There is a movie theater a few towns down the road from us that has a dedicated screen for Bollywood films. I’ve only been to a handful of shows, but it is kind of nice to have a place to see relatively new Indian films with proper subtitles, since it can be tough to see a movie with good quality subtitles if you buy a DVD of questionable origin at the Indian grocery store (ahem, “3 Idiots” and “Rajneeti”… having every third sentence somewhat translated does not count!)

About a year and a half ago I went with our Nepali friend KS and two of her friends (one Indian and one Burmese, although to a white American high school student selling movie tickets they probably all “looked Indian”). I just happened to be the first of our little group in line and I asked if I could buy one ticket for “I Hate Luv Stories.” (I know, it has a silly name, you have to sign up for a bit of cheesiness with Bollywood romantic comedies).

The white high school kid blinked at me and said, “Um, you know that’s an Indian movie, right?”


“And it’s not in English…”


But then I paused… maybe the movie didn’t have subtitles. I’ve sat through Bollywood movies in India without subtitles before, and although they can still be entertaining, and the general plot is easy enough to follow, a lot of the details are lost, and I wind up making up plot points or interpret things differently. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world to see yet another movie without subtitles, but if I was paying $12 for a movie, I wanted to follow the story.

“It has subtitles, doesn’t it?” I asked.

“Um, yeah.” He answered.

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Well, a lot of people don’t like reading subtitles, I just wanted to check and make sure you knew.”

I paid for my movie ticket and waited for the other three women (none of which were asked if they minded the subtitles, even though one of them would also need them) and we went inside.

I like all sorts of movies. P and I have spent many an evening curled up watching Netflix, and although we wind up watching a lot of American films, we don’t limit ourselves to English speaking cinema. I’ve watched many a good film in German, French, Italian, Russian, Norwegian, Chinese, Thai, or Hindi. There are many great movies out there that would be missed if one is put off by subtitles.

My boss is Danish, so it’s not surprising that he is a fan of Scandinavian cinema, but one of his biggest pet peeves is when a perfectly good foreign film is remade in Hollywood in English. He doesn’t understand why Americans can’t “simply watch the original with subtitles, like the rest of the world.” He always uses the example of the Danish film “Brødre.” He really enjoyed the original, and didn’t like the American remake. He thought the Danish film could have done well in the US if it had been given the chance.

Danish trailer

American trailer

Perhaps with the backdrop of the war in Afghanistan, the Danish film might not have struck the same cord with an American audience as an American solider fighting in the same war, but I still really enjoyed the original.

This conversation came up again with the American version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

“The Swedish movies were so well made, and the books were originally in Swedish, why does the world need an American remake? Why can’t Americans just appreciate the original with subtitles? The original movie is already an international sensation!” He lamented during our office Christmas party.

Certainly hearing the dialogue in Swedish gives the characters a more authentic feel even though I don’t understand what is being said. It adds to the energy and the tone of the film.

Swedish trailer (English version)

American trailer

I haven’t seen the American version yet, so I can’t really compare, however I do remember watching the original Swedish movies. During the post-Christmas blizzard of 2010 P and I were staying with his brother in Philadelphia. It was late at night, but P and I weren’t tired yet, and so we were scanning through Netflix looking for something interesting to watch. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was streaming, as well as the second movie in the trilogy “The Girl who Played with Fire” both in Swedish. I hadn’t read the books, but I had heard so much about them that P and I decided to give the movie a shot. We were so sucked in to the story that we watched the second movie immediately after the first even though it was already two o’clock in the morning. We were equally eager to watch the final movie once it was available streaming a few months later.

I understand that Hollywood is a big money making machine, so if the film industry can cash in on “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” it will. However don’t shy away from an awesome original just because it has subtitles. Hollywood isn’t the only place to find interesting things to watch.

Now I guess I have to be on the look out for the repackaging of the film in Bollywood…

11 responses to “Subtitles

  1. Great article! And for my money, the most egregious remake I’ve ever seen would be the American version of Death At A Funeral. To this day I still don’t understand why that was made. Not even a little.

    Unless, of course, it’s catering to those who can’t understand a British accent.

  2. I remember watching the original Japanese version of The Ring and then watching the Hollywood version. Hollywood was not even close to scarily compared to the original one but still it made lots of money.

    For Bollywood movie to be made in Hollywood, you might have to wait a while but if you want to watch some Hollywood movie into Bollywood, there is a long list. I heard that they are making Bollywood version of Italian job. I loved the original one so thinking to watch the Bollywood version :)

  3. Amanda Danielle

    I love watching films with subtitles! Sometimes I even forget I’m reading them and the movie seems to always flow perfectly! Plus it’s a great way to pick up on phrases in other languages. There is one thing that irritates me with the subtitles. I watched this movie called the Japanese Wife (an Indian film) and since he subtitles were white and not under the movie you know in a black bar, I could not read them half the time since the white letters kept blending ino the movie! It was still a good movie but when I have to squint to try to make out some of the words it takes the enjoyment of watching it. This has happened in a few other movies but not that often. Other than that I prefer foreign films to American films anyday, and I am not into Hollywood remakes either. Bollywood remakes on the other hand are pretty interesting and funny sometimes!

  4. I agree with your boss!.But worse than remakes it’s the dubbing that I find most annoying.In my country(Spain) EVERYTHING gets dubbed and most of the original sense it’s lost.The truth is that not many people understand English and also can’t be bother spending a whole movie reading subtitles.But maybe if they did their English would improve immensly.

    Since I moved abroad and started watching movies and programs in their original format I can’t not sit through a dubbed show anymore.

  5. Totally agree. I hate dubbed movies and generally avoid remakes. Where I’m from, movies are generally subtitled in two languages. When I was at university, studying translation, my friends and I would often come out of the movie hall discussing the quality of the subtitles before we even started to talk about the movie as such ;-)

  6. I think you hit on the problem here: “Perhaps with the backdrop of the war in Afghanistan, the Danish film might not have struck the same cord with an American audience as an American solider fighting in the same war, but I still really enjoyed the original.” We’re too ethnocentric…we’re taught that we shouldn’t have to deal with something not being about us (insert pun about U.S. with cleverness that is currently eluding me). We don’t want the effort of connecting with a Danish soldier like we would with an American soldier. I’m surprised we put up with a British Harry Potter.

    That being said…A and I don’t watch many non-English films, because we’re too lazy to read the subtitles. In our defense, I’m too ADD to watch many movies at home and too cheap to watch many movies out, so we watch very few movies period. The few movies we have watched with subtitles have been well worth it, though!

  7. Have you seen the series “The Killing”? There is a US version, in English of course but the original Danish version is broadcast by BBC (with subtitles). Reports are that the original Danish version is better than the US version – I have only seen the American version so can’t comment.

  8. I definitely prefer to watch movies in the original language and read subtitles. This started when I was into anime in high school. Of course now I’m addicted to bollywood cheese.

  9. how come you forgot that your Indian friend was also there for “I hate love story”. ;)

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