As a child growing up in interior Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, Manoj Muntashir had few means to keep himself entertained. With no friends to play with owing to how secluded his house was and no television or radio, books were his only resort. He’d borrow them from friends and libraries and burn through them all. Even his mother’s recipe books weren’t spared.
This exposure to literature enabled him to have a way with words. So when director SS Rajamouli happened to walk in on the lyricist narrating something he’d written to MM Kreem, he was so impressed that he asked him to work on the Hindi dub for his magnum opus Baahubali. This even though Muntashir had never written a single dialogue in his life.
Now, Muntashir, who has also penned songs for films like Rustom, M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story and Baadshaho, is looking forward to the release of the next film he has written Hindi dialogues for – Marvel’s Black Panther. In this conversation with Film Companion, the writer tells us about retaining the essence of a film while rewriting it in another language and what part of his job he finds the most difficult:
What are the rules of taking someone’s screenplay and dialogues and rewriting it in another language? How do you ensure that in doing so you’re not altering the characters or changing the essence of the story?
The first thing you need is the understanding on the film. You have to watch it like a viewer first. Not like you’re going to add or subtract or recreate. What I prefer is to watch the film many times so that I know the film at the back of my hand. After that, it’s not that tedious of a task because you know the characters – how they react, what they talk and what they mean. Usually they’re two different things.
The basic goof up that happens in cases of dubbed films is literal translation which is not the right approach. For Baahubali, at times the dialogues were completely diagonally different from the originals. But they convey the same meaning. That’s what I’ve tried in Black Panther. How can I Indianize it in such a manner that all the sensibilities and the nature of the Hindi knowing audience is balanced?
Translating humour is a very very difficult task. But I use Indian context and references. If they talk about an American pop star, I can talk about Sonu Nigam. But it’s not necessary that you must do that too. You could avoid that route and create some other lines which work equally well.
What research did you do on Black Panther to acquaint yourself with that world?
This character was introduced in Captain America: Civil War so I watched that film and that’s when I realized that there’s somebody called Black Panther and a place called Wakanda and a metal called vibranium. These elements come from the film.
Then Disney’s research helped. They used to have long creative sessions where they told me what is good and bad about the character. And what are the qualities that have worked with kids, adolescents and youngsters.
How do you make it interesting to a new audience? What will the Hindi speaking audience who have never read these comics relate to?
It’s a big advantage for the film. He’s a new superhero and we want that virginity of the character to remain intact. We want you to see Black Panther in all its glory for the first time.
It’s a very Indian story. Though it is based in Wakanda and has South Africa grains, the story is Mahabharat, Baahubali and Game of Thrones. The deception, the treachery – this is essentially Mahabharat and Black Panther is Arjun. It’s like Amar Chitra Katha that I read growing up. It is so relatable and that’s why I picked this project. No writer in the world can do magic with a film that doesn’t have the grain of that particular land.
What’s the most challenging part of your job? What do you still struggle the most with?
Songs. When it comes to songs, it’s very difficult to lip sync and it kills the essence. So while writing Baahubali 1 and 2, I was happier writing songs that weren’t lip synced. That’s one disadvantage. You have to take care of the tune, melody, phonetics, lip sync and situation.
These variants make it very hard to write a line. Jay-Jaykara and Jiyo Re Baahubali were hits because they weren’t lip synced. I really think filmmakers should really invest more money and shoot the songs in the language they’re about to dub the film in.