With One Small Step, We Can Change The Way The Deaf Watch Films In India

"What's really the point if I miss dialogues like DDLJ's Bade bade desho mein... that's what makes the Bollywood experience no?"

There are many things we take for granted in life. When we go to a nearby multiplex – riding an escalator, climbing the steps inside the auditorium to get to your seat, being able to clearly see the visuals of the ongoing film and also being able to hear the audio, there’s so much we take for granted. And it seems that Bollywood and exhibitors do as well. Does anyone stop in their tracks to wonder about how they can make film-watching a more inclusive experience?

Devanshi Saksena is hard of hearing, but that doesn’t deter her from going to the movies, once every two weeks. The last film she really enjoyed is Ajay Devgn’s Raid – that came out with open subtitles. “I understood all of it and followed the film scene by scene, instead of having to rely on a synopsis by someone else”, she said. She was really looking forward to Alia Bhatt’s Raazi, and was therefore disappointed at the lack of subtitles.

We accompany her for Rishi Kapoor-starrer Mulk, a film she was excited about after reading the glowing reviews. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles here either. “I know only simple Hindi, the language they were speaking (Hindi with a bend of Urdu) made it difficult for me to follow what was going on. On most occasions, I have to look up the film’s plot on Wikipedia during the interval to figure out what’s happening. Sometimes, my friends are sweet enough to type out the gist of a scene every few minutes, on their cellphone,” she tells us after coming out of the Anubhav Sinha film.

Running the NGO Sanket, Tina Saighal has been working towards giving language and literacy to deaf and hard of hearing children. Tina herself, doesn’t like going to the movies calling it a ‘pointless exercise’.

Tina says, “I barely watch 3-4 films a year, the one I know will have closed captions in them for sure. I watched the big releases like Sanju, Padmaavat – that were released with subtitles presumably for the expat audience. I wanted to watch other films like Raazi and Hichki, but couldn’t because no subtitles.”

In the west, people like Tina and Devanshi are ‘helped’ with gizmos like Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) and/or Subtitle Glasses. So can’t Indian multiplexes adopt the same equipment?

“It’s expensive and cumbersome, and these devices single you out in an auditorium. This might irk some people, and also a lot of us wear glasses that makes wearing additional subtitle texts makes it incredibly uncomfortable. Instead, you can just switch on the subtitle – it’s really that simple,” Tina says. She has been working on making film-watching a more inclusive experience for ‘her people’.

Bollywood producers and exhibitors need to wake up and smell the coffee. It’s really not that hard, just encode the subtitles in your movies and don’t alienate the Devanshis and Tinas among the Bollywood fans.

“What’s really the point if I miss dialogues like Bade bade desho mein… that’s what makes the Bollywood experience,” Tina quips while taking her leave. What a nice way to sum it up!