If you watch films in South Indian languages it is tough to miss Subtitlist Rekhs’ work — a name that has now become a brand with over 400 films in her kitty. Ask her about the name and she says, “In Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya, I was credited as ‘rekhs’ and the name stuck. My friends and family call me so. It gives me an unique identity. There are so many Rekhas,” she laughs.
One can say that she was an accidental subtitlist. Her career began with her husband Haricharan’s Thoovanam. She had subtitled it on the suggestion of renowned DoP Madhu Ambat. But when Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya happened, she knew that she was in it for good. However, the success of VTV did not mean that she got work easily. Enthiran changed that for her. “Enthiran brought this overnight change, suddenly everyone wanted their film subtitled, due to the magic of Shankar-ARR-Rajini,” recalls Rekhs.
Rekhs is also the connection between this year’s Diwali releases — Mersal and Kodiveeran. In fact, she says Vijay and Suriya were the first heroes to understand the value of subtitles. “In 2011, Vijay’s Kavalan was sent to Shanghai Film festival and was chosen. We attended the event together. Looking at the reception he received from the audience, he came out and said ‘I owe you big time’. Mersal is my tenth film with him consecutively,” she says.
What separates her from other subtitlists is how she minimises what we call ‘lost in translation’, believes Rekhs. One of the ways she ensures this is by retaining a few words to infuse the local sensibility. “Aiyo is now a word in the Oxford dictionary. If you use ouch there, it will sound comical. That pain won’t come through. I also use amma, anna, akka. In Malayalam, we have etta. That is ethnic to the movie. I give the English translation somewhere for the audience to understand. It should be a mixture,” she reasons.
She also lists a few rules she has for herself. “My subtitles are in Yellow to enhance readability. They have no full stops as they tend to irk the eye. My team and I think in English rather just translating from Tamil,” she further adds.
Another stamp of the Rekhs’ brand is that she firmly believes that songs must be subtitled and have a rhyme scheme. “Subtitles are not just English. People don’t realise it is an art by itself,” she claims. “Take a Kannadasan song. If you translate that into a monologue, you will be robbing the lines of their original lyrical beauty. And people want to know the meaning. Music has no language but knowing what the song means adds more value to it,” she says.
While Rekhs started with Tamil, her team now subtitles in all the four south Indian languages. “My team is handpicked and has about 15-18 people who believe in what I do. My Telugu team is headed by Gowri Kirubanandan who is a Sahitya Akademi award winner. My MaIayalam team is headed by Latha Ambat. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without my team, they are the wind beneath my feet; Harini, Kirthi, Krish, Seth, Usha are my Rock of Gibraltar,” she emphasises.
Among the four woods, Rekhs says Kollywood is the most open industry for subtitles, with Mollywood close behind. “The turning point for Kollywood was that Arabic censor was a must in UAE. Tamil is turned into English and that is sent to Egypt for Arabic. Since we are very conscious about piracy, we send them the English subtitles without the visuals,” she explains. “Grammar in Arabic changes according to the gender and the number of the people in the conversation. Only subtitles did not suffice as they don’t know who is saying it. So, AP International and I started deciphering a code called gender code. We marked it, colour coded it, so that the people translating it in Arabic understand and the final output makes sense,” she says.
Thanks to platforms like Hero Talkies, Tentkotta, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Google Play, ITunes, stakeholders have now begun to realise the value of subtitles. But the issue now is the lack of time given to them, feels Rekhs. “We definitely need more time. Also, DVDs in Malayasia of some of the movies I subtitled had different subtitles. Oru Muthassi gadha, which I saw in-flight en route to San Diego recently, was screened with different subtitles. I don’t understand the need to re-sub a movie, they could have just taken the SRT file from the producer. I am sure these issues will get sorted as well soon, we have come a long way” she says optimistically.