
“So happy to see this happening,” was the first reaction by Pavan Srinath, a public policy researcher with Takshashila Institution, based in Bengaluru, who has been involved in related debates.
What is the ban about?
Although there has never been a legal or constitutional ban on dubbing in the state, an unofficial opposition by the industry’s bigwigs has struck deep roots. The spoken as well as unspoken refusal to permit the translation has been said, strangely, to “weed out competition” and “strengthen the viewership of the Sandalwood film industry”. There has always been a silent understanding.
Actor, filmmaker, activist and journalist Prakash Belawadi, co-founder of the Centre for Film and Drama in Bengaluru, confirms that the ban had started in the 1940s and 1950s, after the birth of the Kannada film industry. In 1956, the state had separated from Madras, which had been the crucible of movies.
However, it had been the late thespian, Rajkumar, who had wanted the industry to grow and therefore permit that films should not be dubbed into Kannada. Although it was a personal request, the agreement somehow stuck on. Some exhibitors in 1965 agreed that they would not even screen dubbed movies. The protectionist move thus became a social custom. For more than 60 years, the informal ban remained.
Shifts and trends in viewership
During the ‘50s and ‘60s, in Belgaum, Mysore and other parts of the state, offering only Kannada films made the local audiences simply shift to watching other “dynamic” movies in their own industries and languages, as the viewers were denied the dubbed version.
The pro-dubbing lobby claims that there seemed to be a serious decline in the viewership as well as the quality of films. It has been noted that while the Kannadiga population is considerable, the cinema here comprises just 2 per cent of the entire south Indian film industry!
The pro-dubbing lobby rues that it has all evolved into a vicious circle. As audiences just get into the habit of watching other language movies, there has been a drop in good quality Kannada movies and a lack of even corporate film sponsorship of Kannada movies. Thus, it has become difficult to attract good film makers. With dubbing into every other Indian language except Kannada, the local audiences have been robbed of good entertainment, options and creative opportunities.
It was only in the millennial era that movies became more quality conscious and better. “It was in the 2000s that the narrative started getting contested,” explains Pavan Srinath. “For the first time, there was a growing public awareness that the language interests are not the same as the film industry’s.”
People began to form language groups and a consumer’s forum, firm in the belief that with increasing language films, the local industry would actually improve. Vasanth Shetty, one of the vociferous supporters of dubbing, wrote in a Facebook page, ‘Allow Dubbing in Kannada’, started in 2006/7: We had no stakes: when people from the industry itself protested the ban, they would immediately have been made outcasts.
In 2010, the Karnataka Chalanachitra Academy addressed actors, directors and producers, following a report by Ernst & Young related to the South Indian film industry. Karnataka’s movie market size was found to be confined to just Rs 0.5 billion! The reason for this is isolating the industry in the protected dark house of isolation, without the sunlight of competition. Confining Kannada in hothouses without competition was being harmful.
Pavan Srinath notes that the ban perhaps was understandable in the beginning, when the industry was still embryonic and did not have the capital to take on the big names of Tamil cinema. However, in the current scenario, the ban seems to be motivated by protectionist mindset and nothing else.
Ironical conservative argument?
Hence, the opponents of the ban do not vouch for it, for the same reason as the supporters profess – love for the language and desire to strengthen the Sandalwood film industry. Srinath says that the anti-dubbing lobby has managed to do exactly what they were hoping to reverse – impoverish the language as well as the film industry by killing competition and a drive to excel.
The pro-dubbing lobby claims that only by watching great art in action in competitive films from outside, it can be hoped to get imbued into the local language, culture and movies. They are convinced that protectionism deprives the language of vast areas of improvement as well as enrichment.
Journalist Amit Verma observes that opposing the ban is hence a “conservative” argument. It seems to be driven not by libertarianism or love for freedom of expression but by the opposite – the advantage of strengthening and enriching the local language.
