By Utpal Borpujari
Shah Rukh Khan starrer My Name is Khan, in which the protagonist Rizwan Khan is afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, has become the first-ever Indian film to be released in UK cinemas with audio description (AD), enabling the visually impaired to enjoy the drama.
The AD version is the result of the joint effort of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the 20th Century Fox.
The work was taken up to make the AD version after an RNIB survey among blind or partially sighted people of Asian origin found that over 55 per cent of respondents were more likely to watch Bollywood films if AD was provided.
AD is as important to blind and partially sighted people as subtitles are to those with hearing problems.
It is an additional narration that fits between passages of dialogue to describe action sequences, body language, costume and scenery, allowing the viewer to understand exactly what is happening on screen. MNIK is also the first film to feature AD in Hindi, the language of the film.
Martin Bromfield, executive director at 20th Century Fox, says on the development, “20th Century Fox is proud to offer, for the first time ever, a Hindi AD track on MNIK. English speaking AD has been available on all our films for some time now, so we felt it was natural to progress and offer Hindi AD on our first collaboration with Bollywood.”
20th Century Fox, which has partnered with director Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions to come up with the film that has set the Box Office on fire, first developed an English audio descriptive track with help from RNIB and Deluxe Digital Studios, which was then translated before being recorded by a Hindi speaking audio describer, in time for the second week of release.
“Around 700 films are produced by Bollywood every year, and our research tells us that blind and partially sighted fans want AD on these films. So we are delighted that Fox have worked with us to allow blind and partially sighted people to enjoy this much-anticipated release along with their sighted family and friends. We hope other studios will follow Fox’s lead making MNIK the first of many audio described Bollywood films,” says Fazilet Hadi, director (Inclusive Society) of RNIB.
While he uses the term “Bollywood” to loosely include all Indian films, since Hindi film industry comes up with only around 150 films per year, but the development surely indicates a step forward to help a significant but disabled audience group enjoy Indian cinema.
MNIK opened in the UK on February 11 and was made available with English AD and sub-titles and Hindi AD from February 19.
RNIB’s campaign for AD has led to more than 300 cinemas in the UK getting equipped with systems to facilitate it, and majority of Hollywood and UK films released in the country country have an AD track on them. Many DVDs also include AD on mainstream UK releases, according to RNIB officials.
RNIB in 2009 funded research to determine the demand for AD on Bollywood films from blind and partially sighted people of Asian origin. It found that 19 per cent of the 260 respondents in the quantitative study said they watched a Bollywood film on television everyday, with six per cent stating that they watched them on DVD about once a day.
But viewing of Bollywood films at the cinema was much lower, with 66 per cent stating they never watched Bollywood films at the cinema. Forty per cent believed that their current sight level was a major factor that prevented them from going to the cinema to watch Bollywood films, as it affected their understanding of the film, while over half of the respondents said they were more likely to watch Bollywood films if AD was provided.