Saturday, January 7, 2012

Book Review: 'Indian Popular Cinema' by K. Moti Gokulsing & Wimal Dissanyake

This book was one of about three I got from the library during my last week at college. It was the least theoretical book I got (as the others were like Understanding India's Movies and Cinema at the End of Empire), but I was somewhat excited for it because it had descriptions of India's different film industries outside of Bollywood.

But what I found was bad grammar and poor quality. My main takeaway from the book ended up being a bucket of laughs at the terrible film title translations provided by the book. Now, I feel the pain of trying to accurately translate film titles as I did it often for the newspaper blog (and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara in particular gave me so much hassle!). But these were laughable.

Here's a list of some I found for your own laughter. It's title = "translation in book" (a more accurate translation if you need it).

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge = "Lovers Win Brides" (The Big-Hearted Will Take the Bride)
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai = "Sometimes Things Do Happen" (Something Happens)
Hum Aapke Hain Koun! = no translation was even provided! (Who Are You to Me!)
Lagaan = "Tax"
Dil To Pagal Hai = "The Heart is a Wild Thing" (The Heart is Crazy)
Khabi Khushi Kabbie Gham (WILDLY misspelled as it's Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham) = "Joys and Sorrows" (Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sadness)
Chalte Chalte = "The Course of Life" (chalte is a verb that means walk; evidently saying it twice is something akin to While Walking)
Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam = "I Am in Love" (often called "Straight From The Heart" in English; We've Given Our Hearts, Beloved is a shaky translation)
Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak = "Love is Forever" (From Disaster to Disaster)
Dil Chahta Hai = "My Heart's Desire" (What the Heart Wants or just The Heart Wants)

So, yes, those were so bad they were laughable. Furthermore, despite its attempt to take a somewhat high-brow theoretical approach, the book refers to SRK as "the spirit of Bollywood." And it questioned whether Salman, "a charming young man," had proved his mettle as an actor. Yes, really. Oh, and it misspelled Shahrukh's name. More than once.

So, sum total, read this book only if you want a laugh and if you want to feel smart in what you already know about Bollywood.


  1. Unfortunately, I find this review rather naive. The book isn't meant for research scholars or advanced Graduate students. From the very outset the book makes it clear that it is for students who dont know anything about Indian Cinema. Its an introductory ramble through it. I for one know its used by more than a dozen SouthAsian Cinema modules as a textbook and its available in all the major libraries in the world. In fact it is a book i refer to my students

    A few typographical errors hamper the otherwise
    flowing text, the chapters offer an excellent overview of Indian cinema and television
    that should be read by all scholars and students interested in global media processes
    in general or Indian media studies in particular

    It has been well reviewed in all major academic journals including the Journal of Popular Film and Television and the Asian Journal Communication amongst others. Maybe if you had read the book in the context of the audience it was meant for you would have provided a better review

  2. While I appreciate your opinion, I'd like to say that I disagree wholeheartedly with your calling it naive. If you were paying attention, I didn't say this was a book for scholars or graduate students; I said it was the least scholarly (by far) of several texts I had checked out. And I am not a graduate student either — Bollywood is a hobby passion of mine, and all of my undergraduate film classes were in things like early silent cinema. Perhaps my only "naivete" in that regard is that I have taken no South Asian cinema modules; I am self-taught through experiencing and watching the films.

    I do not care if the book has been reviewed in major academic journals — that proves nothing for its mettle. Plenty of textbooks are reviewed like that, and I'm pretty sure a great deal of academia praises books that serve no other use than to satisfy the group of academics who are around that field. University presses in particular publish such texts all the time.

    And as a writer, a journalist and an editor in particular, I think I have a very firm grasp on what a "flowing text" is, and this book is not a flowing text. The prose is in no way extraordinary. It is mediocre.

    I also fail to see how one could teach from a book that passes judgment on particular actors without explaining their impact on the nation's cinema. To offhandedly dismiss certain actors like Salman Khan, who is wildly popular (a word in the book's title) in India, is absurd.

    Typographical errors and straight-up translation errors that thereby fail to accurately communicate the title of a film — subsequently leading to miscommunication of a film's substance — is not tolerable, even in a classroom. It can lead to misinterpreting a film just as one would misinterpret any other work of art. What if Miguel Cervantes's Don Quixote was poorly translated? How could you knowingly promote reading a translation of it that was poorly done and did not accurately represent the original work?

    I thought of all these things during the review. If that is naive, then I admit to being naive.