Reading the fine print

By Balamurugan Selvaraj Published on Jun 08, 2018 03:18 PM IST

"Be it a short film or a feature film, visuals and story line are more important for it to become a blockbuster." This is the usual dialogue by experts. But costume designer Rekha - now also a sub-titlist - has something different to say. She has written subtitles for over 455 movies in regional languages. According to her, "Subtitles are as important as the storyline. It even decides if a movie will be a hit," she says.

Shankar's Endhiran was eye-opener

"After I worked for Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya (VTV), it took a long time for me to work on another movie. It's because production houses are not interested in subtitles for their blockbusters. I visited production houses, met directors, and even producers to let me do subtitles for their movies. They showed no interest. After some months, director Shankar called me up and asked if Iwas ready to do subtitles for his upcoming movie Endhiran. I took this as a chance to prove my mettle and did subtitles for the movie. When the movie got global release, directors became aware of the international audience and began to subtitle their production," says Rekha. That’s how the industry's gate opened for subtitles, she says.

Films for all

Now, each and every film made here is made for local and international audience. After the arrival of Netflix, Amazon, Tentkotta, Itunes, Google Play and other international channels, the demand for subtitles has increased, says Rekha, who prefers to be called ‘Reks’.

Reputation in the industry

"I have been doing subtitles for Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam movies for years. Those days. I learned that the only way to attract international audience is through subtitles. So, I stayed on in the field. It was not easy for me to earn a name in the industry," she recalls. After providing subtitles for over 150 movies, she was known by famous people in the industry once she worked for National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) when Meera film was changed to digital format.

It began with costumes

"I entered the industry as a costume designer for 'Thoovanam' in 2007. It was co-directed by my husband, Haricharan, along with Newton. The director of photography of the film was Madhu Ambat, who is a friend. He told me that NFDC has planning to send the movie to Mumbai to subtitle it. He asked me whether I could subtitle it. I took the offer and did the English subtitles," she says.

She won many laurels and awards from the media andorganisations. In 2009, she did subtitles for short film 'Bimbangal', which won first prize in the international film fest held in Paris."After these, I heard from a friend that Gautham Vasudev Menon(GVM) was looking for a subtitlist for his movie Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaiya. I called him and did my job for the movie.

Ambat was my Krishna

Despite the fact that he was my friend, working with Madhu Ambat was wonderful. I used to tell people that Ambat was my Krishna, who guided me in my struggles. If Ambat hadn't asked me on that day, perhaps, I wouldn't have become a subtitlist, says the costume designer.

Shankar, GVM & KV

"I have worked with many big shots (directors) in the film industry. Each one has a different style which explains their unique signature. I love Gautham Vasudev Menon’s style in VTV," explains Reks. During VTV post-production, GVM used to come at night to check the reels she completes. Director Shankar is so organised in production that he won't allow her to alter or tinker with the reels after production. Small directors are also very good, she says with feeling.

Working with K V Anand was so good. While working for the movie Anegan, especially for the song 'Danga Maari', she shot many mails. It is because, she had problems understanding the local lingo. So, he went to the core and taught each and every sentence, she laughs.

Rhyming & timing important

From the beginning she would subtitle songs in rhyme and time it correctly. Language is not the only important part in subtitles: there is timing and pace of a subtitle in a scene, feels Rekha. ‘If subtitles are good in a bad movie, people won't feel bad. But if theyare bad in a good movie, it would be irritating.’ she says philosophically.

Big fan of Mani Ratnam

It is a dream that hasn’t come true so far for Reks. ‘Mani Ratnamhas his own team that assists him in subtitles. Before I give upsubtitling, I wish to do a movie with him,’ she says earnestly.

Work after sunset

Rekha’s working hours are irregular: "Sometimes, I go to the production house and work on subtitles after 11 pm and finishearly morning. My family is very supportive. Along with my team,so far, I have done subtitles for over 750 short films free of cost. We subtitle feature films on Saturdays and short films on Sundays." Reeling out statistics, she says in 2010, around 5 per cent of Tamil films had Arabic and English subtitles. Now, 99 per cent of filmshave subtitles.

English is not Vinglish

"My mother was an editor at Macmillan when I was eight years old. Whenever, I was at home, she would insist I read English novels. I used to read every book that got released. That practice helps me in work these days," says Rekha whose mantra is: don't translate if you want to be well-versed in English; instead, think and speak on our own.