June 17, 2008

O Caption! My Caption!

Are you an obsessive reader, gentle Reader? Let us presume that you are. Don't you think your life would be much simpler if you weren't?

One is a compulsive reader. Always been so. If only this compulsion had been channeled wisely towards the classics, towards the Epics, towards the formidable Western Canon, one might have become a Learned Person. But right from the stripling stage one chose instead to target juice cartons and cereal boxes and FMCG-type items in general, consequently acquiring a profound (and purely theoretical) knowledge of Maggi preparation, a sibling-like familiarity with the child on the Parle-G packet, and considerable insight into the composition of Kissan's Mixed Fruit Jam.

What of it, you ask. These matters are trivial, but what one would essentially like to convey is that one has this habit. One has managed to get by, just about, and made it this far. But an unexpected matter has recently arisen, from a fairly innocuous quarter.

As the retentive reader would recollect, one often repairs to the local cinema hall to view the latest Bollywood offering. These being Phoren Lands, the films are annotated with subtitles for the benefit of those who do not speak Bollytongue. And there lies what has been referred to as the Rub. Because reading these captions, one finds, is severely detrimental to the film-viewing experience. Particularly for us connoisseurs, who should not be distracted for even a moment from cogitating over camera angles and dialogue delivery and suchlike.

So ignore the subtitles, one hears the gentle reader point out. But, as one has been trying to explain, one cannot. The written word has maintained an eerie grip, a Vaderean force-choke, on the One ever since one's Maggi days. One must, absolutely must read each subtitle. One must, absolutely must ruminate over perceived mistranslations and come up with superior alternatives, and one must, absolutely must explain one's entire line of reasoning to any unfortunate soul/s who might have accompanied the One to the silver-screen experience.

But let us not dwell on how these infernal subtitles have affected the already-deficient Social Life. Nor shall we focus on how they have reduced entire three-hour K. Johar candyfloss parades to exercises in interlingual jugglery. For matters of far greater consequence are in what is called the Offing. Yes. These subtitles might, in fact, precipitate the End of Bollywood As We Know It! *

To adequately grasp the mechanism by which these devious annotations operate, we must first acquaint ourselves with certain key concepts:

1) There are in most films a few Jokes. Let us illustrate by means of an example Joke:

Arrey bhai, kya body hai! Bachpan se hai ya baad mein banayi?
(Subtitle: "Hey brother, what a body! Have you had it since childhood or did you develop it later?")
- Partner, 2007

2) There are in this world two types of mortal. The Fast Reader Lexicus alacritus, alumnus of Rapidex English Comprehension and pride of his CAT coaching class, naturally looks somewhat askance at the Slow Reader Lexicus sluggiferus. Even L. sluggiferus, however, can generally finish reading the subtitle before the dialogue is actually delivered.

And now, let us examine in some detail what happens during a Joke Scene. Also, let us continue in Pointwise Form because we have taken rather a fancy to it:

1. (t-3 sec) Appearance of joke subtitle. Immediately, the population of the cinema hall is conceptually divided into the two aforementioned species of mortal.
2. (t-2 sec) L. alacritus finishes reading subtitle and commences laughter.
3. (t-1 sec) L. sluggiferus commences laughter, either by virtue of having read and comprehended subtitle, or because L. alacritus is laughing.
4. (t) Punchwords are delivered, but drowned out in general roar of laughter.

It is hence clear that audible punchwords are no longer a requirement for NRI cinema. The astute reader can doubtless extrapolate that with content of an emotional nature, a nearly identical sequence of events shall ensue, with laughter replaced by convulsive weeping of roughly the same auditory magnitude. Eventually, we may choose to eliminate the audio entirely and come to rely exclusively on subtitles.

And thus shall subtitles take over the world. One shall protest, of course, but ultimately one must, absolutely must give in and meekly read them.

* That is to say, The End of (Bollywood As We Know It). Not (The End of Bollywood) As We Know It, because we do not know the End of Bollywood yet.