Hollywood, these days, feels glocal. Why not when your favourite superhero or that Jungle Book or Disney character speaks to you in your local idiom? “If well translated, an English film in Hindi becomes an Indian film too. A smart tongue can make it more Mumbai than Miami,” says Mayur Puri, Bollywood filmmaker, scenarist, lyricist, actor, dialogue writer, all rolled into one.
Mayur, who was in Thiruvananthapuram recently as part of Toonz Media Group’s annual Animation Masters Summit, is a bundle of energy as he passionately explains how we only stand to “gain in translation.” His way with words, both in Hindi and English, has made him the go-to man for entertainment behemoths such as Walt Disney and Marvel in localising Hollywood content for Indian viewers. An enviable portfolio that includes The Jungle Book (2016), Captain America: Civil War, The Angry Birds Movie, Incredibles 2, Avengers: Infinity War and, most recently, Avengers: Endgame speaks volumes about the bridge between Hollywood and Bollywood that he has become.
“Dialogues are everything but it’s not often their literal translation that’s most effective but an enriching transcreation. For instance, The Jungle Book had the advantage of being already placed in India. So my role while penning the dialogues was to imbue it with an even more of an Indian heart,” he says.
However, films with an ostensibly Western backdrop pose challenges of a different kind. “If your take some of the superhero films, there’s a lot of scientific and pseudo-scientific terms peppered throughout. These are not easy to be rendered in an Indian parlance. Hence, some of the words have to be retained as it is. While the content remains the same, in some cases, there has to be a slight but fitting re-contextualisation. So, Ben and Jerry’s becomes a local ice cream, but you won’t much feel the change in the flavour,” says Mayur with a chuckle.
A big fan of comics — as he skitters about during the course of this interview, his open denim shirt reveals a yellow T-shirt bearing cover art of a Captain America-Black Panther crossover edition — Mayur says we are living in an era when one has the “liberty to choose their content”, thanks to the Internet and mobile phones. But, he cautions, in true comics style, “remember, with great power comes great responsibility.. so choose wisely as your entertainment is your responsibility.”
Often, his Hindi version become the touchstone for dubbing in other regional languages as well as “transcreating something already Indian to Indian would be more logical and accurate.” Stereotypes, quite typical in Hollywood mass projects, and undertones of racism prove a sterner test. “Those are tricky but, in a way, more fun to deal with. One requisite is to know our multi-ethnic country inside out. If the original content comes with stereotypes that are unavoidable while re-writing due to its context, I try to spin them in a positive way,” says Mayur, whose notable contribution in dialogue-writing in Bollywood include Shahrukh Khan-starrer Om Shanti Om, ABCD: Anybody Can Dance and Happy New Year.
He explains this process with the example of the character of Baloo in the Hindi version of The Jungle Book. “Baloo is slothful but he’s also someone who’s always chilled-out. He loves to have his honey and takes his life easy. Masti (fun) is his mantra. So the positively funny thing was to make him a Punjabi. No sentiments were hurt,” he says with a laugh.
Pick of flicks
- A huge fan of animation movies, Mayur lists Ratatouille, Up, Finding Nemo, Utopia and Inside Out as some of his favourite films in the genre
Mayur, however, is not worried about having to cater to both urban and rural cine-goers at the same time in a country with gaping socio-political divides. “Firstly, emotions are universal and good stories hold a certain universality irrespective of the setting. The same comics are read and enjoyed by kids from both New York and Navi Mumbai. Secondly, if you look at the present milieu, smart phones have bridged the rural-urban chasm to a great extent, and, as a storyteller, if you are successful in making film-goers from both places laugh, cry, jeer, hoot and empathise equally, you have won.”
As a creative artiste, the scourge of piracy is a particular pet peeve for Mayur. Terming the practice “a bane of creativity and a theft”, the filmmaker calls for better checks and balances. “I know it’s a choice but still if one doesn’t mind paying ₹400 for a pizza, why can’t one pay less than half that amount to watch a movie with dignity?” he wonders.
The write way
- Mayur says space or place is never a bother when it comes to writing. “I’m a tea drinker and I like to brew my own tea. But my best thinking actually happens not when I’m writing but when I go for a walk. The ideas then find their way to my laptop,” he says. The filmmaker takes on the occasional writer’s block by reading.
But Mayur prefers to focus on the positives. Now, with The Avengers series having rocketed past a phenomenally successful endgame, he already has his hands full with the Hindi version of upcoming Walt Disney’s The Lion King, a photo-realistic animation remake of the landmark 1994 film.
“In a nutshell, it’s like going back to my The Jungle Book days. But brace up for some stunning visuals,” he says about The Lion King, slated for a July release.
But Mayur is not one to be carried away yet. He re-iterates, with great power comes great responsibility.