Creative Translations Working Papers Interactive Board About Translation
 
    Print   Mail   Next  
 
 
   General Editorial
 
 
   Guest Editorial
 
 
Articles
 
 
'Plagiarizing’ for Bollywood - M.K.Raghavendra
 
 
   Not Speaking a Language That is Mine - Anjali Gera Roy
 
 
   How Does Shakespeare Become Sekh pir in Kannada - T.S.Satyanath
 
 
   Translation as DissemiNation: A Note from an Academic and Translator from Bengal - Swati Ganguly
 
 
   Vernacular Dressing and English Re-dressings: Translating Neel Darpan - Jharna Sanyal
 
 
   Post-Colonial Translation: Globalising Literature? - Purabi Panwar
 
 
   Translating the Nation, Translating the Subaltern - Meena Pillai
 
 
   Translation, Transmutation, Transformation: A Short Reflection on the Indian Kala Tradition - Priyadarshi Patnaik
 
 
   Translation: A Cultural Slide Show - Hariharan
 
 
   The Hidden Rhythms and the Tensions of the Subtext: The Problems of Cultural Transference in Translation - Tutun Mukherjee
 
 
   Of Defining and Redefining an ‘Ideal’ Translator: Problems and Possibilities - Somdatta Mandal
 
 
Translation Reviews
 
 
   Burning Ground: Singed Souls, a review of theEnglish translation Fire area of Ilyas Ahmed Gaddi’s Urdu novel Fire Area - A.G.Khan
 
 
   Translation: Where Angels Fear to Tread, review of Rashmi Govind’s English translation, titled The Story of the Loom, of Abdul Bismillah’s Hindi novel Jhini jhini Bini Chadariya - A.G.Khan
 
 
   Fall, Sudhakar Marathe’s English translation of the Marathi Novel Pachola - Madhavi Apte
 
 

Abstract : Indian popular cinema was held to be imitative of Hollywood until fairly recently when its methods became the subject of deeper scrutiny. Bombay film makers repeatedly stress that their films aim to differ in content and format from Western films and there is a definite method involved in making films for Indian audiences. Most people are aware that Hollywood or Western cinema frequently provides Bollywood with its models but no successful Bombay film simply 'copies' Hollywood. Most films, even when they 'borrow' from non-Indian models, need to integrate the borrowed motifs within Indian filmmaking conventions if the film must be successful. Film makers assert that the basis of 'Indianization' lies in the following:(1) The way the story line is developed (2) The crucial necessity of emotion because Western films are regarded as ‘cold’ (3) The blending of 'attractions' like songs, dances, fights, comedy interludes within the narrative. Once it is apparent that Hollywood and Bollywood do not subscribe to the same kind of narration, the process of 'plagiarization' itself becomes an interesting subject for study. The easiest way of undertaking the study is to look at the narrative principles regarded as sacrosanct by Hollywood, principles rigorously codified, and compare them to what Bollywood chooses to do. The difficulty is perhaps that Bollywood has never attempted a codification of its narrative principles but, with some effort, the critic can discover some of them and then undertake the exercise. The paper looks at how Indian popular cinema responds under a single parameter regarded as crucial by Hollywood - which the narrative must respect the principle of causality in as much as the narrative should be tightly constructed as a chain of causes and effects. A scrutiny of Indian popular cinema shows this to be an area where it could be regarded as 'deficient' and the paper attempts to grapple with the philosophical issues underlying Indian popular cinema's 'episodic' structure. Since it is necessary to look at an example where the copy does not simply 'borrow' one or two motifs from the original but follows it fairly closely, the paper also makes a comparison between Josef Von Sternberg's The Blue Angel (1931), with V Shantaram's Pinjra (1972), an admittedly ingenious remake of the former.

          Popular Indian cinema was held to be imitative of Hollywood until fairly recently when its method became the subject of deeper scrutiny. Bombay filmmakers emphasize that their films differ in content and format from Western films and there is a definite method involved in making films for Indian audiences. Most people are aware that Hollywood or Western cinema frequently provides Bollywood with its models but no successful Bombay film simply 'copies' Hollywood. Most films, even when they 'borrow' from non-Indian models, need to integrate the borrowed motifs within Indian filmmaking conventions if the film must be successful. Filmmakers assert that the basis of 'Indianization' lies in the following:

  • The way the story line is developed
  • The crucial necessity of emotion because Western films are regarded as cold
  •  The blending of 'attractions' like songs, dances, fights, comic interludes within the narrative. (Thomas 1982: 26(3-4))

         Once it is apparent that Hollywood and Bollywood do not subscribe to the same kind of narration, the process of 'plagiarization' itself becomes an interesting subject for study. The easiest way of undertaking the study is to look at the narrative principles regarded as sacrosanct by classical cinema from Hollywood, principles rigorously codified, and compare them to what Bollywood chooses to do. The difficulty is perhaps that Bollywood has never attempted a codification of its narrative principles but, with some effort, the critic can discover some of them and then undertake the exercise. The difficulty with defining Bollywood in relation to Hollywood is that it reduces the former to the status of the 'other'. This approach treats Hollywood as an absolute and it will find detractors but its purpose is akin to defining a location in relation to a dominant external landmark. It has also been asserted that no clear-cut alternative to Hollywood exists and that to get beyond it, one must first go through it1. This paper goes some distance towards refuting this contention.

