At 4 pm on Saturday, subtitle number 2,013 was uploaded on Msone, a website for Malayalam subtitles. It was the fourth subtitle of the day. Ever since the COVID-19 lockdown began, there have been many more films and series from across the world subtitled on Msone than before. For eight years now, a group of people passionate about cinema have been devoting time and effort to create these free subtitles for works in other languages, from the rest of the country as well as from around the globe.
“Any film buff who shies away from foreign language films due to language barrier can download Msone subs for free,” says the website description.
The idea floated through a Facebook group of film lovers, Cinema Paradiso. Pramod Kumar and Srijith Parippai, two members of the group, began a discussion on subtitles of foreign language films. From English subtitles, the topic switched to Malayalam subtitles. It’d be good to have Malayalam subtitles, members of the group felt. Four of them, including Pramod and Srijith, went ahead and created the Malayalam subtitles for the Iranian classic Children of Heaven. They decided to create more subtitles and put them up on a platform for free download. They set up the site on Google’s Blogger.
“It was launched on October 28, 2012 with the name Msone – meaning, ‘Malayalam Subtitles for Everyone’. That first year, Malayalam subtitles for nearly 25 films were uploaded,” says Praveen Adoor, who is one of the admins running Msone now.
Early admins Sreejith, Pramod and Nishad; Vennoor Sasidharan, a member, is behind
“In those early years, the effort stayed within the community, and more or less every subtitle that was submitted by members was uploaded without verification. When I joined the group in 2016-17, there were some 600 subtitled films,” says Praveen.
The older members handed it over to a newer team. By then there were many members and contributors to Msone. Praveen and 15 others took over as admins. “We put a verification team in place to check the subtitles that were submitted. There were two levels of screening, one at the primary level and the next by admins. This way we could ensure quality subtitles. We also began creating Malayalam posters for the subtitled movies,” says Praveen.
The number of works subtitled increased to one per day and then gradually to two per day. Everything was seemingly going well when, in January 2018, all of a sudden Google withdrew their blog. “We got no warning, no notification, the site was just suddenly gone, and with it, we lost all the subtitles we had uploaded. After that came the painstaking step of finding out who among our users downloaded the various subtitles, then collecting them and recreating the bank,” Praveen says.
There were about 1,200 subtitles at the time. They managed to put it back together in two years and this time, bought a domain with the various members pooling in money. The new website – malayalamsubtitles.org – was formally launched by filmmaker Aashiq Abu on January 8, 2020.
In 2020, before the lockdown began, there were between 30,000 and 40,000 members on Msone. But thousands more joined during the lockdown months. “We’re now 8,000 short of one lakh members. There are about 450 translators. We don’t accept all the subtitles, receiving 17 to 18 of them every day. We have now limited uploading to four subtitles a day. One of these can be a whole season of a series. In the case of an ongoing series like Money Heist, we have the subtitles of the newest episode uploaded within hours of the online release,” Praveen says.
Mostly, the translation happens from the English subtitles already available on the internet, to make it easy by noting down the timestamps. Sometimes the team creates it directly, like in the case of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the 2000 English-Hindi bilingual film, starring Mammootty. The Msone team did the English subs as well as the Malayalam ones for the film.
Msone does not claim to be the first player in the game. Teachers of a Kannur school had given Malayalam subtitles to a classic movie years ago, Praveen says vaguely.
However, the Msone team, spread far and wide, have continuously worked to keep the site working. They all have day jobs. Praveen has done over 30 subtitles himself. Sridhar, one of the original members, has done the most – 150 subtitles.
The core team has a dedicated member in charge of different sections – Praveen and Freddy handle verification, Mujeeb is site in charge, Dr Asha, Elvis and Prashobh handles freshers, Shyju and Shabeer handle mail management, Vishnu the releases and Giri the posters.
Msone members during an edition of IFFK, Praveen is leftmost
But despite their close correspondence every single day, most of the admins have not met each other, Praveen says. One is in Dubai, another in France, a third in Delhi, and so on. But locations and work pressure do not stop them from contributing to Msone, an initiative meant for movies to reach every Malayali, without language barriers.
Watch: Trailer of Dil Bechara subtitled by Msone