Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pratidwandi’ will be screened at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19. For an official screening at Cannes, it is compulsory to have French subtitles for all the films. An English subtitle is also required. Two professors from Jadavpur University and Savitribai Phule Pune University, who were independently assigned the task of doing the English and French subtitling of the film by National Film Archive of India (NFAI), finished the work last week.
While the French subtitle has been hardcoded for Cannes screening, English subtitles have been done electronically and will be visible below the image. Moinak Biswas, head of Jadavpur University’s film studies department, who was assigned to do the English subtitling, has enjoyed this experience. According to Biswas, ‘Pratidwandi’ is a long film. “By Ray’s standards, it is full of dialogues. The task was to maintain the idiomatic flavour of the words while not cluttering the image with too much text,” he said. The film, he maintained, is a “great visual document” of 1970 Kolkata. “The anger, sarcasm and despair, the turbulence of the time, also get verbally reflected. The task was to maintain that tone,” he added.
On being asked the most difficult part of subtitling this film, Biswas mentioned the second interview that comes towards the end where the protagonist, played by Dhritiman Chaterji, explodes in anger. “It is an orchestration of bodies, gestures and words passing through shifting registers. Subtitling gives you the opportunity to notice the full range of complexity of a scene like that. It was a delightful challenge,” Biswas said.
Meanwhile, the French subtitling was done by Nandita Wagle, assistant professor of the Savitribai Phule Pune University. Wagle told TOI that the opportunity to subtitle ‘Pratidwandi’ was “an honour and an immense pleasure”. “Though I can hear and understand quite a bit, I prefer to work with a Bengali language expert, Malavika Jha, so that there is no loss in terms of nuance and/or socio-cultural subtext, which in Ray’s films, is very much a regular feature,” she said. Her challenge in case of ‘Pratidwandi’ was the “portrayal of the highly educated socio-politically militant middle class”. “The reality of their fragmented existence comes through in tone, the intermittent use of a Brit-accented English by the protagonist and his peers, the use of different Bengalis, the urban language of the youth and the Bangla of the widowed mother are just some of the ‘beautiful untranslatables’ that make Ray’s cinema a representation of the socio-cultural fabric of the times,” she said. On being asked how she managed to handle the dialogues that are seemingly difficult to translate, Wagle said, “One tries to alternate between rustic and urban lingo in the target language. Idiomatic expression changes from a generation to another, as does the use of metaphor and other language devices. We tend to depend on these variables to achieve optimal closeness to the original.”