                                                                                                               Top

        The paper looks at how Indian popular cinema responds under a single parameter regarded as crucial by classical Hollywood cinema - that the narrative must respect the principle of causality as much as the narrative should be tightly constructed as a chain of causes and effects. A scrutiny of Indian popular cinema shows this to be an area where it could be regarded as 'deficient' and the paper attempts to grapple with the philosophical issues underlying Indian popular cinema's 'episodic' structure, that is its tendency to 'frustrate the narrativitous urge for causal connection' (Scholes et al (ed) 1985)

Causality and Psychological Motivation

        The most important system defining classical cinema is psychological causation. We can now inquire into Indian popular cinema's behaviour under this parameter in the expectation that the inquiry will lead us into the logic of its methods:

        "The classical Hollywood film presents psychologically defined individuals who struggle to solve a clear-cut problem or attain specific goals. In the course of this struggle, the characters enter into conflict with other or with external circumstances. The story ends with decisive victory or a defeat, a resolution of the problem and clear achievement or non- achievement of the goals. The principal causal agency is thus the character, a discriminated individual endowed with a consistent batch of evident traits, qualities and behaviours”. (Bordwell 1985)

        In its early years Hollywood relied more on coincidences, which had been the staple of melodrama and popular 19th century theatre. But with the growing emphasis on realism around the turn of the century, coincidences became less acceptable. The elimination of coincidences became necessary through a careful preparation of events throughout the plot. The role of coincidences - especially to resolve plots - was not considered desirable. Psychological causation is not only a possible option and causality can also be conceived as social - as initiated by group processes - in the manner of Soviet cinema of the 1920s. One can equally conceive of an impersonal causation in which chance and coincidences leave little room for personal action and this is largely the method of postwar European cinema. Hollywood, of course, also permits impersonal causes, but they are usually subordinated to psychological causation. Impersonal causes may initiate or alter a line of story action but personal causes must then take over and move the narrative. To illustrate, a war may separate lovers but they must react to their situation. Coincidences and accidents must confine themselves entirely to the initial condition (Bordwell et al 1960). In the structure of the classical film, causes are also left dangling to be picked up subsequently by effects. This method leads the spectator to anticipation and guarantees that the action does not slacken between any two scenes (ibid).

         Mehboob Khan's Andaz has been studied by film academics and is often cited as a film following some of Hollywood's methods. (Vasudevan 2000). Examining its narrative method is useful in the present context. Before we examine the manner in which Andaz structures its narrative we should perhaps understand the implications of 'psychological causation' through an appropriate illustration. I have chosen a simple illustration - Sam Raimi's Spiderman (2002) - and am examining only part of the narrative. The chosen part of Spiderman can be broken down chronologically as under:

  •  Peter Parker is a timid young man in love with Mary Jane whose boyfriends are hunks. Peter knows that - given his puny stature (and his glasses) - he cannot win Mary Jane.
  • Peter nonetheless pursues Mary Jane discreetly but, during a visit to a museum, is stung by a genetically altered super spider and becomes 'spider-strong'. He discovers his new strength, unwittingly thrashes the school bully and finally gets Mary Jane's attention.
  • Peter becomes more confident in his newly discovered strength and is also drawn closer to Mary Jane because of his achievement with the bully. But his rival owns an automobile and Mary Jane continues to date him. Peter now believes he can win Mary Jane only by first possessing a car.
  • Peter looks through a newspaper for information about used cars but also discovers a notice about a wrestling match where he can win the required money ($500). He needs to find a colourful costume, and given his newly discovered propensities, dresses up as a 'Human Spider'.
  • His beloved uncle senses the change he is undergoing. On the way to the wrestling match he warns him against misusing his gifts.
  • Peter Parker enters the ring where the manager announces him as 'Spiderman'. Peter uses his spider strength and demolishes his opponent but the manager cheats him of the prize money.
  • An armed man robs the manager, but Peter deliberately doesn't intervene.
  •  The armed robber also kills Peter's uncle in the street while making his getaway.
  •  Peter pursues the robber and helps make the arrest but he also understands that his letting the culprit get away initially caused his uncle's death. He recognizes his error and resolves to fight crime as 'Spiderman'.

