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Film Street Journal

Film Street Journal
Posted online: July 20 – August 4, 2007

THE SUB-TITLING FACTORY

India produces about 800 films annually across all languages and regions; the number of subtitled film prints rolled out every year by Words Infocom Limited – a company based at Mira Road, a distant suburb of Bombay – is 5,000.

Sounds amazing but it’s true. Sub-titles are the small ticker-tape like stream of words at the top or bottom of the screen, translating the dialogue into the written script of another language. Since, nowadays, Hindi films get distributed all over the world; their film prints and DVDs are sub-titled in many languages.

Words Infocom’s normal charges for translating Hindi dialogue into another language and subtitling it on relevant scenes all through the film, is a paltry Rs. 5,000; yet, the company manages to achieve a billing of more than Rs. 1 lakh a day – seven days a week.

Words Infocom began operations a decade ago in a small Mira Road shop with hired computers and a handful of translators. It has now grown into a’24 x 7 factory with a staff of 200, churning out 18 to 20 sub-titled films a day in various languages. Arjun Sharma, the brain behind Words Infocom, is elated that his idea has paid off in such a big way. “We have seen 200% growth in business every year over the last four years,” says Sharma proudly.

The beginnings may have been humble with contracts to translate and affix English sub-titles for a few Hindi films, but the diversification in the portfolio was rapid and the growth much faster than Sharma had dreamed of. Soon, Words Infocom was subtitling Hindi films in foreign languages like Russian, French, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, Dutch, Malay, Italian, Portuguese, Indonesian and German, besides regional languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati and Bengali.

One copy of a movie like Rang De Basanti would come to the Words Info-corn factory and within days, its copies, sub-titled in 14 different languages, would be rolled out. With Indian movies making a huge mark in international markets, sub-titling in many more foreign languages is a distinct possibility.

Sharma has ensured that Words Infocom is geared to provide subtitles in almost every foreign lan guage. “We have Russian and French translators on our payroll. We are capable of handling subtitling, in-house and outsourced, in almost 64 Indian and international languages. And if we don’t have a translator on our staff, we outsource it to language specialists in Bombay,” explains Sharma.

For instance, Words Infocom utilises the services of Dinesh Govindani, a professional Spanish translator who runs his own language academy. Govindani has been translating Hindi movies and television serials into Spanish since the last seven years. “The Latin-American people enjoy our movies. Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan are equally popular there. In fact, even movies that have failed at the box-office in India have done well in Spain, giving the producer a chance to recover his money,” notes Govindani, who translates about 200 films a year with his team of six translators, devoting two days to finish one film. The revenue is a measly Rs. 4,000 per movie, but Govindani claims that he does it because he loves the language, and the work also gives his senior students an opportunity to sharpen their language skills.

Words Infocom charges only Rs. 5,000 per film, partly because most production houses are not very particular about the quality of subtitling and often demand delivery in less than a day. Sharma says that he is able to deliver a film complete with sub-titles in 6 hours if he is pushed to it, and within 10-12 hours with time to spare. Working like an assembly line, Sharma puts eight people on the job, each handling a small segment of the film.

Naturally, the price the producer pays for such a hurried job is inconsistency in translation. Not infrequently, the sub-titles are literal translations of the Hindi dialogue, therefore, inappropriate and unintentionally funny, but the prime purpose – and the culprit, if one may say so – is the deadline set by producers or distributors.

“The filmmakers have time constraints. If they don’t release the DVD on time, piracy eats into their business,” explains Sharma. He prefers it when producers like Yash Raj Films and UTV depute an assistant director to supervise the English translation and allow him sufficient time – like 2 to 3 days – for the job. They also pay Words Infocom Rs. 10,000-15,000 for the sub-titling of their film – thrice that paid by others -to ensure that Sharma puts in the extra time to do a quality job.

Though sub-titling Hindi films is the major thrust of the company, Words Infocom has begun expanding the business laterally by undertaking sub-titling of television serials too. Indian TV serials have carved out a market in many countries, which demand sub-titled episodes. For instance, most hits from Zee TV have been sub-titled for Zee’s foreign channels: Zee Arabic, Zee French, Zee Indonesia and Zee Russia. The process is the same as with films but since the running time of an episode is only about 23 minutes, Words Infocom charges Rs. 500 per episode and manages to deliver 30 episodes on a good day.

Words Infocom also dubs Hindi television serials in regional and foreign languages, and Hollywood films into Indian languages. Unlike sub-titling, dubbing involves hiring voice artistes to deliver the dialogues in another language, while matching the speech intonations of the original language of the film. For instance, Spider-Man 3 was dubbed in some Indian languages by voice artistes. In fact, for the Bhojpuri version, actor Ravi Kishan was roped in to deliver the hero’s lines at quite a cost, only to ensure that Spider-Man’s dubbing was of top quality.

The quality of dubbing, like sub-titling, depends on the budget cleared by the producer. The cost of dubbing an English film to Hindi- can range from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 4.5 lakh or even Rs. 8 lakh, if the producer demands the best voice artistes in the business. The producer, going in only for the DVD release of the sub-titled version -and not theatrical – usually wants to spend less money, even if it means compromising on the quality of the dubbing.

Even television serials are dubbed sometimes instead of being sub-titled. Words Infocom has dubbed 3,000 television episodes so far at the rate of Rs. 12,000 per episode, mainly for Zee’s foreign channels. It is possible for Sharma to dub eight television episodes a day with multiple units operating from Words Infocom’s five dubbing studios. Sharma dreams of going global, with not just his sub-titling and dubbing business, but also in the field of content creation. For now, it won’t be an exaggeration to call Words Infocom a one-stop factory in sub-titling for almost all known languages on the planet.

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