When Einstein had something to do with Barbie


Margot Robbie in a scene from “Barbie.”

Margot Robbie in a scene from “Barbie.”
| Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

For a reason I don’t want to know, a theatre in Chattisgarh showed the movie ‘Oppenheimer’ with subtitles of the movie ‘Barbie’, thus giving breath to the concept of ‘Barbieheinmer.’

You can imagine the scene. Robert Oppenheimer, friend of Einstein and father of the atomic bomb expresses his anguish as the test proves successful and the mushroom cloud rises into the air. While he quotes from the Gita, “I have become death, destroyer of worlds”, the audience at the Chattisgarh theatre read the subtitle: “It is the best day ever. So was yesterday, and so is tomorrow, and every day from now until forever.” Or it might have been: “Don’t blame me, blame Mattel. I don’t care.” Mattel being the company that manufactures the Barbie doll and for which Einstein did not work.

Barbie, in the audience’s imagination thus becomes the mother of the atom bomb while Oppenheimer, wearing a pink dress goes out with Ryan Gosling, while telling him (in the narrator’s voice): “Thanks to Barbie, all problems of feminism have been solved.”

It would be wonderful to get a peep into what fans thought. Television channels often ask their opinions as they come out of the theatre. I can imagine someone saying here: “ It was a great movie, and thanks to the subtitles we were able to understand the tough life Barbie led.”

It is possible to imagine other mix-ups too. Imagine a star introducing himself in characteristic style, “My name’s Bond, James Bond,” and the response on screen being a line from Gone with the Wind: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Or “Houston, we have a problem” (Apollo 13) meeting the response: “You’ve got to ask yourself one question – ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” (Dirty Harry)

Perhaps that is the way forward for Hollywood, caught in the mire of superhero movies and action thrillers indistinguishable from one another. Take a movie and release it with subtitles from another movie. Sometimes originality is merely a question of reorganising what already exists. You heard it here first (or, if you are in Chhattisgarh, here’s what you might read that line as: “I am gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”). Such things can hang on the edge of meaning, like poetry.

There are movies with terrific dialogues that don’t do well at the box office and others that are huge successes but have forgettable lines. It is a simple matter to switch the lines so the better movie has the better dialogues.

Then there is the question of subtitles in other languages. This stretches the limits of the possible. Imagine a Bollywood movie with Hollywood dialogues that are not merely translations but have nothing to do with the action on the screen. It is a double treat, an audio-visual one, for while your eyes follow the action, your ears are treated to something unconnected.

The Chattisgarhisation of movie entertainment is an idea whose time has come. Go ahead, make my day (Sudden Impact).


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