          This is a sketchy account of only part of the film and several details have been omitted but it provides a fair idea of its approach to narration. If each of the above is considered an 'episode' the film employs a specific way to link the episodes together - in the manner of a causal chain. Peter Parker becomes super-strong by accident but his psychological condition induces him to take advantage of the accident and each episode is connected to the succeeding one in a similar way. To illustrate further, Peter needs a car to win Mary Jane, but he doesn't have the money. He finds an easy source but still needs to wrestle to get it. He wins the bout because of his 'spider-strength' but the manager cheats him. Peter encounters the robber just after he has been cheated but allows him to get away because he is upset with the manager. The robber kills Peter's uncle because Peter allows him to get away. Peter Parker resolves to fight crime because of his own part in his uncle's death.

          The narrative may abound in accidents, but the accidents don't happen arbitrarily. The narrative moves because the accidents happen at ripe moments, taking advantage of existing circumstances and the relationship may (for want of a better term) be termed 'dialectical' in as much as each interaction leads to a new stage in the narrative. This means that every event is important and no episode can be removed from the chain without affecting the entire story. Plot and character 'develop' as part of a continuing process.

                                                                                                               Top

         Returning to Andaz, the major episodes in the film can be arranged chronologically as under:

  • The motherless Neena is brought up and 'spoiled' by her widowed father.
  • Neena meets Dilip when he saves her in a riding accident.
  • Neena invites Dilip home. Dilip loves her and fondly imagines that she reciprocates his feelings.
  •  Neena's father dies suddenly and she names Dilip impulsively to manage her business empire. He takes this as a sign that she cares for him.
  • Rajan arrives and Dilip suddenly discovers that Neena loves Rajan.
  • Dilip retreats from Neena's side and she duly marries Rajan.
  • Dilip's behaviour becomes morose and difficult for Neena to understand. When she presses him for the reasons, he expresses his love for her and she is shocked.
  • Neena and Rajan have a daughter.
  • Dilip comes to their daughter's birthday party and startles Neena, but he lets her know secretly that he has decided to leave her alone. Rajan sees them together, misunderstands their relationship and grows jealous.
  • Rajan's jealousy becomes more and more acute. It grows so intense that he assaults Dilip, causing him to become mentally imbalanced.
  • Dilip is so deranged that he becomes violent and expresses an intense urge to kill Rajan.
  • Neena is forced to shoot Dilip dead when he becomes too threatening.
  • Neena is tries and sentenced to life imprisonment after Rajan speaks out against her in court.
  • Rajan discovers a letter written by Dilip that exonerates Neena and he regrets his own actions.
  • Rajan, Neena and the child have one last meeting before she is led away into imprisonment.

          I have omitted one or two subplots and comic interludes in my telling of the story in order to make it simpler. Although the events in the film follow a chronological order, the film contains little evidence of the characteristic linking that distinguishes Spiderman and Andaz is distinctly 'episodic'. Rather than each episode being linked to the preceding one - as effect to cause - the narrative tends to refer back to a first cause, which is Neena's free upbringing. In fact, one could even say that the story actually emerges from this first cause. Neena's character does not change appreciably thereafter although she 'regrets' her error and wishes that her own daughter be brought up correctly. Dilip remains his grave and vulnerable self until the blow on his head upsets his balance. Rajan's display of jealousy is abrupt and disappears quickly when he discovers Dilip's letter.

          One can also say aver that Andaz arranges it so that each character is defined in terms of an essential' trait rather than through attributes that are allowed to develop. Where 'character' is usually defined in terms of intentional action (Bordwell et al (ed) 1996:149-50), we find few events in the narrative in which Dilip, Rajan or Neena act intentionally towards foreseeable ends. It might be more accurate to say that they allow unintentional acts or even 'destiny' to dictate to them. Since Andaz defines character in terms of what is innate and individuals do not act intentionally, the action necessarily takes the shape of fortuitous events (or impulses) whose consequences are experienced and felt.

          What has been noticed pertains not only to Andaz and is also evidenced in the fortuitous ends arranged for hate-figures. We can say, generally, that individual acts are presented as 'fulfilled happenings' rather than as the execution of 'intent'. If we are to understand the structure of popular film narrative as a 'grammar', we can justifiably say that its construction is the visual equivalent of the 'passive voice'. It chooses not to generate excitement through a consistent use of the 'active voice', as Hollywood prefers to. It can perhaps also be said that 'free will' and 'determinism' have some kind of correspondence with the grammatical employment of the active and the passive voice respectively.


                                                                                                               ...read more