By Vasant Shetty
On 14th January, from 7pm until late into the night, #WeNeedDubbingInKannada was trending in Bengaluru, with hundreds of Kannadigas taking to Twitter to express their support to remove the private ban on dubbing.
The unofficial ban was put forth by sundry private trade bodies affiliated to Kannada film and TV industry. The ban, which doesn't allow dubbing of any type of visual content from other languages to Kannada, has been in place for the last five decades. The ban, with no legal sanctity what-so-ever and apparently enforced through backdoor strong-arm tactics, has effectively isolated Kannadigas from receiving worldly knowledge in visual form and is fast turning counter-productive from the view point of increasing language’s reach.
Back in the 1950s when all of south India’s cinema production was based out of Chennai, most Telugu/Tamil film producers used to produce original content in their respective languages and then dub them to Kannada to release in Karnataka. While they made profits, Kannada industry and Kannadiga talent truly suffered for the lack of real opportunities.
When Kannada industry relocated to Bengaluru, a private ban on dubbing was introduced under the aegis of the legendary actor Dr. Rajkumar. The ban was supported by several Kannada writers of the time too.
The protectionist measure helped the novice industry to scale from less than 10 films a year to more than 100 films a year. In the 1990s with the advent of globalisation and consequent opening up of private television market, this ban was extended to even the television industry. For anyone wishing to see anything in Kannada, he/she had no choice but to consume whatever was served by the Kannada film and TV industry.
Protectionism beyond a point protects none. While Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam industries embraced competition by allowing dubbing, the protection of ban pushed the Kannada industry to complacency. Mediocrity of talent and a slew of copy-paste movies resulted in a large section of Kannadigas moving away from Kannada as their preferred choice of language for entertainment, resulting in further decline of quality of content.
What was once an industry which gave the world the likes of Shankar Nag and Puttanna Kangal - who were envied by several big stars of other industries - became a stagnant and shrinking industry in the last couple of decades. The ban effectively forced even cartoon and science channels from entering into Kannada space as a perception of “No-Market-In-Kannada” was built over the years.
At a time when Kannada is facing an onslaught from English and Hindi and is in a dire need to expand the possibilities of the language, dubbing would have helped bringing up several “missing” language registers in Kannada.
No industry can completely rely on dubbing but a ban will always be counterproductive as it's proved in the case of Kannada industry. Moreover not everything can be produced locally in any industry. Films like Avatar, Jungle Book or a documentary on Amazon forest can’t be produced locally considering the budget and technical skills needed. Dubbing helps in making such content available for the general masses in their own languages. Even UNESCO regards dubbing as a language planning tool to safeguard and spread one’s language in its geography. (Check Article 44 of UNESCO’s Universal Declaration of Language Rights)
Considering the influence visual media has on youngsters, several concerned Kannadigas felt that a middle path should be found. But all past attempts to debate the ban on dubbing were shot down by the vested interests of the film and TV industry.
People's genuine desire to watch good dubbed content was ridiculed. Even a social awareness program like Satyameva Jayate was not allowed to be dubbed into Kannada. When the first episode of Kannada version was put on YouTube by Suvarna channel, it received more than 30,000 views in 24 hours and strangely the very next day the video was pulled out from the internet too!
As a last measure, ordinary Kannadiga consumers reached out to the Competition Commission of India (CCI) with a complaint asking the commission to restore their freedom of choice to watch all kinds of content in a language of their choice.
After a detailed inquiry, CCI passed a cease and desist order against the trade bodies affiliated to Kannada film and TV industries in July 2015. It even imposed a fine on three trade bodies for their anti-competitive acts.
It’s a matter of time before dubbing formally makes its way into Kannada. Yesterday’s Twitter trend showed the demand for quality dubbed content amongst Kannadigas. It’s time for people in the entertainment industry to sit and take note of this. After all, market demands and lawful aspirations of people cannot be subverted forever.
(Vasant Shetty is a Kannada author who has published Karnatakavonde and Kannada Jagattu)