Hence, banning dubbing in Kannada has been seen as a big “loss” for the Kannada film industry. Srinath points out that large areas of experience and enrichment have been denied to the language by restricting the viewership of movies as well as the introduction of other films. There were so many words that could have been added to the body of Kannada language if the viewers could see and absorb other movies, according to him. For instance, ‘antarjala’ is a literal translation of ‘internet’. Does it impoverish or enrich the language if it is introduced into the linguistic canon?
By watching dubbed movies as well as Discovery Channel, or science and math channels, the local language would import so many words that are modern and global.
Struggling against the ‘ban’
Early this year, the fair-trade regulator Competition Commision of India (CCI) issued show cause notices to the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce, Karnataka Directors Association and the Kannada Chalanachitra Academy, among others, asking an explanation for the ban on dubbing of films and television programmes into Kannada. A response was supposed to be sent by December 4.
It was in 2013 that the CCI imposed penalties on three cinema and television organisations for preventing dubbing in Karnataka. The CCI stated that they have found that the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC), Karnataka Television Association (KTVA), and the Kannada Film Producers Association (KFPA), seem to have all got into a conspiracy of keeping an anti-dubbing treaty, which violates Section 3 of the Competition Act, 2002. A penalty of Rs 20.24 lakh was imposed on all three.
It was Ganesh Chetan, President of Kannada Grahakara Koota, who filed a case against the ban to the Competition Commission of India (CCI) in 2012, when he realised that cartoons and Discovery channel programmes are just not available in Kannada. He is convinced that those who don’t support dubbing only do this for commercial reasons, using the idea of “protecting Kannada culture” but actually turning it into an emotional issue. In an emotional tweet, he expressed his anguish: “It is time to call out the hypocrisy of Kannada film stars who oppose dubbing in Kannada. Just expose their hypocrisy. Now is the time.”
The CCI noted that the ban on dubbing is strange, as it has not only stopped stakeholders from chasing their commercial activities, but also damaged the local language and culture. Even artistes here do not have too many opportunities.
Yet, in spite of the order of the CCI, the Kannada entertainment industry, comprising both the film and television sections, continued to struggle to fight the issue, as the KFCC knocked on the doors of the Competition Appellate Tribunal.
But the Secretary of the newly formed Karnataka Dubbing Film Chamber of Commerce (KDFCC), G. Krishnamurthy is a strong votary of dubbing, totally unlike other centres such as the KFCC or the KTVA. He notes: “It is the right of every Kannadiga to watch a movie in their language.”
First Hindi movie dubbed in 2016
No movie was dubbed in Kannada since 1962. Only last year, in July, ‘Naanu Nanna Preeti’ has been dubbed in Kannada and released in seven centres in North Karnataka. This is a Hindi movie of 2010, titled ‘My Husband’s Wife’, starring Shakti Kapoor, Prem Chopra, and Rati Agnihotri. It has been due to the producers, Darshan Enterprises, filing a writ petition in the Dharwad bench of the Karnataka High Court that the dubbing was completed. The makers asked for security in order to get a dubbed movie released after a dubbing ban of almost 55 years!
Pawan Kumar, director, actor, and screenwriter of the film, has also directed movies such as Lucia and Lifeu Ishtene. With an interest in getting The Jungle Book dubbed into Kannada, following other Indian languages, he has noted that “People end up picking up other languages to be able to consume the movies they want to watch. Everyone got to watch The Jungle Book except Kannadiga kids, because it was offered in every language except Kannada.”
However, just trying to get Disney Studio for the dubbing rights did not work out. He exclaimed that “It was an unpleasant scenario, because no studio would want to take the risk of dubbing into Kannada even though the ban has no legal sanction; it is easier for them to simply ignore this language and continue to do business in all the others.”
Naanu Neena Preeti was the first Hindi film to be dubbed. Krishnamurthy added that in the seven centres in North Karnataka that the film was released, it had done very well. He pointed out that its success was despite many people trying to stop viewers by warning that “they would not be responsible if the movie faces a backlash.”
Finally, the emotional stronghold of the bigger Kannada heroes and the film industry, which was seen to be a champion of local language and culture, has been difficult to break. Yet, after fighting it out for a decade, the pro-dubbing folks seem to have won at least a battle, even if not the war.