Thursday, October 22, 2009

Movie titles: Bollywood ban gaya gentleman!

Just the other day someone brought up the fact that the local theater was playing no less than five Hindi movies. But only one of them (Main Aur Mrs. Khanna) sounded like one. All the others had English titles (All the Best, Do Knot Disturb, Wake Up Sid and Blue).

Pity the occasional American movie goer who walks into a movie on the spur of the moment without reading up on it and ends up sitting in, say, Do Knot Disturb.

I thought I'd do another Drift Analysis that was Frivolous and Timely - DAFT for short. I looked at Hindi movie releases from 2004 onwards. Why did I pick to rewind to that specific year? Because that was all the data I could find online. Yes, this is how DAFT analyses work!

Bollywood put out 105 releases in 2004. I divided up the titles into Hindi, English and Hinglish. There were 80 Hindi titles (Lakhsya, Masti, Hum Tum), 18 English titles (Love in Nepal, Murder, Run) and 7 in Hinglish (Aan - Men at Work, Shart - The Challenge).

By the time 2009 is done with, Bollywood will have put out 135 releases - the highest since I started counting. There will be 61 titles in Hindi, 46 in English and 28 in Hinglish. In other words, by the time we see the turn of the decade, Bollywood movie titles might well be split evenly between languages.

So what's the idea behind this trend in movie titles? In Gumnaan se ghajini tak, udtahaathi dug into the frolic and intent of Bollywood movie titles. We'll focus here entirely on the use of English.

The decline of Hindi titles began in 2005 thanks to the combined rise of English and Hinglish titles. In 2007, English titles took a generational leap forward. This seems to be prompted by several events. The urban Indian and overseas markets became viable money makers for Indian cinema. More importantly producers and distributors learned how to reach them. Indian artistes began legitimate, market-driven collaborations with overseas artistes.

English titles largely end up being simple one or two word names (Plan, Girlfriend, Victory, Fox, Little Zizou) and evoke visions of a (relatively) sophisticated, urban flick.

Hinglish titles are basically of two types. There are the expository ones (Vaada Raha...I promise, Shaabash! You can do it!). This walking on the fence type titles feel clunky and pandering to people who don't really understand Hindi all that well (e.g. overseas audiences). Then there are those that mix and match words to create something that sounds unique. Some sound cool (Sankat City), others not so much (Love Khichdi) but this depends entirely on your point of view.

So what's the trend like? Over the years Hindi titles have fallen from 76% in 2004 to 45% in 2009. In the same period the winners were Hinglish titles (7% to 21%) and English titles (17% to 34%).

Is this trend purely market driven? Have our filmmakers started articulating their thoughts bilingually? Is this entirely reflected by the audience as well? Most importantly how do audiences orient themselves to titles in different languages?

I'll leave you with one additional piece of data. Here is the success scorecard for this year: of the 4 hits and 3 successes we've had so far, two had Hindi titles (Kambakkht Ishq, Kaminey), one had a Hinglish title (Love Aaj Kal) and four had English titles (New York, Wanted, Life Partner, Wake Up Sid).


Saritha said...

I wonder ki aisa karne se,you know,film ki opening achichi rahengi.I mean,we talk like this college mein,work pe,disco mein,so it only makes sense na....

Vaise bhi who cares ki title English hai ya Hinglish hai as long as woh strictly Hindi nahi hai.Think about it agar film ka naam hoga "Jhansi ki Rani",you'd be interested?

Kya 'Jab we met' itni badi hit hoti,if it was titled 'Geet'?Geet,what?Geet as in ladki ya Geet as in song???


Unknown said...

Saritha - clever comment :)

memsaab said...

Aspi, I need your brain at my job. This is EXACTLY the type of work I am asked to do, and I have no aptitude whatsover for it.

Unknown said...

Hit me up anytime. I do this constantly :)

musical said...

Interesting analysis! Hinglish titles have been around for a while now, and i don't see the trend going out of fashion anytime soon :). Also, this is not limited to the movie titles, Hinglish lyrics are there all over the place.

Personally, i have nothing against Hinglish titles/lyrics. But i know that a lot of people find them really jarring. So i don't know if this trend is in keeping with "popular taste". It does reflect the poular vocabular though, to quite a reasonable extent, IMO.

Saritha, that was fun :).

Mind Rush said...

Loved the acronym DAFT. LOL!
The "rush" part of my "mind" wants the Drift saab to add another layer analysis to this: What percent of Indian people are under the age of 21, how much they spend on movies vs. the over 30 age group?
Seems like the movie makers are sending a message to the different generations via the title....This is a Film or a Phillum.

Unknown said...

Mind Rush, there are two types of people who go the movies in India. Young folks and people who want to do young folk things before it gets to be too late for them.

Young folks spell 'awesome' like this: ossum. The other kind spell 'the' like this: d.

Anonymous said...

Great write-up drift saab!! Well Hinglish is becoming the national language of India, it is difficult to now ask for English to leave, so its only fair we give it a flavor of our own. But, yes I can imagine an American walking into DO NOT Disturb and wondering if Anil Kapoor would pop up anytime soon !!!